You knew you were pregnant when you started craving sour cream Pringles dipped in Nutella, but your goat won’t show such obvious signs.
Even a growing belly isn’t a reliable indication so you’ll have to think outside the box – and the belly – if you want to know how to tell if a goat is pregnant.
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How to Tell if a Goat is Pregnant
Just as there are hundreds of myths about pregnant women, like “you’re carrying a boy if your belly is low. If it’s high, you’re carrying a girl”, so there are about goats and when they’re due to give birth. I promise – I’m not kidding!
Goats are also like women in that some will grow an enormous stomach in the first few weeks while others will show nothing at all until the kids are on their way.
Some goats may get swollen ankles, become bad-tempered or fussy about food – others will blossom into beautiful beings eager for affection and glowing with self-contentment.
Trying to figure out how to tell if a goat is pregnant is especially hard the first time around as young females have less pronounced udders and teats and tighter vulvas, making it more difficult to work out just how far along they are.
At the other end of the scale, older females may look permanently pregnant as their abdominal muscles, teats, and udders have stretched under the strain of so many kids.
How Long is a Goat Pregnant For?
The average gestation period for a goat (regardless of breed) is around 150 days so, after approximately five months from the date of conception, you can expect a little bundle of joy or two to pop into your world.
Gestation periods do vary to some degree, with the shortest gestation period being 145 days, and the longest, 152. Studies indicate that some breeds, like the Granadina dairy goat, have shorter gestation periods of around 149 days, while Alpine and Toggenburg goats are likely to kid only after 151 days.
The length of the pregnancy may vary slightly depending on when you mated your goats – those mated in summer are likely to have a longer gestation period than those mated in autumn, for instance, but only by a period of around 24 hours.
The young doe I’m currently keeping a vigilant eye on is showing signs of imminent kidding – her stomach is tight and extended, her udders are starting to swell, as is her vulva. It’s been like that for five days now, though, and still no sign of a kid.
I guess she’s aiming for some kind of world record for the longest gestation period known to goat. Although it’s more probable that, like many wild animals, she’s holding on in the hopes that the first summer rains will fall before her kids are born.
Clinical Tests to Tell if a Goat is Pregnant
While there are lots of so-called ‘tests’ you can carry out to work out how close your goat is to kidding, none of these will be as accurate as a clinical diagnosis. Unfortunately, those processes are expensive and rarely used by casual homesteaders. Furthermore, even these aren’t 100% accurate.
A milk or serum test measures progesterone levels to establish pregnancy but, while “low progesterone levels can confirm a nonpregnant status, high progesterone is not a positive pregnancy test, because it cannot differentiate between midcycle, true pregnancy, or false pregnancy” (Merck)
An ultrasound is going to give you the most accurate information about your goat’s pregnancy and due date.
You can choose to get a vet in to perform the ultrasound for you, or, if you’ve got a large enough herd to make it financially viable, invest in a portable ultrasound machine.
These cost anywhere between around $600 to $1,500, while an ultrasound performed by a vet will cost you much less (somewhere in the vicinity of $10 to $20 per goat + call-out costs).
The best time to do an ultrasound is around the 25th day after breeding. At this point, a trans-abdominal ultrasound can reliably establish pregnancy and, by day 27, will pick up the fetal heartbeat as well.
Home Pregnancy Test
Somewhat more complex than home pregnancy tests for women, these DIY kits are great if you’re confident and comfortable enough around your goats not to balk at taking blood samples.
At this point, let me confess that, while I have no problem taking blood from or injecting a horse when it comes to finding a vein – in a goat, I may as well be looking for a needle in a haystack.
Assuming you have veterinarian skills that put mine to shame, you can pick up a BioPRYN Early Pregnancy Detection Kit for around $50. This will give you enough syringes to test 12 goats, although you’ll have to send these off to an affiliate lab to get the results.
Other Ways to Tell if a Goat is Pregnant
There are other less clinical tests you can perform, although these are neither scientific nor reliable, they are commonly used amongst hobby breeders and homesteaders alike.
