Signs of Pregnancy in Goats or Sheep

Written by sarah metzker erdemir
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Signs of Pregnancy in Goats or Sheep
(Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Goats and sheep sometimes look quite similar, and their pregnancy and gestation are similar. Both have their breeding seasons in early fall, and both give birth in spring, with gestation periods averaging around 150 days, though the exact gestation period varies from breed to breed. Goats and sheep both show early signs of pregnancy, but these aren't always easy to spot, and you may need help from your veterinarian.

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Identify Heat (Estrus) Cycle

The easiest way to determine if a goat or sheep is pregnant is if she doesn't go into a heat cycle within about 3 weeks of having been bred. This is easier to determine if you know the last breeding date, but more difficult if the animal has been grazing freely with males. A goat in oestrus is more obvious than a sheep. A doe will wag her tail constantly, bleat as though she's in pain, become aggressive and even attempt to mount other females. Her milk production may decrease slightly. The vulvas of both goats and sheep (particularly those that have never been bred before) become slightly swollen during oestrus and may look wet or dirty because of extra discharge. Does and ewes will be very interested in rams during oestrus, which lasts 24 to 36 hours and should occur every 18 to 22 days.

Signs of Pregnancy in Goats or Sheep
This Angora goat looks a lot like a sheep.

Early Pregnancy Signs

A sheep or goat that is pregnant will be calmer and have an increased appetite. After 12 weeks, the abdomen should begin to swell. This can be hard to notice in goats that already have round abdomens, so sometimes measuring the abdomen regularly after breeding can help. If, after 6 weeks, the diameter of the doe's abdomen has increased by more than an inch, she is probably pregnant.

Check by Hand

The belly of a goat or sheep that is pregnant should feel different from that of one that is not. If pregnancy is suspected 6 weeks after breeding, gently poke the area in front of the udder with your fingers. A pregnant animal's belly will feel tighter (this technique takes some practice to develop). Later in the pregnancy, at around 3½ months, you should be able to feel fetal movement with your hands by pressing this area in front of the udder.

Milk Production

If the ewe or doe is a milker, you will notice a sharp drop in milk production when the animal is pregnant. The udder may look flat, and milk may all but dry up. The udder will swell again in later stages of pregnancy (around 15 weeks) as the animal's body prepares to feed her young.

Pregnancy Tests

If you're still not sure your animal is pregnant, there are blood and urine tests available to check. These tests should be given around 50 days gestation to be accurate, though your vet may have a test that can be given sooner. After 60 days gestation, an ultrasound can be performed on the animal to verify pregnancy. Ultrasounds are used more commonly on goats because their round abdomens make swelling hard to detect.

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