Your goat's gestation period lasts five months from mating to kidding. Watch her right side when she's heavily pregnant - all that movement is the kid. The movement stops about a day and a half before the birth. Whether a goat nurses her kids herself, until eventual weaning, or the kids are raised o a commercial milk replacer depends on the doe's particular purpose.
Female goats, or does, reach sexual maturity between the ages of 8 to 10 months, so they can produce their first offspring about the age of 13 to 15 months. Much depends on the type of goat, nutrition levels and the time at which they're born. It's possible for a goat to give birth twice a year. Does give birth to one or two kids, although triplets occasionally occur. Because they come into season, or estrus, in late summer, autumn and winter, kids begin arriving in mid-winter to late springtime. Optimal breeding time in North America occurs in the fall, with babies arriving in spring when there's ample grass.
When you see your goat's udder start filling with milk, or "bagging up," you'll know that she'll give birth within a week or so. A day or so before kidding, she'll find a safe, secluded place to deliver. She'll begin exuding a light discharge from her vulva. Her vulva will begin swelling and you'll see the area above and on the sides of her tail soften. Her flanks will sink in as the babies prepare to enter the world. She'll be restless, getting up and down. The discharge becoming thick and long is a sign that birth is imminent. She'll start heavily contracting, and a sac of brownish liquid will come out of the vulva. This first sac will either break or just expand; the second sac coming out of her contains the kid. Heavy contractions will continue as she expels the kid. If more than one is coming, the second should arrive in a short time. The placenta emerges within 30 minutes. If it doesn't appear within two hours, call the vet, as the goat could develop an infection or be retaining a fetus.
Kids begin nursing soon after birth. You can start giving them hay when they're about a week to 10 days old. Goats are ruminants, meaning they have four-section stomachs, the front parts of which act like a fermentation vat. During that first week or 10 days, the rumen and other sections of the stomach aren't mature, so the kid must consume milk. Small amounts of forage help the stomach develop good bacteria for digestion and allow the stomach to grow larger. If you're weaning your kids naturally, leave them with their mothers for at least three months. A good rule of thumb is waiting until the kids weigh 2.5 times their birth weight, according to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
If you have a dairy goat herd, you can't keep the kids nursing from the mother as she provides milk for your operation. The University of California Davis Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources recommends separating kids from such mothers shortly after birth, keeping them in an area deeply bedded with straw. You'll milk their mothers for colostrum, the rich first milk full of antibodies, to prove to and protect the newborns. You can also mix up commercially available powdered colostrum. Feed the kids via bottle or feeding tube. After giving colostrum for a few days, switch to a commercial milk replacer.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.