Table of Contents
For the Love of Goats
What do you do when your doe gets bred but doesn’t get pregnant? There are a number of reasons why this can happen, and Dr. Jamie Stewart, Assistant Professor in Production Management Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, joins us in this episode to discuss five of the possibilities.
We are talking about the causes and treatments for cystic ovaries and false pregnancy (pseudo-pregnancy), as well as how nutrition and some plants can negatively affect a doe’s ability to get pregnant. Finally, we are talking about does that might not really be does, meaning they don’t have a complete reproductive system or perhaps are intersex.
Other episodes with Dr. Jamie Stewart
- Episode 116 – Risks of Buck Service
- Episode 111 – Vaginal Prolapse in Pregnant Goats
- Episode 105 – Goat Placenta: Understanding Its Function and Management
- Episode 96 – Miscarriages in Goats Caused by Infections
- Episode 83 – Buck Health and Breeding
- Episode 78 – Artificial Insemination in Goats
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Introduction 0:03 For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. I am really excited that we are going to be talking about another topic related to breeding season. And we are once again joined by Dr. Jamie Stewart, Assistant Professor in Production Management Medicine at the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Welcome back, Dr. Stewart.
Jamie Stewart 0:37
Thank you for having me again.
Deborah Niemann 0:38
So a lot of people worry about their goats, having problems getting pregnant, or maybe they’ve experienced a goat that is not getting pregnant. So today, I’m really excited, we’re going to talk about things like cystic ovaries, pseudopregnancy, nutritional, toxic plants, and then also maybe just touch a little bit on intersex animals, and maybe your doe’s not getting pregnant because she’s not a doe. So let’s get started. I know the thing most people really worry about a lot is cystic ovaries. So let’s just dive right in with that one. What exactly does that mean? And what does the owner see?
Jamie Stewart 1:15
So for cystic ovaries, basically what happens is your female is cycling, she’ll probably go through a heat, and she’ll develop that follicle that’s meant to ovulate. But for some different physiological reasons, the follicle, it doesn’t ovulate, it doesn’t get the- So basically, the brain doesn’t get the trigger for the hormone, which is called luteinizing hormone, or LH. And so you need that LH surge to basically force that follicle to release the oocyte that’s in there. And that’s the ovulation process. And for whatever reason, the brain does not get that trigger. So it doesn’t release that LH. So instead of ovulating that follicle, the ovary, the follicle on it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And it becomes what we consider anovulatory, so it means it’s not able to ovulate.
Deborah Niemann 2:05
Okay. And so their doe’s coming into heat, and they’re breeding the doe, and then the doe just keeps coming into heat.
Jamie Stewart 2:13
Yeah. So sometimes you’ll see them, it can act different ways, like in the initial phases because it’s producing so much estrogen, you might see things like what we call nymphomania, or just chronic display of that behavior. And then eventually, it kind of shuts off after so long if it doesn’t get treated, either- Sometimes it’ll resolve itself, but sometimes it also just kind of shuts down the pathway in the brain, and you don’t- You stop seeing any cycles, so they get into what we call an anestrous period. So where they’re not cycling, they’re not really doing anything. And some people might also just notice if they’re tracking the cycles, is that sometimes they’ll just start having some shorter cycles, and they’re just not consistent. And that could indicate that she’s having some cystic ovaries, but it might be resolving itself, but she’s just also not ovulating in that period, so that can present a problem also.
Deborah Niemann 3:06
Okay. So if a breeder is seeing this with their doe, would they be able to get a diagnosis with a blood test from their vet?
Jamie Stewart 3:16
A blood test sometimes is a little more tricky. So you’ll have to do somewhat of serial blood tests. Sometimes ultrasound is the best way to diagnose this if you’re catching it in that active stage where you can actually see the ovary getting big and full of fluid. And usually when they are quite cystic, that’s actually when it’s easiest to see the ovaries. Otherwise, sometimes it’s actually difficult to see them with the ultrasound. But the blood test that we would do, mostly what we have available is looking at progesterone. And when you have a cystic ovary, the progesterone is actually going to be low. So the diagnosis ends up being mostly based off of clinical signs, and then the treatment for it’s actually pretty cheap.
