A Biological Trick for Fostering Lambs and Kids: Birth Canal Stimulation

Goats September 22, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Natasha Pettifor, Cornell Animal Science Dept. PhD candidate with LOTS of hands-on experience in maternal bonding of sheep and goats

 

Convincing a reluctant new dam to accept an orphaned or rejected lamb or kid can be tricky. Many strategies for “fostering” or “grafting” are frustration and too often unsuccessful. A technique called vagino-cervical stimulation (VCS), a.k.a. birth canal stimulation, can be helpful and increase the rate of successful grafting. The goal of VCS is to convince the ewe or doe’s body and brain she is giving birth to another infant. When done correctly, she will bond as strongly and quickly to the grafted lamb or kid as she would to an infant just born to her.

 

This technique requires a ewe or doe that has given birth within the last 24-26 hours. The more recently she has given birth, the easier the task will be for all involved. Success rates also increase with decreasing lamb or kid age. It is best of the lamb or kid to be grafted is covered in amniotic (birth) fluid. If the kid is older and/or no longer covered with its own amniotic fluid, birth fluids from the prospective foster mother dam can be used or even those from other births. If fostering an older infant, tie three legs together so it cries and struggles somewhat and has difficulty rising like a newborn would—an experienced mother may reject a graftee with unexpected maturity and activity level but a first-time mother may be spooked by a flailing baby.

 

VCS renews the maternal drive and reopens the window of bonding process time. To perform VCS, don long obstetrical gloves and a sterile lubricant. Have an assistant hold the dam or secure her in a stanchion or with a halter. Put all her own newborns behind her instead of in front of her. Clean and rinse her vulva and surrounding area with antiseptic soap; insert a gloved and lubed hand carefully into the birth canal and gently advance until the ring-shaped cervix is located at the innermost forward border of the vagina—this should be about wrist-deep in the birth canal. Depending on how long it has been since the ewe or doe gave birth, the cervix should be one or more fingers open. The cervix can be stretched and opened by gently moving fingers within it. The ewe or doe will push like she’s in labor and may roll up her upper lip, arch her back, and lick the air. These are all signs the process is working—the birth canal is being stretched and appropriate hormones are being released again. Gently pushing knuckles back and forth along the roof of the cervix will increase the response. Keep a hand in the cervix and continue stretching for three to eight minutes. During the last few minutes, have an assistant introduce the foster baby to the mother so she can lick it clean, talk to it, and start bonding with it. If all goes well, she will accept the new offspring and care for it as her own.

 

This method is also very reliable when reuniting a kid or lamb to its dam if something interfered with natural bonding. Such interference can include a newborn being “stolen” by another mother, wandering off while the dam is pre-occupied with other offspring, or was chilled and removed from the mother for warming and revival. A pictorial presentation of the method is below.

How to foster a lamb or kid using VCS (vaginocervical stimulation)

1. Ewe with 2 dead lambs and 1 live lamb à  lambing at the same time as ewe with live triplets.

2. Check deep for additional lambs or kids. Then retract gloved hand slightly and start VCS to simulate birthing and stretch the neck of the cervix, thus causing the release of the bonding hormones. 

3. Meanwhile another person takes the hopeful graftee and places fetal fluids from the foster dam onto the graftee.  After a contraction, the graftee is put in front of foster dam and VCS continued.

4. Successful VCS graft. Same procedures will work on goats.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.