(This is the first installment in a series on goat pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Check out post number two on how to assemble a grab-n-go kidding kit HERE.)
“How do I know if my goat is pregnant?”
“If I post some pictures, can you tell me if my goat is pregnant?”
“My goat [did something] and [looks like something] and they might have been with a buck [a certain amount of time ago] at the previous owner’s, do you think she’s pregnant?”
As we are nearing kidding season, I thought now would be a proper time to address the all important issue of detecting goat pregnancy.
We’ve all seen those shows (or at least heard of them) where a woman had no clue she was pregnant until she suddenly had awful pains and out popped a baby. While it still boggles my mind that a woman could manage to not know she was pregnant, it’s actually pretty easy for a goat to hide her pregnancy…or, on the flip side, look extremely pregnant when she isn’t. (Enter those awkward “when are you due?” questions, right?)
Here’s the thing about ruminants. They have rumens. And those rumens can get BIG. A rumen is basically a giant fermentation vat where food is digested and gases are produced in the process. The gases not only make the rumen — and therefore, the outside of the goat — swell, they also cause movement as well. In fact, if you gently massage the left side of the goat’s stomach where the rumen is located, you can feel gas bubbles breaking and the rumen swelling. I’ve seen movement from digestion on both the left and right side of non-pregnant goats.
It’s really fascinating how it all works, but it can also be frustrating for new goat owners who are trying to determine the pregnancy status of their goats.
The bottom line is that goat “stomachs” are often misleading. Male goats can appear to be pregnant thanks to the development of the rumen, while female goats who are indeed pregnant can hide the pregnancy so well that their owners have no clue there are babies coming until they arrive. This is especially true of long bodied does or does who have good depth of body as well.
Because goats are tricksters, it’s impossible to rely on their appearance to accurately diagnose pregnancy. That’s not to say it is impossible to be right based on appearance — there have been many times when I guessed correctly prior to actually doing any definitive testing — but at the end of the day it’s mostly a crap shoot. Knowing the normal look of your goats and paying attention to changes can help, but it’s not foolproof. For example, I have one doe in particular who always…and I do mean always…looks ten months pregnant. Because I know her so well, I can see fluctuations in her body, but to try to determine pregnancy based on her tummy would be a fool’s errand even for me.
This can also be impacted by a number of other factors as well. A single kid is going to hide much easier than quads. A doe who has had many pregnancies may also lose the shapeliness of her girlish figure over time and always have a distended belly — this is due to the muscles stretching and what not, just like in a human who has had a few children. Pregnancy does leave its mark on a body. The doe’s general conformation plays a roll as well, and an overweight doe may appear unusually plump even when not pregnant.
I won’t spend too much time on the idea that one can tell if a goat is pregnant based on her vaginal area. That area is not going to change significantly until near the end of pregnancy. I’ll also point out that each doe may have variances as well, when it comes to which direction things are pointing back there. It’s not a reliable means of determining pregnancy. So…
How do you know if your goat is pregnant?
I’m going to break down the basic, most fool-proof methods of determining pregnancy in goats.
I get that not everyone wants to go through the trouble of the other methods I’m listing below, and that’s okay. Some may just not be as obsessive about knowing for certain well ahead of time as I am. (I HAVE to know.) So for those people, here are some physical changes to look for:
- First, know your goats’ “normal” well. That may be hard if you’ve recently purchased them, but if you’ve had them for awhile you will become accustomed to how they normally look on a day-to-day basis. Go from there and look for changes.
- Remember that the (goat’s) left side is the rumen and the right side is where the babies will typically hang out, although both babies and the rumen can cause distention in the general abdomen on both sides.
- Late in pregnancy, it is possible to feel the babies kick and move on the right side of the body. (I’ve never been able to feel this before the last month-ish of pregnancy.) This movement is very distinct. The normal digestive movements are soft whereas a bony little goat hoof feels quite different. Feel on the right toward the back and also down near the foreudder.
- Udder development is usually a dead giveaway. There are only three times this can fool you: Precocious udder, false pregnancy, and a first freshener who does not develop an udder on time. Precocious udders and false pregnancies both cause does (and sometimes bucks!) who are not pregnant to develop their mammary systems. First fresheners on the other hand will sometimes not develop an udder until the very last second. I have had a first freshener not develop until after she kidded and was given oxytocin (a hormone). Otherwise, does will start to develop an udder a month or so out from kidding, but it largely depends on the doe. Some will start to develop milk earlier than others (first timers or not).
- Watch for signs of estrus. A doe who has been successfully bred will not come back into heat. This can be a bit tougher as it nears the end of the rut/breeding season in seasonal does, and also for does who have more subdued heat cycles.
- Lastly, the ligaments around the tailhead will begin to soften when the doe is very close to kidding. When the ligaments “disappear” all together the doe is usually 12 hours or less from kidding. (Really this is more accurately a sign of when your doe is about to NOT be pregnant anymore!) There is a learning curve to this, so at first the ligaments may feel “gone” when they’re not yet. Practice will improve accuracy.
Bonus: If you see hooves sticking out of the business end of the animal, you can be assured that your goat is indeed going to have kids…like, now.
This is my preferred method for a few reasons: It is easy, it is inexpensive, and it is highly accurate. In addition to that, it is also the perfect way to get yearly disease testing out of the way at the same time, thereby killing two birds with one stone.