Jamie Stewart 4:01
So a lot of times we just say, okay, let’s try to treat for it. And if it resolves, then that gives us our answer. So that ends up being kind of the treatment. If you want to spend the extra $100 to run a blood test on progesterone, just to make sure that’s low, that can rule out, we’re going to talk about pseudopregnancies, but that can rule out some other causes of infertility too if the progesterone is low. And so it ends up being kind of a combination of a few different things and basically response to treatment.
Deborah Niemann 4:30
So you mentioned that treatment is inexpensive and what exactly is that?
Jamie Stewart 4:34
Yeah. So there’s a couple of different ways to treat. So the easiest one is to give a hormone. So there’s a couple of options. So some of you might know it as either Factrel or Cystorelin if you do any synchronization. So it’s what we call a gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist. So that hormone in the brain that I said is responsible for triggering the release of LH, that’s called GnRH is what it’s called for short. And so basically we can give a big dose of that and what that’s going to do is going to trigger the release of that LH. But it’s actually not going to cause that follicle to ovulate, but it causes it to turn into a CL. So it acts like it ovulated because it still forms a structure that forms after the ovulation occurs, which is a CL, which is responsible for maintaining. It produces the progesterone that maintains the pregnancy. So it’s still going to produce that. And so then they hopefully go through a cycle and then depending on when you’re trying to breed her, you can come in about seven days later and give her Lutalyse and hypothetically she should come into heat.
Jamie Stewart 5:43
Now sometimes the problem of why these form and why we tend to see them more in our milking breeds is because in the cycle before the follicle develops, their progesterone levels are low. So I say, especially in our milking breeds, because when they’re actively milking, it actually metabolizes all of that progesterone. And so the circulating levels of it in the bloodstream are a little bit lower than what they should be. And that’s what’s actually blocking the brain from being able to respond appropriately to those cues to ovulate is having too low of progesterone in that cycle before they ovulate. And so having high progesterone beforehand is really helpful.
Jamie Stewart 6:28
So sometimes just going in, so there’s some that become a little, you try to treat them a couple of times with the GnRH agonist, the Factrel, Cystorelin, and they don’t respond. So then kind of the next line treatment ends up being to, especially to target those that have low circulating progesterone because they’re not producing good CL is to actually just do a regular synchronization with a CIDR. So any of you have used CIDR’s or sponges, basically it’s a device that you put into the vagina and it’s going to release that progesterone. So and it’s going to release a significant amount such that the brain can get all the receptors and everything it needs to respond to the cues and it shouldn’t allow her to ovulate by the time you remove it. So sometimes the treatment for this is to just synchronize them, and especially using a CIDR can be very helpful in some of those ones, especially ones that are kind of have chronic problems.
Deborah Niemann 7:22
Okay. Fascinating. Is there anything else about cystic ovaries that people need to be aware of?
Jamie Stewart 7:28
If you’re, especially if you’re using females for things like super ovulation. So if you’ve got a donor and you’re looking to try to breed her later just kind of being mindful that things like if you’re doing your super ovulation protocols that can predispose them to developing cysts. And then also we were going to talk a little bit about some toxic plants, but there’s a few different plants out there that have a lot of estrogenic compounds in them. And so if they’re grazing a lot of that, things like clover, alfalfa, if there’s a high amount of that, that can also predispose them to developing these cysts. So if you are having chronic problems with several females in your herd, you can always kind of go back and look at your nutrition too.
Deborah Niemann 8:14
Okay. Interesting. So let’s say you’ve got a goat that looks like she was successfully bred. She seems to be bred. She’s getting big. All of a sudden, one day after three to five months, she’s not big anymore. You don’t see kids anywhere. Maybe even she started developing an udder or something. And then you ultimately have to come to the conclusion that this was a pseudo pregnancy or false pregnancy. What causes that in goats?
