Emily in her kidding stall with one of her daily visitors.
Did you ever play the Waiting Game as a kid? It was one of those games generally forced upon children by short-tempered parents, like the Quiet Game or the Use Your Restaurant Voice Game, and in the same class as the Clean Plate Club (a club which typically required your membership only when your plate sported broccoli or spinach). In other words, not very fun.
Unfortunately, it turns out the Waiting Game isn’t just for kids. It’s also for goat owners awaiting kids.
We moved expecting mama Emily into a comfy, plush kidding stall inside the barn on Friday morning, thinking she was due on Valentine’s Day (Sunday). We pulled out all the stops for our mother-to-be: put down soft, fresh straw for her to lie on, rigged up a pen out of hog panels (perfect for goat back-scratching), gave her her own personal alfalfa feeder, grass hay feeder, mineral feeder, water bucket. We threw open the windows and doors when it was sunny to let in light and fresh air and shut them as soon as it cooled down to keep the barn as warm as possible. I checked on her constantly, waking in the middle of the night and trudging to the barn to check on her, to try and make sure that we’d be there to help her out no matter what time the kids decided to arrive.
Well, it’s Tuesday, I haven’t slept more than a few hours straight in 5 nights, and Emily has shown exactly zero signs of imminent labor.
Her ligaments (the ones that run from her pinbones to her tailhead and disappear before labor) seem to soften and then firm up and then soften again, teasing me.* Her udder is continuing to fill slowly, but isn’t anywhere near full, and hasn’t shown the sudden 24-hour ballooning that typically precedes labor. Her teats seem to be starting to swell… but then again, no. Her hips seem a bit hollowed out, her belly seems to be sitting lower (indicating the kids are moving into place to make their entry into the world)… but then again, maybe that’s just wishful thinking. She has a very tiny bit of mucus discharge but nothing like the large amounts that indicate the loss of the mucus plug and the onset of labor.
Feeling for Emily's ligaments. They've softened a bit, and I can reach partway down her spine.
Emily's udder is filling up, but isn't yet tight and shiny. Her teats aren't filled with colostrum, either.
In other words, we have no idea when she’s going to kid! We bought her bred from Brandywine Farms (a wonderful family farm in the foothills of the Sierra), but the breeding date wasn’t known precisely, and when Emily was ultrasounded, the vet wasn’t exactly sure how far along she was. They gave a window of 15 days, the first possible due date being Valentine’s day.
So for now, back to the waiting game. And hoping that Emily will let me get some sleep before March!
*FYI, signs that a goat is close to labor are:
- Loss of ligaments — specifically the ligaments along the back end of her spine, past the pin bones but before the tailhead — to the point where you can almost reach around the spine.
- “Hollowing out” of hips and a “mushy” hind end as babies drop into place and all other muscles relax to let the birth canal open up and the uterus get to work.
- Udder is tight and shiny, filled with fresh colostrum.
- Teats are swollen, taut, and full of colostrum, ready for babies to suckle.
- Mucus discharge… aka “string of goo” from the goat’s vulva.
- Goat may start to talk to babies (arching head backwards and nickering to stomach). Goat may paw the ground to try and make a nest for kidding.
- Some more subtle signs are “going posty,” which is when the doe starts to walk sort of funny and the back legs look stiff and post-like. Also, the tail will arch in a funny way.
- And of course, the biggest signs that a goat is going into labor are… contractions! And then, of course, the appearance of two little hooves, and the kid.