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Breeding and Parturition of Goats

By

Signe G. Balch

, Dphil, DVM, Cherry Valley Veterinary Services, LLC

Medically Reviewed Oct 2022 | Modified Nov 2022

Before the breeding season, both does and bucks should undergo thorough physical exams. Body condition scores should be evaluated to ensure that all animals have enough reserves to meet the demands of breeding and, in the case of does, parturition and lactation. On average, a body condition score of 3.5/5 is desired. Both thin and obese animals should be identified for diet modification and treatment if needed. Feet and teeth should be examined, as should ease of movement. Animals that have difficulty walking or eating are not ideal candidates for breeding. Conjunctival membranes should be examined for clinical signs of anemia and potential complications from GI parasites.

Does and bucks should have their udders and scrotums examined, respectively. Both should be palpated for texture, asymmetry, signs of inflammation; or other clinical signs of disease or injury. Scrotums should be measured because scrotal circumference correlates directly with reproductive health and capacity. Sheaths should also be examined, particularly in males on high-fiber diets. Urine trapped in fiber can cause irritation and scabbing of the preputial orifice, leading to pain that can interfere with breeding. Also at this time, herds can be tested for communicable diseases such as paratuberculosis Paratuberculosis in Ruminants Paratuberculosis, caused by Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis , is a chronic, contagious granulomatous enteritis characterized in cattle and other ruminants by progressive weight loss... read more Paratuberculosis in Ruminants and caprine arthritis encephalitis Caprine Arthritis and Encephalitis Caprine arthritis and encephalitis (CAE) is a persistent lentiviral infection of goats. There are multiple clinical presentations: 1) leukoencephalomyelitis, affecting 2- to 6-month-old kids... read more , and infected animals can be culled.

Selection of breeding stock is an often overlooked aspect of herd management, in that owners often believe all their animals are worth breeding. However, producers should select only the best of their herd to breed. Animals with conformational faults, poor feet, an unthrifty phenotype, udder or scrotal defects, or histories of vaginal or rectal prolapses should be removed from the breeding pool. Animals with correct conformation and strong production characteristics, such as good maternal skills, should be retained. It might seem counterintuitive to breed fewer animals; however, taking time to select the best stock for reproduction can make the herd much healthier and more productive in the future.

Flushing, the process of increasing ovulation rate by feeding does a high-energy diet, should begin 2–4 weeks before breeding. A New Zealand study demonstrated a 25% increase in ovulation rates when ewes were fed an additional 1 kg of dry matter per head per day. 1 References Before the breeding season, both does and bucks should undergo thorough physical exams. Body condition scores should be evaluated to ensure that all animals have enough reserves to meet the... read more This dry matter can be grain or forage, provided it has appreciably higher protein than the maintenance diet has. Flushing works best for animals that are thin or on a low-protein diet. Changes in ovulation rates may not be noticeable in does that already have an above-average body condition score on a medium to high nutritional plane.

Goats are seasonally polyestrous, short-day breeders, with differences in seasonality between breeds. Geographic location can also affect breeding behavior, because breeding seasons are longer near the equator. The goat estrous cycle averages 21 days, with estrus lasting on average 36 hours. Does reach puberty at 6–9 months old but should weigh 60%–65% of their mature body weight (or their dam’s mature body weight) before breeding.

During breeding season, bucks develop a very strong, characteristic odor and habitually urinate on their face, beard, and forelegs. Urine scald can occur on these areas, especially during cold weather. Does are attracted to this smell and behavior. Does often show very distinct clinical signs of estrus: tail wagging (flagging), increased vocalization, swelling of the vulva, and vaginal discharge. These identifiable clinical signs of estrus make it easy for producers to select does for hand breeding, which is commonly practiced in many intensively managed herds, particularly smaller ones.

Producers of extensively managed herds often commingle bucks with does for two to three estrous cycles. On average, a mature buck-to-doe ratio of 1:40 is sufficient for adequate coverage in a compact time frame. Does can become naturally synchronized through the “buck effect” if bucks and does are kept distant from one another before commingling. Techniques for artificial manipulation of the estrous cycle and artificial insemination are well developed for goats and frequently used in intensively managed herds.