Jamie Stewart 8:44
So a lot of what causes a pseudo pregnancy or false pregnancy is what we consider idiopathic and we don’t actually know. So again, there seems to be a component of it that’s linked to breed. And again, it comes back to our milking breeds tend to be the problematic ones that seem to develop more of the pseudo pregnancies. And so in any given herd, you’ll see anywhere from about three to five percent pseudo pregnancies develop. And that’s actually considered pretty normal, a normal rate of, you know, they just happen to- they ovulated and for whatever reason, they just didn’t get the trigger. Now, some of the things that we think can cause it, one would be if they get something that we call an endometritis. And so some kind of- and that just means there’s some kind of inflammation in the uterus.
Jamie Stewart 9:37
And you know, that can be from either a pathogen.
So we, you know, we’ve talked about different pathogens that you can pick up during breeding, but it can also just be her response to the semen too. She can develop some inflammation in the uterine lining and that uterine lining is actually what’s responsible for triggering the onset of what we call luteolysis. So it’s the breakdown of that corpus luteum that causes her to come into estrus. And so you need a healthy uterine lining to be able to respond to that. So those are some of the things that we think cause it. There can also be, if you’re not doing any early pregnancy diagnosis. So by early, I mean about 30 days, there can also be some pregnancy loss that occurs during that time. And usually the fetus gets resorbed if it’s that early.
Jamie Stewart 10:26
So if you’re seeing much higher incidences of these- so I had a past student that contacted me because she had a dairy goat farm that had about 30%. Those would be ones that I would be concerned that had some early embryonic deaths. So basically the fetus just died and it got resorbed. And basically the body didn’t get the memo that, look, there’s nothing left here. And so the body still thought it was pregnant because it got the signal that it was pregnant and then it kind of went on. The other things that can cause it is if you’re doing a lot of out of season breeding. So you’re doing a lot of hormone manipulation with them, doing CIDR’s and giving GnRH, things like that can also, again, it can trigger the body to thinking it’s pregnant because it’s gotten all the hormones to be pregnant, but it’s, you know, it knows it’s not supposed to be cycling because we’re out of season. And so it just, you know, the body gets confused essentially. So those are all some of the things that, you know, could cause it that we think cause it. But in general, there can be several different ways and we never really quite know in individual cases what exactly caused it.
Deborah Niemann 11:31
Okay. And I know the question I always get when somebody has this is like, is there anything that they should do afterwards?
Jamie Stewart 11:40
Usually, so the treatment for this is, it’s pretty- this is another one that’s actually pretty easy to treat. So long as it’s just a routine pseudo pregnancy that has no other issues now, I’ll get onto a side note is I have seen what we’d call pseudo pregnancy or just fluid in the uterus without the presence of a baby. And we’ve seen that caused by different things, more pathologic things such as a doe that had a really bad dystocia. She developed some scar tissue around her cervix. And so as she went through heats, she couldn’t normally drain the uterus that would develop in her. So that fluid just built up over time and she developed a hydrometra that we weren’t able to get resolved. So there are pathologic things like that and things like neoplasia for some older ones. So when I talk about a pseudo pregnancy, I’m talking about this routine things.
Jamie Stewart 12:30
These are the ones that are easy to treat if they’re going to respond. And so basically, we just give them a dose of prostaglandin. So again, for those of you out there, you might know it as Lutalyse or Estrumate are the two common products that we see here in the US. So you treat them with that and that should bring them back into cycling. However, I would not breed them, as opposed to the cystic ovary treatment, I would not breed them off of that heat because they just had a whole bunch of fluid in their uterus. If it was because of some inflammation or early embryonic death, you want to give her a chance to clear that out. So I usually recommend, you know, you give them the prostaglandin and then wait another, you know, 10 days or so, give her another dose of prostaglandin and let her go through another cycle of clearing out the uterus. And then for the next cycle, you can start synchronizing her if you just want to wait for heat or just turn her out. After that one, you can go ahead and turn her out.
Deborah Niemann 13:25
Okay. Is there anything else that people need to know about pseudopregnancies?
Jamie Stewart 13:30
Yeah, so for the confirmation for this one, you know, this is one where if you have a high progesterone, it will absolutely confirm it. However, it’s not usually necessary because if your veterinarian does any type of livestock work, he’s going to have some form of ultrasound and it’s really easy to diagnosis with an ultrasound and you get that diagnosis right away. The ones that I would consider, you know, doing more- some more of the blood work on are the ones that maybe are not responding to the treatment. So you’re given the Lutalyse and they’re not responding. So we can give the Lutalyse or the Estrumate and then, you know, in a few days, her progesterone should be low.
