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Breeding : Reasons why that doe won't "settle"~Sue Reith

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Many Thanks to Sue for permission to reprint this article!!


Cystic ovaries, Uterine infections, Freemartins, Pseudohermaphrodites: Differentiation and Treatment:

Right now in the early part of the breeding season might be good time to offer some guidance to readers who are trying to figure out what’s wrong when that favorite doe fails to 'settle' despite the fact that in most cases she clearly appears to be in season.

I often get posts along about now like the one below, which reads:
"One of our does seems to be cystic- she keeps short-cycling. What is the correct protocol for administering Cystorelin or Factrel? The instructions don't mention any particular timing, and neither did our Vet, but on the internet I often read about people giving it when the doe is in heat. And when do you give a second dose?"

The email above contains a very common misconception, wherein the doe's owner is assuming she has one problem (cystic ovaries), but describes the symptoms (short cycling) for quite another problem (metritis). I’ll try to help the reader to differentiate one breeding problem from another, and to offer some guidance in repairing the difficulty if that can be done.


There’s a little ‘lump’ called the corpus luteum that sits on the doe’s ovary. Its job is to keep the uterus stable in whatever stage it is in. That stage could be anestrus (that prolonged period of time each year when does do not come into heat), or standing heat, or pregnancy, or labor... The body produces a hormone called prostaglandin that, by controlling the life-span of the corpus luteum, determines the length of each of those stages. As the appropriate time to end any stage approaches, this natural prostaglandin is produced gradually until there is enough of it to kill the corpus luteum, which, once dead, allows the uterus to move into the next scheduled stage. In does with cystic ovaries, however, for undetermined reasons a hormonal imbalance in the goat keeps the natural prostaglandin from being produced in sufficient amounts in her body to kill the corpus luteum at the appointed time, and as a result the doe is unable to move to the next scheduled stage, which in this case would be a standing heat. So the corpus luteum just sits there and stays as-is, and it is said that she has 'cysts' on her ovaries (aka ‘cystic’ ovaries). This hormonal imbalance that has stopped the production of prostaglandin will also cause her to exhibit buck-like behavior, of which 'blurping' sounds and aggression are classic symptoms. So when a doe has cystic ovaries, she will fail to come into a true, standing heat, and she will act ‘bucky’ on top of that.

I have generally treated cystic ovaries quite successfully with an injection of HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, an Rx) to correct the hormonal imbalance. That is followed about 9-10 days later by an injection of Lutalyse (a man-made prostaglandin), the result being that in the absence of the natural prostaglandin, the artificial prostaglandin will do the job for it, killing the corpus luteum so she can go into a normal standing heat from 36 to 72 hours later, at which time she can be bred.


Occasionally a doe, if she does not conceive when initially bred, will return to a standing heat a short 7 to 14 days later, instead of waiting for the usual 21 days. Bred again by the owner, the story repeats itself. This is known as 'short-cycling', and it is an indication of a uterine infection (aka ‘metritis’). This infection within the uterus will prevent a conception from taking place. Generally the problem is the result of the owner having had to assist at the previous freshening, in so doing accidentally introducing pathogenic bacteria into the womb. In the two or three weeks immediately following the assisted freshening the owner may overlook a ‘pinkish’ (as opposed to a dark reddish) tinge in the lochia (post-partum discharge), indicating that a uterine infection has set in. After that, however, commonly no further signs will be observed… No temp, no abnormal discharge, milk production is normal… This is because, unlike other mammals such as dogs, horses, et al, the goat has an amazing way of containing the infection within the walls of the uterus itself.

Because of this potential for post-partum uterine infection during an assisted birthing, I always, immediately at its conclusion, prepare about 7cc of Oxytetracycline LA200, diluted with about 25cc of saline or sterile water, in a 35cc syringe, and infuse that right into the uterine cavity while the cervix is still wide open and accessible. This flushing with diluted oxytetracycline (diluted to prevent irritation of the uterine tissue) prevents any possibility of pathogenic bacteria getting a foothold in the vulnerable uterus, which, if allowed to happen, will result in the doe being unable to become pregnant when she is bred the following breeding season unless or until the infection caused by those bacteria is cleared up. Oxytetracycline, an antibiotic that is accessible and inexpensive, is very effective in treating uterine infections in goats, and it is preferred over penicillin, which is also accessible and inexpensive, but does not have a good track record in this situation.

I have learned the hard way that this immediate, preventative uterine care following an assisted delivery is the wisest approach. Although it is not impossible to clear up a uterine infection in the Fall, when the doe lets you know by short-cycling that there’s a problem, it is very difficult to do so. You see, during the breeding season she can only be treated when she is at the peak of her standing heat, when the cervix is fully dilated (wide open), to facilitate the entry of semen. And either you, yourself, must be experienced in doing A-I, or you will need to find someone else that is experienced with this process, as well as available (possibly at midnight), to do it for you, because in addition to the likelihood that said peak might actually take place in the middle of the night, the procedure used for flushing an infected uterus with oxytetracycline is the same as for doing an artificial insemination, with the only difference being that instead of infusing a straw full of semen through the doe’s cervix and into the uterus, you will be infusing a 35cc syringe full of diluted LA200 in there. You should be aware that if you permit someone who is not experienced in the A-I process to attempt this procedure on your doe, you risk losing her to your breeding program permanently.

