Bottle Raising Baby Goats

HowToBottleFeedBabyGoats

   Step 1: Let them play on your furniture.

I am a big advocate for dam raising. I believe it’s the best practice for healthy and happy goat kids and goat mamas. I also believe it’s important for the mama goats to teach their kids how to be goats. Some people choose to routinely bottle raise either to practice CAE (Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis) prevention or as the simplest way to make kids friendly. However, practicing CAE prevention in a herd like mine where all the goats are tested CAE negative is not necessary. It’s also not necessary to bottle-raise in order to create friendly goats. The key to having people-friendly goats is to spend time with them at a young age, whether that time is spent giving them a bottle or simply sitting with them and letting them use you as a trampoline.

IMG_12472

This is my first bottle kid, Wybie.

That said, there are always times when a kid must be bottle fed, even in a herd that primarily dam-raises. There are a number of reasons why this might happen. Sometimes does have too many kids to take care of them all on their own. Sometimes even in a manageable litter size, there will be a runt whose siblings will bully him off the udder and take all the milk. And unfortunately, sometimes the mother will pass away and leave her kids as orphans.

Bottle feeding isn’t really hard or complicated, thankfully, though it is time consuming and will make you loose a little sleep! Here are some tips and methods I’ve used with the few kids I’ve had to bottle feed. Everyone has their own methods, but these are what have worked for me:

Supplies

You only need a few basic things, in addition to your normal kid-care supplies, to bottle feed kids:

  • Puppy pads. Most likely you will keep the bottle kids inside for at least the first few days. Some people choose to never bring them in from the barn, but I find that it’s a lot easier for me to just keep them inside at first (and it helps me worry less, too, because I can keep a closer eye on them). Like any baby, they will make a mess! Puppy pads really help with the clean up.
  • Bottles and nipples. There are several different kinds you can use, but I like to use pritchard nipples. They are a good size for the kids, and they can screw onto a soda bottle. They can be found in most farm supply stores.
  • The kids I'm currently bottle feeding while they were still house goats.

    The kids I’m currently bottle feeding while they were still house goats.

    Something to keep them in. During the time when the kids are inside, you don’t really want them running loose all over your house, but you also don’t want them in a small crate where they can’t move around much. In the past I’ve used a baby playpen, but with the kids I’m raising now I used a metal dog exercise pen. I prefer the exercise pen because it has more room to play, folds up for easier storage, and is adjustable. If you don’t have tile floors, however, you may prefer the baby playpen style, because sometimes the puppy pads do leak.

  • Something to measure, heat, and pour the milk. This can be anything, really. I simply warm my milk in a saucepan on the stove and pour it into the bottles with a measuring cup. It should be warmed just like you would warm any baby milk — warm but not hot when tested on the inside of your wrist
  • Milk. Of course, can’t feed babies without milk! Ideally you would be able to give them fresh goat milk, but if that isn’t the case whole cow milk from the store or goat kid formula can be used. I’ve always used pasteurized, whole (not 2% or skim) cows milk from the store and haven’t had any problems. Many people swear by either formula or cows milk, though, and you will hear arguments going both ways.
  • Colostrum. It’s important that kids get colostrum within the first two hours of birth. If they didn’t nurse any from their mother, you should provide it for them for the first 24 hours. Milking some from their dam is ideal, but if that is not an option colostrum saved from another doe on your property would be the next best thing. The doe’s colostrum develops antibodies specific to her environment, which means that kids who will be living on your land will benefit most from colostrum from a doe who lives on your land. It’s a good idea to save colostrum from your does when they kid and keep it in the freezer for emergencies.

Getting the Kids to Accept the Bottle

At first, the kids are going to have no clue what you want them to do with the bottle, especially if they were already nursing from their mom. You will likely have to open their mouths, stick the nipple in, and squeeze a little milk out. Once they realize milk comes from the bottle they will usually get the hang of it. I’ve found that it helps to somewhat support their heads under their chins the first few times they munch.

10392420_1034473556566339_6120549511569133022_nI’ve never personally had trouble getting a kid to transition to the bottle, but each time I’ve had to bottle feed the kids have still been very young (less than a week old). Older kids who have been nursing from their dam may take a longer amount of time to adjust to the bottle. Just keep trying and don’t give up; eventually, they will get it.