This has nothing to do with dogs, by the way, but to do with the size and shape of your doe’s vulva.
Most does’ vulvas will start to loosen and swell days before they give birth but that won’t get you much time to prepare, nor is it an accurate sign of pregnancy. Young females pregnant for the first time may show little to no swelling until just hours before kidding.
This takes a bit of practice and isn’t an exact science. Nevertheless, experts say that a gentle tummy rub at around six weeks should reveal a tightness to the abdomen that isn’t present in a non-pregnant doe.
To perform this maneuver, stand behind your goat and place your hands on her abdomen just in front of her udders.
For those of you who, like me, are only just embarking on goat breeding, rubbing non-pregnant tummies as well as pregnant ones will help you start to feel the difference and work out exactly what it is you’re looking for.
Signs of Pregnancy in Goats
So, how can you tell if a goat is pregnant? The best way is simply to be observant and keep notes on when your doe is in heat, when she was put to the buck and, if possible, when she was covered.
Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to be so vigilant on my smallholding as my Dwarf Cameroon/Dwarf Nigerian male is an escapologist who could give Harry Houdini a run for his money. As a consequence, my does are pregnant whether they like it or not.
I’m not suggesting you get your does to note down the first day of oestrus or keep a diary of their romantic interactions with your buck – unfortunately, as the owners are the only ones with opposable thumbs, this duty falls to them.
Udder things (sorry – I couldn’t resist) to keep an eye out for include:
Many goat owners believe a doe’s “failure to return to oestrus after breeding… suggests pregnancy”. The problem with this is that fake pregnancies can also affect oestrus and produce “large, pendulous abdomens” indicative of pregnancy.
Having said that, if you know when your doe is due to come into heat and when she was last covered, you’ll have a good idea of when to expect your kids.
The Fat Belly
Some people believe they can easily identify a goat’s stage of pregnancy by the size of its stomach but this is a myth. All my girls look pregnant after a day out on pasture but regain their youthful figures overnight (I just wish I did!).
Take a look at these images and see what you think:
Goat A – Pleiades
This young doe is heavily pregnant and due within the next seven days.
Goat B – Ngomso
This two-year-old doe is due to kid in approximately six weeks
Goat C: Star
A youngster who was covered just a few days ago.
Notice that the older doe looks far more pregnant than the younger one, even though she’s due five weeks later.
From around 15 weeks into their pregnancy, most goats’ udders will start to swell.
Initially, there will only be a slight swelling but this will increase substantially in the last month or two. The changes will vary from goat to goat and some may only exhibit swelling in the udders in the last few hours before delivery.
At the top of the tail, a doe has two ligaments that run from the pin bones to the base of her tail.
Normally, the ligaments feel like two pencils but, just before kidding, they loosen to the point that they virtually disappear, leaving a sunken area on either side of the base of her tail.
This is a last resort reminder as, once the ligaments have loosened, kidding is imminent.
Observation is Key
When it comes to how to tell if a goat is pregnant, first-time mothers and older does are likely to give you a mixture of confusing indications. Youngsters having kids for the first time rarely show obvious signs of pregnancy until the last few days, whereas older does appear pregnant after a good day’s munching.
Clinical tests like ultrasounds and milk tests are the most reliable way to tell if your goat is pregnant, although knowing how long a goat is pregnant for also helps. For big breeding operations, this is the only way to go, but for smaller herds, a little prodding, palpitation, and observation can go a long way.
Swollen udders, enlarged vulvas, and a lack of oestrus are all fairly dependable methods. As your goats get closer to their kidding moment, these signs become increasingly obvious and should give you enough time to move your doe into a safe area ready for kidding.
Let’s not kid about, though, these methods are neither 100% accurate nor entirely infallible. You may have goats aborting or miscarrying which makes it even more confusing.
As with any successful breeding program, observation is key, after all, as the world’s cleverest woman once said, “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe”.