Unfortunately, unless your veterinarian actually raises, and is experienced at doing the A-I procedure with, goats, he or she will not be able to help you with this. The process requires training, experience, and specialized equipment, and caprine artificial insemination is not a subject that is taught in veterinary school. The veterinary profession, seeking some alternative to offset veterinarians’ inability to repair caprine uterine infections using that method, has devised a rather complex series of hormonal injections, designed to (it is hoped) correct the problem. This alternative procedure, time-consuming and expensive, has an unsettlingly unpredictable rate of success. At the same time, when a veterinarian who is not experienced in the area of caprine reproductive medicine is asked for guidance regarding this dilemma, he or she will most likely tell the owner of a doe with a uterine infection that diluted LA200 should not be used to 'flush' the uterus, as it is too 'irritating' to that tender organ. However, the procedure was taught to me by Dr Bob Bondurant, who was the large animal reproductive specialist at UC Davis in the 1980's (and who I believe is still there in that capacity), and I have had phenomenal success with it.

As noted above, experience with the A-I process, and the equipment one uses for it (A-I sheath, speculum, special light source) is essential to this procedure, which is as follows:

The aforementioned 35cc syringe with the diluted LA200 in it is connected with a 1 inch rubber tube to an A-I sheath, which at the optimum time during the standing heat must be carefully inserted via the speculum thru the doe’s wide open cervix and flushed directly into the interior of the uterus, with the handler using the special light source as a guide. This flushing, combined with systemic injections of LA 200, has resulted for me in a 100% success rate in reversing a uterine infection.

Addendum: After treatment the doe will conclude her cycle normally. She should return to standing heat in 21 days, at which time she can be re-bred.

If you cannot either do this for your doe, or have a capable friend that can do it for you, you will have lost a good doe to your breeding program, which in my view is very sad, as well as having been preventable. For that reason I strongly urge the reader to conclude an assisted birth with a diluted oxytetracycline flush preventatively as noted above.


This category of non-breeders is the most frustrating of all, because unlike the others it is untreatable. Every year I get requests for help from individuals who tell me that they cannot 'catch' their favorite doe in season. They are always sure that they must have 'missed' the cycles. Last year I spent many months trying to help a woman who had bought at auction a 'really nice' 4-year-old Boer doe with a fine pedigree from a man that she declared undyingly was a good and honorable person, who ‘would never cheat her', and who had told her that the doe had previously freshened every year (this despite the fact that when pressed, she told me that there was no development of the mammary system, which she was sure had simply 'shrunk back down')! She had left this doe with her buck for several months, and although the doe did not appear to be pregnant, after her last possible due date had passed she 'lutalysed' her anyway, hoping desperately to produce the kid she was sure had to be in there. That effort, as expected, was unsuccessful. The owner, when asked, told me the doe was not showing any 'bucky behavior', to which I responded that she didn't sound 'cystic'. Still hopeful, she asked me to guide her thru the treatment for cystic ovaries anyway, sadly with no change. Finally I asked her to find someone who knew how to do A-I and had A-I equipment and would come to her farm and examine the doe vaginally. She said she knew of no one with that capability, and that was where we left the saga in July.

The reason I had asked her to find this person with A-I capability was that I wanted someone to check the doe out vaginally. To do this one needs to insert an A-I speculum coated with KY jelly gently up into the doe’s vagina, just as we do for Artificial Insemination. Examination with the special light source would have revealed one of three things:

1) At the far end of the vagina, a clearly defined cervix (looks like a pink elastrator band) would be visible. Best-case scenario!


2) The speculum would not insert very far into the vagina, but instead, at what should have been about half to 2/3 of the way in, it would come to a halt… at a blank wall! This would indicate that the doe was a freemartin", a female developed in the same uterine horn with a male fetus, wherein the male hormones interfered with her development of female characteristics. Result: No female reproductive organs! A nice pet for someone...


3) The speculum would be unable to penetrate thru the vulva into the vagina at all, because lo and behold, it was stopped dead in its tracks by a penis! If this were an older animal, by that time it probably would have been exhibiting aggressive male behavior... In a younger animal, however, perhaps not... If placed in a pen full of normal does, these goats, known as pseudohermaphrodites, will make great 'teasers'. They have the internal characteristics of one sex, and external characteristics of the other. They are sterile, but they will mount a doe that is in season, helping with herd management by alerting the owner to take her to a buck for breeding.

Having said all of the above, one more suggestion is in order: If your doe is not settling, and has NONE of the signs indicated above, but is returning cooperatively to heat every 21 days, you might want to do a breeding soundness exam on the prospective dad!

(While I urge you to share this information with other individual goat owners, please do not reproduce the article for publication without my specific permission. Thank you. Sue Reith.)

Sue Reith
Carmelita Toggs
Bainbridge Island WA
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