Since the dawn of the civilized world, goats have been an irreplaceable staple on human farms and homesteads. They provide healthy and delicious-tasting milk and help control weeds. It goes without saying that mama goats can be milked with virtually no repercussions, but does the same apply to pregnant goats? Should you attempt to milk goats when they are expecting?
In general, pregnant female goats can be milked up until 2-3 months before their expected due date, as long as they are healthy and happy and it’s not their first set of kids. Pregnant goats will need extra nutritional intake while being milked in order to have healthy kids.
That said, what are the different factors you should take into consideration when attempting to milk your pregnant doe? Here are the safety measures, facts, and everything else in-between we are pretty sure you would want to know!
Can You Milk a Pregnant Goat?
A pregnant goat doe who’s not a “first freshener” can absolutely be milked. In fact, it’s pretty common to not realize your goat is even pregnant again. However, a doe shouldn’t be milked as she gets within the last 2 months or so of her due date – and just for reference, normal goat pregnancies are about 5 months. You can use a hormonal pregnancy test to help you determine the pregnancy due date. Your veterinarian can help you do that.
When a goat doeling enters her first pregnancy, she’ll have no milk to offer until she gives birth. So you won’t be able to milk a doeling who’s in her first pregnancy. She’ll only start producing milk once she gives birth (or kids) first. After kidding for the first time, the goat doe will start lactating as all mammals do – that process is known as freshening. So a “first freshener” is a goat who’s just had her first set of kids.
First fresheners, or goats who just gave birth to their first set of kids, can’t be milked while pregnant as their milk hasn’t come in yet (or freshened).
For certain dairy breeds like Alpine, La Mancha, Oberhasli…etc, their lactation periods can extend up to 18 months before they need to freshen again with a new set of kids. During that time period, goats can be freely milked – of course, the same goes for ones that have gotten pregnant again, too. At least until they’re close to giving birth.
When You Need to Milk a Pregnant Goat Doe
In general, the only time you need to milk a pregnant doe is if she’s experiencing mastitis or visible discomfort. Just keep in mind that the act of physically expressing the milk (or milking her) will increase the demand – and then the supply will increase to meet the demand.
A goat doe’s gestation period ranges from 145 to 155 days (effectively 5 months). According to MSD Veterinarian’s Manual, the number of gestation days varies depending on breed, litter weight, environment, and parity (source).
If you are wondering about the perfect timing to milk your pregnant doe, you can usually carry on with milking your doe as you normally would. Milk quality and taste do not change in the early stages of gestation (during the first 3 and ½ months of gestation period). After that? The milk quality and taste will change. And you’re getting close enough to the due date that it would be healthiest for your doe if you stopped milking her. She’ll need the nutrients and energy for birthing her kids in just a few short weeks.
Some goat owners have trouble identifying pregnancy, and consequently, they miss the optimal timing to let their pregnant goats dry up. A pregnant goat with less time to dry up might potentially accumulate fewer nutrients for its kids. If you are new to caring for goats, or just don’t know how to identify a pregnant goat, worry not! We’ve got you covered. Here’s how you identify a pregnant goat.
Signs that a goat doe is pregnant
- After about two weeks the pregnant doe’s stomach will start to visibly tighten
- Swelling in the uterus for first-time pregnant doelings
- Milk production will start to slack behind – you might want to take note of that when milking
- About three months in you will be able to notice movements from the kids
Once you can see the kids moving from inside the goat, it’s definitely time to stop milking your pregnant goat. The kids need those calories more than you need a fresh glass of milk.
When You Can Choose To Milk a Pregnant Goat
There is almost no risk involved when milking pregnant goats in their first 3 months of pregnancy. It is during the latter stages of gestation when you’ll need to pull the brakes on milking – and let your goat dry up. The mother goat uses the 6 to 8 weeks interval preceding kidding to accumulate vital nutrients to welcome her soon-to-be-born kids into the world.