Jamie Stewart 14:07
So if we go back and check her blood for progesterone, then it can tell us, is she just not responding to it or is, you know, is a persistent CL not the problem? Is it one of these other things that I’ve talked about, like the adhesions around the cervix or, you know, do we need to do something where we can get that, tap that fluid out and test it to see if there’s neoplastic cells or cancer cells in there? So, so those are some things to think about, but in the non-complicated cases, they should be quite easy, but if not, then you might have to do some further digging or just cut your losses. And, you know, and I understand money wise, sometimes that’s the most practical thing to do too.
Deborah Niemann 14:46
Right. Is there any concern that this or cystic ovaries is hereditary? So would you not want to keep does or bucks out of goats that have these challenges?
Jamie Stewart 14:59
There can be some hereditary component to it, especially, you know, with the cystic ovaries, if it’s, you know, they’re constantly coming back into heat and not really getting pregnant off of them, they’re short heats, those would be ones that I would be concerned about. But I think if they’re, if it’s a good female, otherwise, and they respond well to treatment, I don’t see why, you know, unless it’s becoming a major nuisance to you. So there is probably a genetic component. I don’t think anybody’s isolated it to any one particular thing. You know, as far as we know, it tends to be more based on the breeds itself than any one thing that we can iron out with a genetic test.
Deborah Niemann 15:40
Okay. All right. And then we were talking earlier about the fact that nutrition can definitely play a role in goats not getting pregnant. What are some of the issues there?
Jamie Stewart 15:51
So the biggest issues are they end up coming down to body condition. So you know, them being under condition versus over condition and you know, it’s, it’s a fine line. So we found that the does that come in that have really bad body condition, they’ll have problems like they’re not expressing estrous just because they don’t have the energy to. The fetal growth might be poor. And then obviously that’ll affect your prolificacy too. So if you’re hoping to get twins out of her, she might only, you know, ovulate once cause that’s all she has the energy to, if she ovulates at all. So you know, especially if the nutrition going throughout pregnancy continues to be poor, then the fetal growth itself is going to be not great and she’s going to be at risk for different things like dystocia and hypocalcemia, things like that.
Jamie Stewart 16:41
And then on the other side of it, you know, we do worry about, especially- I always pick on the boer goats with this because they’re just, they’re the poster child for over conditioning. And I remember someone asking me what over conditioning was, and I said, it’s the fancy veterinary word for fat, you know, so it’s, it’s how we say it nicely. But we think about them because for one thing they, you know, especially if you want to do any type of flushing protocol for breeding that is supposed to increase your prolificacy, they won’t respond to it at all because their body has to be wanting more before they can get more. And if the body’s already plentiful, then they’re not going to accept the trigger to ovulate more because the body already has an excess, but we definitely worry most about the over conditioning with the development later on in pregnancy of pregnancy toxemia.
Jamie Stewart 17:30
But also, you know, to be mindful that there’s different vitamin deficiencies: A, vitamin E, selenium, copper, manganese, iodine. All of these have been loosely associated with irregular estrous cycles and early embryonic death and abortions. So again, these are, as with any nutritional disease, it’s always hard to iron down one culprit. But you know, if you certainly think you’re having issues getting pregnant and you haven’t found any infectious causes, you know, or you haven’t identified any problems with ovaries or the pseudopregnancy, doing a mineral panel might be a good next step, especially if you’re, you know, a newer farmer and unsure about the nutrition program.
Deborah Niemann 18:13
Okay. Yeah. And that’s why I always tell people, it’s really important that your goats have a good free choice mineral available 24/7.
Jamie Stewart 18:20
Deborah Niemann 18:21
So it is not just like a human decided to take a multivitamin every day. Goats really need their minerals. You know, I was surprised when you said that some plants can keep goats from getting pregnant. So can you talk about that a little bit?