Pregnancy is suspected when a doe fails to show signs of estrus after breeding, and pregnancy can be confirmed by serum tests and transabdominal ultrasonography. Both methods can be used as early as 30 days after breeding. Ultrasonography enables the counting of fetuses, which can be useful for more efficient dietary management in late gestation. The best window for counting fetuses is 40–70 days after breeding.

Gestation in goats lasts an average of 150 days. Pregnant does need exercise and good-quality nutrition. Does carrying multiple fetuses need proportionally higher energy intake than do nonpregnant does or does carrying a single fetus. Both obesity and emaciation should be avoided.

Does should be vaccinated 4–6 weeks before parturition as a means of increasing the concentration of antibodies in the colostrum. Clostridial vaccines, such as CDT, the vaccine against C perfringens types C and D, as well as C tetani, are the most common vaccines administered at this stage of pregnancy. Does may be clipped around their hindquarters and udders during this time to help keep them clean and give kids easier access to the udder soon after birth.

The onset of parturition may be indicated by udder development, behavior changes in the doe (isolation, vocalization, nesting), and vulvar discharge. Does should be separated from the herd and placed in a clean, dry, warm, draft-free area for kidding. Does can suppress labor when stressed, so they should be monitored with minimal disturbance. After the onset of strong abdominal contractions, the first kid should be born within an hour. Clean hands, gloves, or sleeves, along with copious amounts of obstetric lubricant, should be used when correcting a malpositioned kid. The kid should be gently manipulated, with no excessive pulling. After all kids have been delivered, the placenta should be expelled over the next 12 hours.

Newborn kids should have their navels dipped in 7% strong iodine to decrease the risk of navel ill (described in detail below). The navel should be quickly dried off and examined for entropion, umbilical hernias, cryptorchidism, and other congenital defects. Extra teats may be noted at birth or within the first few weeks of life. Unlike cattle, dairy goats often have functional milk glands behind the supernumerary teats, so these teats should not be removed.

Because the polled gene in European dairy breeds is closely associated with the intersex gene, animals with impaired reproduction may occur in herds with naturally polled animals. Homozygous polled does may have a scrotum and shortened penis apparent at birth; they may also appear normal at birth and display subtle anatomical changes, such as a slightly enlarged clitoris, only at puberty. Any animal displaying intersex traits should be culled as soon as those traits are identified. Because the polled trait is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner but the intersexuality is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner, many producers decrease the occurrence of polled intersex animals by never breeding two polled animals with each other. Chimeras (freemartins) occur in both horned and polled goats as well, but they are not identifiable at birth.

Hypothermia is a leading killer of neonates, especially in colder climates, so the simple acts of drying and warming kids can prevent many deaths.

Kids should stand and nurse within 30 minutes of birth. Does and kids should bond by themselves for 2–3 days before being introduced into the larger herd. Individual pens (jugs) can be used, but they should be large enough (1.5 square meters) to prevent crushing of the kids when the doe reclines. Recording a kid’s birth weight provides a tool to measure productivity goals and monitor overall health. Any kids that lose weight or fail to gain weight during the first weeks of life should be further evaluated for illness.

Kids that are rejected or require additional care should be bottle-fed a minimum of 10% of their body weight in high-quality colostrum during their first 24 hours. Kids that do not receive adequate colostrum are at higher risk for infection and death. After the initial colostrum feeding, milk or milk replacer should be fed at a rate of 10% of kids' body weight per day, distributed over three feedings. The source of milk for bottle-fed kids should vary as little as possible. Frequent changes can disrupt the GI environment and predispose kids to disease. Any fresh colostrum or milk should be heat-treated or pasteurized, or derived from disease-free animals to prevent the transmission of milk-borne diseases to kids.

