PREGNANT AND LACATING DOES' HEALTH PROBLEMS
There are many potential problems that can affect pregnant and lactating does. I have detailed articles on how I handle each of these problems on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com and in MeatGoatMania.
Worms: The single biggest health problem with all goats in general and pregnant does in particular is Haemonchus contortus (barberpole worm) infestation. Everything in the goat's health revolves around controlling the load of blood-sucking stomach worms. Do fecal counts using an MSK-01 microscope and McMasters slides on random goats at least once each month. Keep the population density low; no amount of deworming can overcome the worm load that comes from over-crowding.
Nutritional Deficiencies: Improper feeding, either too much or too little or the wrong formulation. A fat doe can produce kids too big to be delivered easily. Too much fat around the doe's heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys causes problems. Layers of fat around her uterus restrict its ability to expand as the fetuses grow. Too little or wrong nutrition means she cannot successfully grow her fetuses in utero. Weak labor can result from nutritional deficiencies. Improper feeding causes the pregnancy diseases Ketosis, Pregnancy Toxemia, and Hypocalcemia. Incorrect feeding is the most common cause of abortions. The hardest thing to get right when raising goats in any managed herd is proper nutrition.
Mastitis: Bacteria enter the udder through the teat orifice, infecting the udder and affecting her ability to produce milk. If any milk comes out, it will be stringy, chunky, and/or blood-tainted. The outside of the udder can be hot (fever and infection are present) or cold (udder is dead). Mastitis can develop at any time during the pregnancy, during lactation, or in an open (unbred) doe. Mastitis tends to be chronic (recurring). Visual examination is misleading; you must put your hands on the udder.
Congested Udder: The udder may initially seem mastitic, but it is really over-filled, tight, and so uncomfortable that the dam won't let the newborns nurse. A congested udder isn't infected. Hot compresses and other treatments should allow milk to come out. If it is congested and not mastitic, the milk will be good. You must put your hands on and try to milk out the udder to diagnose the problem properly. Visual evaluation is misleading.
No Milk: Milk let-down hasn't occurred. This can be hormonal or nutritional. Prescription Oxytocin injectable may help with hormonal issues, but an under-fed (starving) doe has no milk.
Retained Placenta: A placenta is not considered "retained" for 24 hours after birth. Do not pull the afterbirth out of the doe; she must pass this herself. Pulling can result in internal tearing that can cause her to bleed out and die. Prescription Oxytocin injectable may be needed.
Abortions: Abortions have many possible causes -- heavy worm load, doe is too fat, bacterial or viral infections, poor quality nutrition (starving doe), certain medications and dewormers, malformation or interrupted development of the fetus (spontaneous abortion), physical injuries. Sudden onset of multiple abortions is an "abortion storm." Abortion diseases include but are not limited to chlamydia, herpes, neospora canum, toxoplasmosis, listeriosis, salmonellosis, Q fever, akabane virus, leptospirosis, and campylobacterosis. Some diseases are zoonotic (humans can catch them). Dewormers Valbazen, Synanthic, and Levamisole can cause abortions at certain stages of pregnancy. Abortion vaccines for other species (including sheep) do not work with goats.
Failure to Deliver Kids: The doe's water has broken but kids aren't coming out. Numerous possible scenarios include improperly positioned kids, dead kids, weak labor, cervix not dilated. Figure out what is wrong and take appropriate action. Read my articles on these conditions on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.
Delivers Single Kid But Normally Produces Multiple Kids: If I have a doe that normally delivers twins or triplets and she has only one kid, I glove up and go inside to find out if there are more kids. If the sac has broken, I pull the kids. You have to have some experience and history with your does to recognize when this action should be taken.
Prolapses: If either the vagina or the rectum is outside the body, the goat has prolapsed. Prolapses in pregnant does usually happen during the final 30 days of pregnancy, as the kids are growing rapidly. Most fetal development occurs in the last 30 days of gestation. Rectal prolapses are usually the result of the doe's being too fat (over-feeding). Vaginal prolapses are sometimes hereditary and, if so, might be able to be bred out over a long period of time by mating the doe with an unrelated buck whose female offspring do not prolapse. In my herd, does that prolapse more than once are sold for slaughter.