Keep in mind that a cold kid needs to be warmed up before you try to feed it. You can also check to be sure that the kid has an appropriate sucking reflex and isn’t chilled by sticking your finger in its mouth — it should be warm and the kid should start sucking on your finger. One more thing to consider, especially if you are trying to transition an older kid to the bottle, is that it will be harder to get them to nurse the bottle if they’re already full from nursing their mother. Feel the kid’s belly — if it’s round and full and he’s fighting the bottle, wait a couple of hours and try again.

A weak kid may need to be tube fed. A veterinarian or highly experienced goatherd will need to teach you how to do this; if you accidentally put milk into the kids lungs it can cause pneumonia and death.

Feeding Schedule

I roughly follow the feeding schedule found in the book Raising Goats Naturally by Deborah Niemann. She recommends the following schedule:

Standard Goats

Age               1-3 days      3-14 Days    2 wks-3 months   3-4 months   4 months-Weaning
Milk               3-4 oz          8-12 oz        16 oz                    16 oz            16 oz
# Feedings    5                 4                   3                           2                   1
Total Milk     15-20 oz      32-48 oz       48 oz                     32 oz            16 oz

Nigerians

Age               1-3 days    3-14 Days    2 wks-3 months   3-4 months   4 months-Weaning
Milk               1-2 oz        2-4 oz          8 oz                      8 oz              8 oz
# Feedings    5                4                  3                           2                   1
Total Milk      5-10 oz      8-16 oz         24 oz                   16 oz              8 oz

I do not follow this exactly to the T, but it is a good guideline to start out. The Nigerian kids I’m currently bottle feeding are guzzling down about 11-12 oz of milk 3x day at a little over a month of age. They would gladly drink more than that, but it would be more than they need and it could cause illness. The amount of milk should be increased gradually so that the kids don’t get diarrhea; if they do get diarrhea, the amount of milk fed at one time should be cut back. What I’ve done is increase by about an ounce at a time each time the kids started to finish everything in their bottles and start hunting for more. However, at a month old, they are topping out.

Most people, myself included, wean around 3 months of age rather than 4 months. Just as I gradually increased the milk by an ounce or so, when the kids near 3 months I will start decreasing gradually, cutting down on the amount of milk per feeding and the number of times per day they eat until they aren’t getting milk at all. Making gradual changes to feed is one of the most important things to do for goats of any age. They have sensitive digestive systems, and drastic changes in feed can cause serious problems such as diarrhea, bloat, or enterotoxemia.

The kids will start out with soft (but not runny or liquid) yellow poop; this is normal. It will eventually turn into the typical goat berries as they start to eat more solid food.

Have Fun

Most of all, have fun and don’t spend too much time worrying about them! Bottle babies are a lot of fun to have around. They will drive you crazy at times and interrupt your sleep habits for the first couple of weeks, but there’s nothing cuter than a bouncy baby goat!

– Rachel

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5 thoughts on “Bottle Raising Baby Goats

  1. Reblogged this on Homestead Your Head and commented:
    Here’s a great article for all you folks with goats out there. I know several of you are already getting babies, and in case this is your first year, this article may have some good information for you. Even if you’ve been doing this for a while you may learn something new, so check it out and enjoy!

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  2. Does it hurt to bottle feed a little longer that 3 months? I have one that still lives his bottle and would like to keep it up a while longer. He is going to be a pet. Not going back to goat pen. He’s bonded with us and our Shepherd.

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    • Definitely not! It’s quite normal for kids to nurse for longer than 3 months when with their mothers. I’ve seen 6 month old kids continue nursing. Generally does will start weaning on their own around the 3 month mark, but they do so gradually and usually let them continue to nurse for at least 4 months.

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  3. We have a 3 day old baby goat. It is being bottle fed since its mother refused to. We found it late on the first day and have fed it colostrum until today. Today we have begun feeding it store bought milk replacer. Late last night I noticed it had diarrhea. It also has diarrhea this morning. What do I need to do to ensure this baby gets healthy? We are feeding it 1-1/2 oz of milk each feeding. 4-5 times per day. Thank you for any help you can give.

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    • Hi Shelly! I would highly recommend ditching the milk replacer and replacing it with whole milk. If you can’t milk the mother and use her milk, then you can use whole (not 2% or skim) pasteurized cows milk from the grocery store. I’ve raised several bottle kids on it with no problem. I’ve heard a lot of stories like yours where the powdered milk replacer causes illness in goat kids. For whatever reason it just does not seem to work for them, but cows milk is very comparable and will work just fine!

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