So if you’re milking a goat during the first couple of months of pregnancy? It’s totally fine. Mama goat can handle it. Milking her during those first few months is totally your choice.
However, keep in mind that if you ever notice any issues with your goat’s health, you should consult your local veterinarian immediately. Pregnant goats should always be checked out by a vet.
How Soon After Birth Can You Milk a Goat (for Feeding Goat Kids)?
If your doe rejects your kids, you can milk her for colostrum immediately to give to the kids. It’s not as easy to milk colostrum, but it is doable. This is one of those times that I’d recommend you break out a breast pump to help you milk the goat.
The first batch of milk produced after birth is called colostrum (more on it below), you want to make sure it is fed to the kids as soon as possible after birth, preferably by nursing. But if mom won’t let them nurse on her? Then please milk her and bottle-feed them to ensure they’ve had a proper dose. If your baby goat kid has trouble taking a bottle, I’ve got some tips for you here.
How colostrum differs from regular milk
Colostrum is the first milk that any mammal makes after birthing a baby. Colostrum contains many extra nutrients and antibodies that help keep the offspring safe from disease.
Colostrum is usually only expressed for up to the first few days after delivery. Then the milk transitions to “regular” milk.
Feeding goat kids colostrum
Generally, the appropriate amount of colostrum that should be fed to the kids is around 10% of their body weight in the first 24 hours. There’s some variation from one breed of goats to another, but this is a good general rule.
Colostrum is especially important on the first day of a kid’s life. It gives them enough nutrients to adjust to life in the real world. So it’s vital that they get it as soon as humanly possible. (goat-ly possible?)
Pro tip: the leftover and excessive colostrum should be safe-kept in a refrigerator for later use.
But there probably won’t be much, if any, leftover. Especially if your goat kids are nursing like champs.
How Soon After Birth Can You Milk a Goat (for Human Consumption)?
In general, goat milk can be safe for human consumption at any time, although it’s best to keep any colostrum exclusively for the goat kids. How soon you start milking your goat depends on several factors, including how you want to raise the goat kids and your purpose for keeping the goat doe.
For instance, a dairy farmer could start milking their goats almost immediately after colostrum turns into regular milk (usually 2 to 3 days after birth). Dairy farmers will usually transition kids to being bottle-fed or to a nanny goat to take care of the kids. Then, the milk goat can be milked twice a day for as long as possible – usually, until her lactation period ends and she needs to be bred again to get more milk.
Another approach used by homesteaders and farmers is to let the mother goat raise her young kids naturally and only milk her after the kids are naturally weaned – which takes between 2 to 3 months. It is believed that this approach provides a much happier environment for the mother goat and her young kids. Potentially boosting the performance of the young kids once they’ve grown.
A third option is a hybrid of the previous two options. After the milk is no longer colostrum and the kid is big enough to be separated from mom safely, some homesteaders will separate the kids from mom overnight. That way, the goat can be milked in the morning, but the kids will have all-day access to mom to nurse on-demand. This way, goats still have the benefit of being with mom and getting fresh milk, but you get fresh milk, too.
At the end of the day, milking pregnant goats isn’t an issue in either the short or the long term. In fact, it’s a common practice for goat raisers to do so. In fact, it’s rarer to find goat raisers who don’t milk their pregnant goats. Often it’s because you don’t realize the goat is pregnant, but it’s also a valid choice.
Just make sure that your milk goats get to dry up a minimum of 2-3 months before giving birth again. That way, they’ve got the nutritional reserves they need to kid again safely.
Then, make sure you’ve got all of the information you need to feel comfortable milking goats and raising kids. A good place to start would be to check out these articles and resources next.
Learning from your own experience is essential, but learning from others is also intelligent. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Lee, April. Helpful Facts about How Long Goats Produce Milk. 20 Feb. 2021, farmhouseguide.com/how-long-goats-produce-milk/.
- Saun, Robert J. Van, et al. “Dairy Goat Production.” Penn State Extension, 12 May 2021, extension.psu.edu/dairy-goat-production.