Even though I strongly believe that goat kids should be raised by mom, there are times when that simply is not possible. A doe may have more kids than she can feed. A kid may be born too small or weak to be able to nurse. And on rare occasion, a doe may reject one or more kids. So, if you find yourself with a bottle baby, what do you do?
What do you feed?
Goat milk is best, and I prefer raw milk because it has all of the antibodies intact. However, if the milk comes from a doe that has CAE, Johne’s, or another infectious disease, then the milk needs to be pasteurized so that the kid does not get infected.
Beyond that, you’ll hear people argue all day long about what to feed. We’ve used milk replacer, and we’ve used whole milk from the store, and we had equally OK results with both. Without mom’s antibodies in fresh goat milk, the kids will be more likely to have problems with worms and coccidia, which is why some people use medicated milk replacer, which helps prevent coccidiosis.
All kids should get 5% of their body weight in the first six hours and 10% of their body weight in the first 24 hours in COLOSTRUM. Without colostrum, kids will die. When calculating, remember to convert pounds to ounces. If you have a 3-pound Nigerian dwarf kid, that’s 3 X 16 = 48 ounces, which would be 4.8 ounces of milk in the first 24 hours.
It would need to have half that amount in the first six hours, which would be 2.4 ounces. You may have to split that up into two bottles. If the kid wants more, that’s fine. This is just the minimum. If I can get 10% of body weight in colostrum into a kid within the first six hours, I sleep much better.
I gradually increase the amount of milk in the bottle, up to 32 ounces per day for Nigerians. For years I maxed out at 24 ounces, which is what most breeders did back then, but I discovered that the kids are much healthier and grow faster with 32 ounces a day.
Ellen Dorsey of Dill’s A Little Goat Farm in Chelsea, OK, has raised Nubians and Alpines and says, “I’ll give them a 1-liter bottle, which is around 38 ounces, three times a day and then gradually reduce the middle bottle once they start eating hay and grain. So, I max them out at 114 ounces.”
Although most people today max out somewhere around 20% of the kid’s body weight every 24 hours, it is important to watch the kid. If you have recently increased the amount of milk in a baby goat’s bottle, and it gets diarrhea, go back to the amount of milk you were feeding before the diarrhea started. If the diarrhea was caused by too much milk, it should stop as soon as you cut back on the amount of milk you’re feeding. If it continues, check out this post on diarrhea in goats.
Most people feed 4-5 times in 24 hours, and you can usually go 7-8 hours overnight between bottles, so it’s about every 3-4 hours during the day. If a baby goat can’t consume much in the beginning, I may need to give five bottles to get at least 10% body weight into the kid in 24 hours. If the kid is a little piggy, I may be able to do it in four bottles in 24 hours.
Some people try to get kids down to only two bottles as soon as possible, but in my experience, baby goats are more likely to get diarrhea when given too much milk at a single feeding. We don’t usually get kids down to less than three bottles ever.
For the first two to four weeks, we give bottles at about 7 a.m., noon, 5 p.m., and 10 p.m. After one month, we do three bottles a day, which would be 7 a.m., 3 p.m, and 10 p.m. After two months, we do two bottles a day — one in the morning and one in the evening.
Kids need milk for a minimum of two months, or in the case of my Nigerian dwarf kids, until they weigh at least 20 pounds, which is about 1/4 to 1/3 of their adult weight. I cringe when I hear someone say that they wean standard size goats that weigh only 20 pounds because obviously they need to be even bigger before weaning. And age is simply not a good indication of when to stop giving milk. Weight is much more important. After all, the goal of feeding milk to kids is so they can grow big and healthy.
Between keeping copious records of feeding and weight gain on our own kids, I have also received way too many emails and messages from people who have Nigerian dwarf kids that are several months old and weigh only 15 pounds and are suffering from chronic coccidiosis and diarrhea. These kids are obviously malnourished and have a very poor immune response due to not getting enough milk early in life.
In the early years, we used to bottle feed for three to four months. But since we’ve learned that mama’s milk makes them healthier, and they grow faster, we now bottle feed for five or six months. People who wean earlier are usually providing medicated feed to prevent coccidiosis. But that doesn’t always work either.
Where should bottle babies live?
Of course, it is tempting to keep bottle babies in the house with you. They are so adorable and cuddly! And it’s easier than going out to the barn to give a bottle at night. But having a kid in the house creates so many problems!
Sure, it’s cute and fun until the kid is running around and eating your mail and chewing up your extension cords and dancing on top of your CD player. (Yep, really happened.)
The worst part, though, is that they don’t know they’re a goat, and eventually you will have to put them outside, and it will be a very sad day as you listen to that kid screaming for hours. So, if they are a normal, healthy kid, I now make them stay with the other goats.
If they are weak or having trouble maintaining their body temperature, we will keep them in the house initially, but we move them to the barn with other goats as soon as it’s safe for them, which is usually within one or two days.
If we have more than one bottle baby, we will have a bottle baby pen in the kidding barn, so they can all stay together. But if there’s only one, we try to keep it with its mother and siblings, if possible. Because goats are herd animals, they should not be alone, and it’s best for them to realize that other goats are their herd, rather than humans.
Here’s a video of two kids getting their first bottle. Keep in mind that it is usually much more challenging to get kids to take a bottle if they have already been nursing from mom. The longer they have been nursing from mom, the longer it usually takes to get them switched to a bottle. It is not unusual for a kid to fight the bottle for several days or even close to a week if it’s been nursing for more than a day or two.