Young kids can be exposed to hay and grain-based creep feed within days of birth. Kids should be weaned when solid food composes a majority of their diet. Generally, kids are not ready for weaning before 6 weeks old. Weaned kids should be fed a high-quality diet to provide sufficient energy for growth.

If does were not vaccinated before parturition, a clostridial vaccine should be administered to kids at birth and then according to the vaccine manufacturer's directions. Disbudding, if desired, should be performed early in a kid’s life. The need to disbud depends on registry requirements, owner preference, and management practices. Grazing animals may need their horns for protection; confined animals may suffer less trauma without horns that can get caught in feeders and fences. European breeds should be disbudded by day 3–5 for bucks or day 3–7 for does. Breeds such as Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy goats may have slower-growing horns and should be disbudded by day 14 to minimize pain and subsequent scur (partial horn regrowth) development.

Hot irons are recommended for disbudding, not caustic paste. Caustic paste can run into a kid’s eyes or be rubbed onto the dam’s udder, causing injury. Castration also should be performed soon after birth. Standard-sized goats may be large enough to castrate within the first 7–10 days of age. Smaller breeds may need a few more days before their testes can be easily removed, particularly if an elastic band is being used. These procedures can be performed on older kids, but for older kids anesthetic use is recommended.

Diseases related to breeding and parturition include nutritionally related diseases and common kid diseases, such as:

  • Navel ill is an ascending infection of the umbilicus that is common in kids born in dirty, wet, crowded conditions. A swollen umbilicus, swollen joints, a reluctance to move, and failure to gain weight are all clinical signs of this disease. Drying and sealing the umbilicus by dipping it in 7% iodine immediately after birth can decrease the risk of navel ill; however, a clean birthing and jugging area is essential. Erysipelas arthritis can look similar to this disease. Antimicrobial treatment is essential.

  • Coccidiosis is due to coccidia, intestinal protozoa that are a common environmental contaminant, carried and shed in the feces of subclinical adults. Kids that are thin, have diarrhea, or die suddenly at ~3 weeks old should be tested for coccidia. Coccidiosis is of particular concern in overcrowded herds where feces are allowed to accumulate and are impossible to avoid. Kids ingest coccidian oocysts at an early age both from the ground and from their dam’s contaminated teats. Diseased kids show poor weight gain and can succumb to dehydration. Clean housing is key to controlling this disease. Treatment may include the administration of drugs such as sulfadimethoxine, amprolium, and toltrazuril. Coccidiostats such as decoquinate can also be given to kids in feed to control the disease, provided feed intake is sufficient to achieve therapeutic drug doses.

  • Hypothermia and starvation are two management-dependent diseases that cause a large number of kid deaths yearly. Housing young kids in a warm, bedded, draft-free area protected from precipitation is key to keeping them alive in cold, wet environments. Coats can be beneficial as well. Kids that are shivering, thin, or hunched should always be checked for starvation. Mismothering, undiagnosed mastitis, or sibling dominance at the teat can all be causes of starvation.

  • Contagious ecthyma (sore mouth) is a skin disease due to the orf virus, which forms painful lesions around the mouths of kids and on the teats of does. The virus itself is not fatal; however, the lesions can make feeding difficult, leading to anorexia and starvation. The orf virus is transmitted by both direct contact and fomites. Cases usually spontaneously resolve in 1–2 months; however, the virus can live in the soil for years. The vaccine for sore mouth is a live vaccine, so it should not be administered unless the disease already exists on the premises.

  • Abortion storms have multiple causes in goat herds. Leptospira, Chlamydia, Toxoplasma, and Listeria are some common pathogens. Once a storm starts, it can be hard to slow or stop. Treatment and prevention measures should be based on an accurate, definite diagnosis. Placenta is often the best tissue to submit for diagnostic testing, superior even to fetal tissue.

References

  • Smith JF, Jagusch KT, Farquhar PA. The effects of the duration and timing of flushing on ovulation rate in ewes. Proc New Zea Soc Anim Prod 1983;43:13–16.

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