Pregnancy Diagnosis Techniques
Maxine Kinne

Pregnancy diagnostic techniques run the gamut from gut-level instinct to technology's latest innovation. Here you will find two broad categories - Stuff You Can Do and Stuff Your Vet Does. Most of the simple methods you can use work well and they're free. Needless to say, an exact breeding date will be a whole lot of help. 


STUFF YOU CAN DO

These skills are refined over time, and they are not perfect. For instance, a false pregnancy can rarely be differentiated from a real one, unless you are very experienced and have good records. Try any or all of these methods and get comfortable with a few. Your veterinarian should be able to help you if you need a truly definite answer.

Observe Behavior

Heat detection ability is one of your biggest assets. Failure to return to heat after breeding is a good sign of pregnancy, although it is not 100% accurate. A doe may appear to cycle one or more times at regular intervals while she is pregnant, but this is not very common. When it happens, the signs of estrus aren't very strong, and she is usually ambivalent about standing for the buck.

For a variety of reasons, a doe can resorb the pregnancy at any time during the first half of the pregnancy. If this happens very early, she will cycle at her regular interval. If it happens a little later, she may return to heat 6 weeks after breeding. Watch for estrus signs for six weeks or so after breeding. Does bred toward the end of the traditional breeding season (autumn through early spring) may not take, and open does may be unrecognized due to anestrus (not cycling).

A change of attitude is a good early sign of expectant motherhood. This seat-of-the-pants method is based on the personality change that many does experience about two weeks after breeding. Aloof does suddenly crave attention, and friendly does become standoffish. At parturition her personality reverts to normal. This change is due to hormone progesterone, which is produced by the corpus luteum on the ovaries.

When does live with the buck for an extended period, he will often chase them away from the grain after they are successfully bred. Some gentlemanly sires continue to let pregnant does sidle up alongside the grain dish. Learn to recognize his attitude toward his female companions at feeding time.

Shape and Weight

Some does start filling out within the first few weeks of pregnancy while others keep you guessing for months. When a doe's shape seems to suddenly inflate a couple of weeks after breeding, she may be bred. Measuring or weighing at specific times after breeding can be a big help in diagnosing pregnancy. The doe should first be measured around the heart girth and the barrel at breeding. Two months later, her barrel should have increased by 1/2" to 3" in circumference. My does gain an average of about 3 pounds in the first month. Between breeding and two months their average gain is 6 or 7 pounds. Open does don't gain weight that quickly. If you have a scale, recording weight gain at breeding and monthly intervals thereafter can be helpful. This method can work in young does that are still growing, as weight gain is more rapid than growth rate.

I took pictures of two adults, a mother and her daughter, to display at fairs.
It is easy for people unfamiliar with Pygmy goats to think they are all pregnant all the time!

Sparkle (left) is not pregnant. Spunky
is in her last month of pregnancy. She
had twin girls.
Six months later, Sparkle is in her last month. She had
triplet girls.


Early Palpation

A dairy goat friend taught me to palpate the abdomen in front of the udder with my fingertips two weeks after breeding, and I mastered this on my first try. A newly settled doe's belly feels tense, and an open doe feels mushy. Rest your fingertips very lightly on the abdomen with hands slightly cupped. Use a couple of light, quick jabs upward about half an inch into the belly. Jabs are similar to quick little pokes like typing. That's as technical as I get on this one. This method is only helpful if your does are very friendly and comfortable in letting you mess with their intimate parts. If the doe tenses warily, you will be unable to sense the firm tension in her early-pregnant abdomen.


Later Palpation

Movements of the fetuses can often be palpated between 3½ to 4 months. Put the doe on a stanchion. Put the heels of your hands together and spread your fingers wide apart. Place your hands just in front of the udder with your fingers extending into the flanks. Press upward into the belly and hold for a few seconds. You may feel one or more kids moving. The right flank is the most promising area to feel movement, as the rumen takes a lot of room on the left. It is somewhat difficult to palpate kids in fat does than those in appropriate condition. A small single fetus may sometimes avoid detection, especially in the presence of an exceptionally large amount of amniotic fluid.


Pelvic Ligaments

In the last month of pregnancy, the effects of the the hormone relaxin becomes obvious. Relaxin softens the sacrotuberous (pelvic) ligaments. These ligaments, one on each side of the rump, extend backward and downward from the spine at about a 45-degree angle and feel like taut strings midway between the hips and tail head. The ligaments become extremely loose and mushy just before kidding. (Relaxin also helps dilate the cervix and vagina before parturition.) You can feel the ligaments by running your thumb and finger along the spine of the rump. When you gain experienced at feeling pelvic ligaments, this test is quite accurate in the third trimester. Phil Moss has provided a good illustration of the location of pelvic ligaments on his website.


Mammary Development

The amount of milk a doe gives is largely dependent on how many kids she has and whether they are males or females. For instance, a doe with triplet boys gives far more than one with a single girl. This is due to chemical signals from the feti during pregnancy.

Mammary system changes in maiden does can often be detected as early as 6 weeks after breeding, but certainly by three months. This can also be a good sign in previously kidded does if their udders dry off to be fairly flat against belly wall. Udder development is a little more difficult to detect in early pregnancy if the doe has a meaty udder or has had certain types of mastitis. Variable amounts of milk are produced in a pseudopregnancy, but the amount is usually quite small. Due to less udder development you may be fooled into thinking the doe is carrying a single fetus when she is carrying nothing but fluid. In late pregnancy the milk vein can be felt on the abdomen between the umbilicus and the udder.


Urine and Blood Testing

A urine test measuring total estrogens, including estrone sulfate, a hormone produced by fetal or placental tissues, is considered to be 100% accurate in diagnosing pregnancy 50 or more days after breeding. A kit is available from BET Reproductive Labs. Check their web site for current information on pricing. It is reasonable, if you absolutely must know.

I have always relied on my own observations and skills.  The only time I used an estrone sulfate test, I was on my way to the barn from the mailbox, with the test results in hand, to investigate some noise. It was that doe in a very strong heat.

Rocky Mountain Instrumental Laboratories offers progesterone testing from blood or urine samples. We have never used progesterone tests for goats, but we always used them for the llamas and they were always accurate.


STUFF YOUR VETS DOES

Serum Progesterone

A blood sample can be sent to a diagnostic lab to be tested for progesterone level at a minimum of 20-24 days after breeding. It may be worthwhile to wait a few extra days, as the doe may recycle just after blood is drawn. Progesterone testing does not differentiate between pregnancy and irregular cycles or false pregnancy. Early abortion can be ruled out by progesterone testing again later.


Radiography

The doe can be X-rayed. Fetal bones can be seen earlier than 70 days post-breeding.


Ultrasound

There are several different kinds of ultrasound machines. If it is very important go determine pregnancy in a certain doe, you may be able to justify the cost. Results are 100% if your veterinarian is experienced in using real-time ultrasound equipment. Transabdominal ultrasound is effective in detecting a gravid uterus at 35 days, but individual fetuses can be counted at 60 days. Your veterinarian may give a group discount on multiple does. If your veterinarian is just learning to use new equipment and wants to practice on your herd, s/he may do it free as a learning experience. To avoid having your doe's abdomen shaved, ask the vet to use large amounts of contact gel.



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