Jamie Stewart 18:37
Yeah. So there’s different pathogens based on the different plants. So, you know, some people might hear of plants and they think of Veratrum californicum, which is also known as false hellebore. And that’s the- that’s the plant that will cause the cyclopea. So if there- so if you have a lamb that comes out and it has one eye, it’s got cleft palate, it’s got all kinds of abnormalities. So this is the one that’s associated with the false hellebore, but that’s- it’s a very specific timeframe. So that’s between 12 and 14 days of gestation.
Jamie Stewart 19:09
So before you even know she’s pregnant, if they’re grazing that, that can cause problems. But even if they’re grazing it, you know, during that breeding period in those first 10 days, and you don’t necessarily see the issues of the baby is they actually undergo early embryonic death. And in those first 10 days, that’s before the body even has had a chance to receive the signal from the developing embryo that the pregnancy is there. So she might just continue to cycle as normal because she’s not getting any notice that she should be pregnant because within those first 10 days- so it could just be causing, you know, failure for that embryo to implant. And then certainly, you know, if they continue to graze at other things is you see issues with limb contracture and things like that. And you can also get prolonged gestation. So definitely, if you’ve got any false hellebore, that’s something to get rid of.
Jamie Stewart 20:01
Other ones that are probably a little bit more common that we would think of would be- and I mentioned, I already mentioned this a little bit, but like the estrogen producing plants. So things like your clover and your alfalfa. If they’re, you know, if they’re out browsing on a lot more of these and, and this tends to be worse in the sheep than in the goats. But, you know, if they’re, if they’re out browsing a whole lot of this and you’re seeing issues with infertility and the cycles are weird. And if you’ve had issues with cystic ovaries, things like that, it might be something for you to consider. Let’s go out and look at the pasture and see, you know, see how much clover we have out there versus grass. If it’s predominantly clover, then we might consider, you know, let’s do a little bit more hay. Let’s cut down the alfalfa. Because all of those produce estrogenic compounds and that can cause some of those issues.
Jamie Stewart 20:53
Some of the other issues, fescue, we tend to think of more issues again with horses, but certainly the ergot alkaloids that are produced by the fungus on our fescue can actually cause some issues with it can affect the cycling by how it interferes with some of the hormones. So it can increase, you know, a lot of times we’ll see kind of a- just an increase in that interval from the time we introduced the ram to where they actually get bred. So it might take them a few more cycles to get pregnant. Or if you only have the ram out there for 50 days, you might have lower conception rates. So other ones to be concerned about, especially broomweed, lupine, a lot of those can just cause different issues with how the fetus develops. So you might see more disorders when the fetuses come out. Locoweeds is another one. So that one can mess with the placentation. Again, it just affects how much blood and oxygen get to the baby. So you get, you see some small, weak babies. And again, you might see some of the contracted tendons. So those are, those are the big ones that I’ve got on my list here of, you know, ones that you can, can keep an eye out for.
Deborah Niemann 22:14
Okay. So the next thing on the list is kind of a weird one, and that is goats that are intersex. A lot of times this is super obvious, you know, from the time they’re born because you see both genitals for both genders in one animal, but not necessarily. So if you have- and we actually had a goat that we had for four years and she was bred over and over and over again, she was even putting a pen with a buck. She never got pregnant. And I was like, okay, this is going to be my educational expense. And I was going to take her to the university to find out what was wrong with her. And then we had another big veterinary expense and I was like, oh, all right, I really can’t afford this now just to make my curiosity happy. So I just sold her as a pet without papers, told somebody, you know, I don’t, I don’t think she can get pregnant, but I wouldn’t bet on that because I haven’t checked out why she hasn’t gotten pregnant. So anyway, my thought was there was something not quite right inside her pelvic cavity. So what are some of the things that can cause a situation like that?
Jamie Stewart 23:20
So that’s a really funny question. I’m wondering if you sold it to somebody in Virginia? Because I just saw- so I just saw a goat last week or two weeks ago, I guess. And I believe it was a Nigerian dwarf goat and she, they had bought her from somewhere else. She was four years old. She’s never gotten bred. Never- They’ve had her out continuously with a buck. She’s never showed signs of heat. He’s tried mounting her and stuff. And she’s just kind of like, eh, whatever. But yeah, so she shows no signs. So, you know, they had us, we were out there actually doing something else for them. And I told them I’d bring the ultrasound and we could look at her.