Periparturient Edema: Appears late in pregnancy in does heavy with multiple kids. Fluid (edema) builds up in the lower legs. Usually indicates a heavy worm load. There is no cure - only supportive care until the doe delivers the kids, at which time it should disappear if the worm load has been eliminated.
False Pregnancy: A doe can go through a five-month pregnancy, develop an udder full of milk, have her water break, and deliver nothing but fluid. Also known as a cloud-burst pregnancy. Occurs occasionally. Not common.
Superfetation: A doe can be bred on two heat cycles and even by two different bucks, delivering kids and then more kids again in 21 days. Not common.
Dystocia: The entire range of kidding difficulties, including improper/abnormal presentation of kids in the birth canal that require manual assistance. Dead kid in front of live kid is only one example of Dystocia.
Metritis: Uterine infection.
Pyometra: Pus in the uterus.
Ringwomb: Failure of cervix to dilate.
Uterine Torsion: Twisted uterus. Vet assistance required.
Pregnancy Diseases: Pregnancy Toxemia can occur within the last six weeks of pregnancy and is caused either by underfeeding (starvation toxemia equals an energy shortage) or overfeeding. A doe's nutritional balance is especially critical during this timeframe. Feeding too much grain or feeding the wrong kinds of grain is usually the culprit.
During the last weeks of pregnancy, a doe has little room in her body for lots of grain, fast-growing fetuses, and the amount of roughage (grass hay) vital for proper rumen function. Growing fetuses take up abdominal space, reducing the size of the rumen. A goat goes off-feed when it doesn't get enough roughage. Huge stores of body fat plus a uterus full of fetuses set the stage for Pregnancy Toxemia.
Symptoms of Pregnancy Toxemia include off-feed, dull eyes, slow moving, general weakness, tremors, teeth grinding, stargazing, leg swelling, and coma. When fetuses die, toxemia results from the decaying bodies inside the doe and she also dies. All of these illnesses are caused by improper feeding.
Ketosis: Symptoms similar to Pregnancy Toxemia that occur very close to kidding or once kidding has taken place. If the pregnant female does not receive adequate amounts of proper nutrition to feed both herself and her unborn kids, when she begins the kidding process or has just completed kidding, her body will draw upon stored fat reserves in order to produce milk to feed her babies. Her own body tissues begin to go into starvation mode and deadly ketones are released as by-products of this process.
A quick way to diagnose Ketosis: a doe with sweet-smelling urine is ketotic. A ketotic doe's urine will turn purple when added to KetoCheck powder or strip. Tip: A goat urinates and then defecates when it first stands after having been in a sitting position for some time.
Hypocalcemia: "Milk Fever" is not fever but a calcium imbalance in the doe's body. Hypocalcemia occurs near kidding time. She will become uninterested in eating (go off-feed), may be mildly bloated or constipated, have a cold dry mouth, difficulty walking and/or rising from a sitting position, sub-normal body temperature (under 100*F), cold rear legs and drag them, and may have weak labor contractions. Sometimes the only symptom is hind-leg dragging. Rear body parts feel cold to the touch.
Hypocalcemia is a complex process involving hormonal changes that occur as the doe's body mobilizes calcium in the production of milk. Feeds rich in calcium, as well as alfalfa and peanut (legume) hay, are the culprits. These products contain calcium in excess of what the doe needs at kidding time. This excess calcium sets off a chain reaction, causing calcium to be deposited in the doe's bones when her body needs to be releasing it from the bones for milk production. Hypocalcemia is a failure of the body to mobilize calcium properly. It is not a deficiency of calcium reserves.
Don't feed hay (or feed) high in calcium during the last 30 days of pregnancy. After the doe has delivered and is nursing her kids, legume hay (alfalfa and peanut hay) is fine to feed.
The variety and complexity of problems that pregnant and lactating does can experience should make it clear to you that appropriate supplies and medications should be on hand at least 60 days before the first doe is scheduled to go into labor. Not every problem can be solved nor every kid or doe saved, but being prepared will make a huge difference in whether or not you are successful in your goat-raising business.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas Updated 3.2.22
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