Drawing blood on goats is quite simple once you get the hang of it. It’s best to have someone show you in person, but if you can’t I have also posted a video demonstrating how to do it. Blood sample testing is fairly cheap (I use Biotracking most often and have used WADDL as well).
The blood tests mode of detection is to test for pregnancy specific proteins which occur in association with fetal and placental development. In order for blood tests to be accurate, the does must be 30 days or more post breeding. Results are back super fast — typically the same day the test is run. They’re also extremely accurate: Biotracking’s BioPRYN test is over 99% accurate for open (not pregnant) does and approximately 95% accurate for pregnant results when testing is done at least 30 days post breeding. Some percentage of false positives are attributed to early abortion rather than test inaccuracy.
Ultrasound is a bit more expensive than blood tests due to the need for a trained veterinarian or technician to perform the ultrasound, but they have the bonus of being very very cool! The actual cost will vary based on what your vet charges and whether you have a barn visit or go into the office for the test.
Ultrasounds have the added perk that you can have an idea of how many kids will be born as well — or at least if there will be more than one. Although the u-shaped uterus of goats, called uterine “horns,” makes it difficult to distinguish between twins, triplets, or more, it is possible to identify multiples (although not with 100% accuracy — again, goats are tricky). When I recently had a doe ultrasounded, we saw two very distinct little heartbeats and two sets of rib cages, meaning she is carrying at least twins.
Goats must be at least 25 days post breeding for an ultrasound to be accurate, and the heartbeat becomes detectable at 27 days.
Although ultrasounds are fun and highly accurate, the downside is needing a professional to come do them. (Unless you have the cash to shell out thousands on your own ultrasound machine. More power to ya — I’d do it if I could!) I like things that I can do on my own convenience and with little help.
This is one I have not done on goats (although I have on a dog once), but it’s certainly an option. One bonus is that x-rays are 100% accurate after day 70 post-breeding and can give you an accurate number of kids after day 75.
The downside is that this option requires a trip to a veterinary clinic and a longer wait — 70 days vs roughly 30 with other methods, which means you’re putting off re-breeding for quite awhile. So not only do you have to wait until the goat is over two months bred to find out her status, but you also have to load her up and carry her to a vet’s office and thereby risking stress and exposure to pathogens.
Testing milk samples for pregnancy is similar to blood samples in that it is also searching for proteins caused by pregnancy, and as such shows similar accuracy. It can be utilized at 28 days or more post breeding.
The biggest bonus I see to this option is the ability to take a daily activity — milking the goats — and use it to test for pregnancy simultaneously. This would be especially convenient for those who are currently on milk test, as they would be able to simply take samples they were already sending and put them to a second use.
One major downside I see to this option is that it is only effective for does currently in milk (of course). That means that first fresheners who have not ever been bred and milked before cannot be tested using the same method as the rest of the herd, and neither could any does who were dry for other reasons either. This would also not be as useful for those raising goats strictly for meat or fiber, either.
Alas, no…the sticks from the drug store will not tell us if a goat is pregnant. The human hormones are not the same as goat hormones.
However, there is a urine test that is fairly new on the scene. I just learned of this test for the first time in December. The big bonuses of this test include nearly instant results — with no shipping or waiting or appointment scheduling — and a very cost effective price at just $2 a test.
There are downsides, however. First of all, this test is designed for cattle. Although cows and goats are very similar, they are not exactly the same, and that calls into question the accuracy of this test for goats vs cows. It’s a newer method and therefore not proven yet. It also requires the collection of goat urine. Having been in the “standing around waiting on a goat to poop” place many times (because, lets be honest, I don’t want to “manually” collect poop if I don’t really, really have to), I imagine the waiting and then the mad dash to catch the squatter in action would be a bit tedious.
Worse yet, I’ve seen a couple of negative reviews from people trying it out. It appears as though the tests are reading incorrectly in goats. Here’s an example:
Follow up to my P-Test through EMLab:
Background: Mid December I posted about 6 does (and 1 buck) that I preg checked with the P-test (urine preg test for cattle). The doe’s were anywhere from 5-50 days along. ALL tested positive, even the buck. None were showing any signs of heat (and these girls are very obvious about heat!). No other known reason for false positives.
As of today, 3 of the doe’s have been confirmed bred by WADDL. The other 3 have come back into heat so I didn’t bother with blood testing. I haven’t seen the buck come into heat, but based on the girl’s results I have a 50/50 chance that he is actually bred. (Please note the heavy sarcasm).
In a related note, I have 10 unopened, brand new P-tests for sale! I don’t think we’ll be wasting any more time and money with them. Evidently, there are too many variables that give a false positive for me to consider them useful.” -Hiedi Brandt, Facebook (quoted with permission)
The test is designed to work by detecting the pregnancy hormone estrone sulfate in 1 ml of urine between 60 and 210 days after mating. This one would be pretty awesome, I must admit, if it pans out for goats. As of now the jury is still out for me — there’s just not enough evidence for me to trust its accuracy and mounting evidence against it from first hand accounts.
The bottom line is this: the best way to know for sure if your goats are pregnant is to use a tried-and-true, reliable method that has been around a while and proven to be accurate. That means blood testing, ultrasounding, or using radiography. Those are the only real ways to know for sure.
With other methods we may be right sometimes, but we’re really just making an educated guess.