Dam raised vs. the bottle: Socialization

Dam raised vs the bottle

The decision to dam raise or to bottle raise kids needs to be made before the kids are born. There has been a bias towards bottle raising baby dairy animals for the past few decades as factory farms took over the dairy industry. When you have thousands of cows in a dairy, it is impossible to socialize them if they are dam raised. Dairies want as much milk as possible from the cows, which they can do if they milk them and ration the milk given to the calves, selling the excess milk and increasing profits. In spite of the fact that our goat website includes milk records and clearly states that our kids are dam raised, I still get questions every year such as “Can you milk a doe if she was dam raised?” I always point out that people were milking cows, goats, and sheep for thousands of years before bottles were invented. An old-time farmer will laugh at the idea of bottle raising kids. It is a modern misconception that dam raised kids are inevitably wild.

baby goat suckling milk from mother goat

Like most animals, goats will be wild without plenty of human contact as babies. A litter of kittens found in the woods or in a secluded part of a barn will be as wild as lions. Goats are very much the same way. When kids are born on pasture and get little human interaction, they will be wild and difficult to handle. When handled daily, though, they will be friendly. But regardless of whether their mother or a human raises them, some kids can be incredibly stubborn.

Some claim that it is easier to milk does that were raised on a bottle. This view comes from the fact that when an entire herd is employing bottle-feeding, the does are easier to milk overall. It is not the doe that was bottle-fed as a kid that is easier to milk, but rather it is the doe that has no kids to feed that is easier to milk. If a doe has been nursing kids for a couple of months and is put on the milk stand, she may not be thrilled with the idea of letting you milk her because she firmly believes that the milk is for her kids. Just as she would kick at any strange kid that tries to nurse, she may kick at the bucket or your hand.

This is Part 2 in our series on issues related to kidding season. It is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More by Deborah Niemann. Here is Part 1: Is My Goat Pregnant? and Part 2: Conducting a Newborn Check in Goat Kids.

For more information, check out Basics of Bottle Feeding Goat Kids and How many kids can a doe feed?.

dam raised vs the bottle

13 thoughts on “Dam raised vs. the bottle: Socialization”

  1. Love this post. I would also like to add, that even well socialized kids can be willey. I have had some babies that got the same attention and love as others, and don't warm up to people the same. Every goat is different. In either case, there's a lot to be said for a treat now and then. Nothing like some treat to win a wary goat over!! Also, one of my easiest milkers was dam raised. She took to the stand like a champ. I think a lot of milking stand issues stem from lack of trust. I have one doe that just does NOT trust. Back to personality.

    • I believe it is all about exceptance and trust.
      A old milk doe, first freshener, a new kid, bottle fed, or out in pasture, a doe you never milked before, it all comes down to trust.
      I have had them all and everyone has excepted me and trust me without question as one of the herd.
      I didn’t get this with treats. I prefer not using treats. They don’t treat each other with food with exception to the dam and their offspring But that is a relationship that you can have with your does if you earn it and you have good timing and dedication.
      I’m talking about a everyday spending time, interjection your self into the herd until you learn each other. Making the connections that is needed that tells you when your in the field and they come over and lay down it is to include you. Walk among them. Then when you feed spend time with them. Also spend time when they are at rest.
      You maybe amazed how fast a rodeo milker, or a wild doe or kid will be your shining example as to how sweet, kind, giving they are.

      • I could not agree more. I swear that one of my does kept on giving milk for almost two years ( until I stopped milking her because I wanted to give her a break) just because she loves me and loves to share her milk with me. Happy does happily share their milk with their humans and does that get to keep their babies to raise are happy does

        • I agree with you Maria. I am on year 4 and still milking my doe. She happily raised three beautiful kids and shares her milk with us. Of the three kids one is extremely friendly, the buck, one bossy and friendly, the big sister, and one shy but friendly, little sister. They all have their own personalities. It is very stressful on does to take their babies away. It is time consuming to bottle feed. I have tried it both ways and all my kids are dam raised. All of them are friendly with different personalities and quirks.

  2. Our three new kids were dam raised but their herd owner was great at playing with them daily. They are incredibly affectionate and their dams do well on the stand. One of our older does was bottle raised (not by hand) and then put out to pasture so she is not as friendly as we would like. Yes, if there is a treat she is all over you but other than that she doesn't have much interest in people.

  3. It is definitely all about socialization and individual personalities. I find bottle babies to be pushy adults, and much prefer dam raised kids. We start separating kids overnight at 2 weeks of age and milking once a day. Because we are there at birth, the dams tend to think of us as just another one of their kids and we rarely have issues hand milking our does.

  4. The only reason I would ever choose to take a baby from its mama would be for health reasons. I also agree that some kids will be friendlier than others. We had one doe give birth to twins- we helped her and played with the babies daily. One boy would run to anyone and the other was more wary- you cannot discount individual personalities

  5. I have found that my dam raised kids are fine milkers and become social. I did bottlefeed my Billy and he was very easy to handle.

    • I am not a fan of bottle-fed bucks because they often think I’m their girlfriend and want to jump on me and blubber in my face during breeding season.

      • Oh my gosh, thanks for that…
        We just got our buck and 2 does end of October last year and when breeding season came around our buck was very interested in me.
        My first thought was that I was happy he liked me and was comfortable around me. I soon realized he liked me too much. He was bottle raised and I’m very happy he has responded to a firm “no”.

  6. I have your book, but am a little confused about some of the dam raising instructions.
    Do you start milking immediately while letting the kids nurse? And then gradually start separating at night at more frequent intervals until you separate every night ( as long as kids are gaining weight)?

    Also, I understand dam fed kids can take over for a couple of days while you are gone, but I don’t understand what it means to separate for a couple of days to get more milk for cheese? What are the kids eating if they are still nursing, or is this when they are older and can survive for a day or two without nursing ?

    As usual, thanks for the good info. Dam raising and milking once a day are the only way I can make this work with all of my other responsibilities and it is nice to see that someone as experienced as you.

    • Nigerian dwarf kids should not be separated overnight until they are 20#, but if you have a first freshener, and you don’t try to milk her until her kids are 8-10 weeks old, you will usually have quite a rodeo on your hands, so you need to be putting her on the milk stand and handling her udder regularly. This is just for practice. You don’t separate the kids, and if get almost no milk, that’s fine. You are not milking for volume. It’s all training for her — and you also if you are not an experienced milker. I have more details on that here — https://thriftyhomesteader.com/learning-to-milk-goa/ Experienced milkers are a different story. We can start milking them after two months with no problem because they understand how it all works.

      AFTER the kids are big enough to be separated overnight regularly (20# for Nigerian dwarf; larger for larger breeds), they are also big enough to be entirely weaned and sold, which means that you could separate them for a couple of days if you wanted to get more milk for making cheese. For example, if you have only one or two milkers, and you want to make cheddar, it would take more than a week to get two gallons if you were only separating the kids overnight, and milk that old does not make great cheese. We noticed that the supply would usually start to go down after they have been separated for about three days, which is why we don’t separate for more than that — and also why we never wean doelings and wethers for as long as they are on our farm.

      Thanks for your question. Hope this helps! Let me know if you have other questions about this.


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