Jamie Stewart 23:54
So with that one, the hardest part of doing what we call breeding soundness exams on the female small ruminants is the ability to get a really good look at the reproductive tract because, you know, intersex would be the biggest thing, but you know, there’s also other congenital conditions that, you know, aren’t specifically related to intersex that can cause this. And it’s just, you know, the ovaries don’t really develop or the uterus doesn’t really develop. And sometimes it’s just a random congenital anomaly. But certainly when we think of intersex, we tend to associate it with a polled condition. And certainly, of course, this female, I’m asking the student, they don’t know anything about her history. And I’m asking the students, I’m like, does it look like she’s polled? I don’t see any, you know, I don’t even- I swear she was disbudded. And they’re like, no, we don’t see anything. And I’m like, okay, I’m pretty sure she’s polled. I was like- so that tends to make me lean towards more of an intersex condition because it tends to be associated with the, with the being polled genes or not having- you know, that we breed for not having the horns.
Jamie Stewart 24:58
So with those, again, they tend to be difficult, but if, you know, if you can get a veterinarian to look at them, sometimes it just takes a small ultrasound exam. And I just have like a little, like a little tube that I put over my rectal probe that I use in cattle. And I actually do do the transrectal ultrasound on the goats quite frequently to look at, to evaluate their reproductive tract. And like I talked about with the cystic ovaries, certain things are really easy to see. So especially if they’ve had babies, if they’re cycling, or if they’ve got, you know, big structures on their ovaries. Some of those can be quite easy to see, but for her, I could not see a darn thing. So and- you know, I don’t know if that’s, if that means that there definitely wasn’t anything there, or if it was just very undeveloped, but that would be abnormal for a four year old.
Jamie Stewart 25:46
And, you know, I’m would consider myself a specialist in that kind of procedure, because I do that a lot. I do a lot of reproductive exams, using the transrectal ultrasound that way. And I can always usually at least identify the uterus pretty readily, and then, you know, maybe find at least one ovary, sometimes the other ones tucked away, and you can’t really get to it. So yeah- so to not be able to really see anything that I could confidently identify as uterus, or even some kind of ovary makes me think that she was probably- we talked about her being an intersex, because you hit the nail on the head when you said, you know, sometimes it’s obvious, and you can see different things from the outside, but sometimes it’s just an abnormality of how it develops on the inside, and the ovaries can be as small as raisins and not functional. So there’s quite a bit of a variation. And again, it’s just- this is 100% a genetic issue for these.
Deborah Niemann 26:38
Yeah, I was so disappointed when we had that big vet bill. And then I realized like, all right, I can’t really afford to do this, because I know there’s not going to be anything they can do about it, probably. And this is just to, you know, solve my own curiosity. You were saying that there’s something, there are some other things that you can do in terms of like, trying to figure out why a goat isn’t getting pregnant, especially if she was coming into heat and getting bred, but then never showing any signs of being pregnant.
Jamie Stewart 27:10
Yeah. So, you know, in addition to, you know, having an ultrasonography exam to look at the ovaries and look at the uterus, other things that, you know, a veterinarian could possibly do if they’ve got the equipment is do a laparoscopic examination where, just like what we would do if we were going into AI, but you can actually just visualize the uterus and the ovaries and see if everything looks normal from that perspective. So that’s always an option too. But it’s also important to know that you could spend all the money to look and diagnose, but I- you know, I would say nine times out of ten, if your female’s continuously not getting pregnant, there’s going to not be very much we can do about it. So for most people out there, it’s going to be more worthwhile to just cut your losses. But, you know, if you’re ever curious, we as vets always love to, you know, love a good mystery.
Deborah Niemann 28:00
Yeah, exactly. I know, I’m very curious person and it drives me crazy when I don’t know what is going on 100%. Like I want all the answers. And I think I had goats for about three or four years when I realized that I do not have unlimited money. So sometimes things are just going to have to remain a mystery. So, all right, well, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been really educational. And I’m sure people got a lot out of this. Thank you.
Jamie Stewart 28:30
Deborah Niemann 28:31
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!