abortion, goats; parasites; ewes

Goat production: How to tell if your goats are pregnant

Question: How can I tell if my goats are pregnant?

The only completely reliable and practical test today is ultrasonic scanning. The machine has a handset (probe), which is held against the goat’s belly near her udder.

It emits very high-pitched sounds that cannot be heard by humans, but these sound pulses bounce back to the machine from various structures in the goat’s belly and the machine transforms the ultrasound echoes into a picture on a small television screen.

The size, number and sex of the little foetuses can be accurately determined. You would, however, need to approach a veterinarian who has one of these machines, which are very expensive. Bringing the goats in for examination may not be a good idea, because if pregnant goats are stressed they could abort.

A much less reliable, but more practical, method is to stand behind the goat and look at the shape of her belly. Normally the belly is a long oval, slightly bigger at the bottom. If she’s heavily pregnant her belly changes shape, becoming more triangular and sticking out on both sides. But remember that she could also look like this if she were very fat! Check her once a week; if she continues to get wider, she’s probably pregnant.

You can also look at the udder. In a non-pregnant doe it’s small and flabby, provided that she’s not still suckling a kid. During the last six weeks of pregnancy, it swells progressively and can become quite firm. Don’t try to squeeze the teats to see if there’s milk, because this will break the plug or seal that forms within the teat canal, and could lead to mastitis (udder infection).

Lastly, you can try to feel the foetus. Kneel down behind the doe and make a fist with your right hand. Place it just in front of the udder, low down. Now, gently but firmly, thrust your fist upwards and forwards, then withdraw it to where you started, but leaving it in contact with the skin. If she’s pregnant, you should feel the foetus that you have pushed forward gently bouncing back into position. This technique is called ballotement.

None of these three methods is very reliable but they do give an indication of whether a doe is pregnant or not. Other, less reliable, difficult or potentially dangerous methods should not be attempted.

  • This article was written by Prof. Gareth Bath and first appeared in Farming SA.

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