Signs of Pregnancy in Goats or Sheep

By Jo Chester

Goats and sheep are closely related species. They share many traits during pregnancy, making confirmation similar. Methods of confirming pregnancy that you can perform yourself -- such as palpation, gauging milk production or estimating the amount of time that has elapsed from breeding without estrus occurring -- are methods for making informed guesses. Let a veterinarian diagnose pregnancy with a blood test, a urine test or an ultrasound.

Pregnant goat in zoo
A pregnant goat's abdomen distends in mid- to late pregnancy.
credit: Hemera Technologies/ Images

Time Elapsed Since Breeding

Goat does are seasonal breeders. They generally come into season monthly when the days shorten, usually during the fall through the winter months. Watch the calendar and your doe after she stands quietly for a buck and mates. If she does not return to estrus within 21 to 25 days, she is likely pregnant. This period is shorter for ewes, who will return to estrus every 16 to 17 days until they are bred or until the breeding season ceases. In addition, does and ewes who have become pregnant will show no interest in an intact male animal of their species.

Weight and Girth Measurements

Pregnant Ewe
A normal sheep pregnancy lasts about 145 days.
credit: PlazacCameraman/iStock/Getty Images

Both does and ewes will gain in heart girth -- the measurement around their chest taken right behind their forelegs -- and weight early in their pregnancy, often during the first two months. If you do not own a livestock scale to track your animal's weight, use heart girth and body length to calculate weight gain. The circumference of the doe or ewe's abdomen will increase as the pregnancy continues. Her abdomen may appear lopsided.

Manual Palpation

Palpation, the gentle manipulation of a doe's abdomen, may aid in pregnancy detection; however, it takes some practice to perfect. Six weeks after the doe is bred, gently prod her abdomen directly in front of her udder. Her abdomen will feel tighter than that of an unbred doe. Palpation requires that the individual performing it is familiar with the way a doe's abdomen normally feels -- so if you have only one doe, you should practice palpating her prior to her being bred. Ewes can also be palpated; however, they are palpated rectally between 60 and 120 days after breeding, using a palpation rod.

Milk Production

If your doe or ewe continues to be milked after she is bred, her milk production will likely decrease as the kid or kids begin to grow. A doe's udder may also change shape as the kid starts to develop, taking on a flattened appearance. It will return to a rounded shape at about week 15 of her pregnancy.

Veterinary Diagnosis

Veterinarians can detect pregnancy in a doe or a ewe using several techniques. Blood and urine tests detect pregnancy as early as 40 or 50 days. Ultrasound scans can detect pregnancy starting as early as 70 days. Ultrasound can also determine the number of kids or lambs present in the uterus.

Ligament Detection

The doe has two ligaments that are palpable at the base of her spine, extending from the base of her tail to the protrusions of the pin bones. These ligaments are tightly strung until the end of the doe's pregnancy, when they will relax and seemingly disappear. Once these ligaments have relaxed and the vulva begins to enlarge and become distended, labor has begun and delivery will soon follow.