How many kids can a doe feed?

How many kids can a doe feed

We have now had 8 sets of quintuplets on our farm, and one of the most popular questions is, “Can the doe feed that many?”

I never say “never,” but I will say it is highly unlikely that a doe can adequately nourish five kids. This is a Nigerian dwarf, and when bottlefeeding kids of that breed, they need 24-32 ounces per day. Multiply that times five, and a doe would have to be producing 120 to 160 ounces, which is more than a gallon a day! The only does that even come close to producing that much are the ones that have placed at the very top of the milk test lists, which means that less than one percent of does would be able to produce enough milk to feed five kids.

Quads are fairly common with Nigerians, and unfortunately a lot of does do not have the genetic capability to feed that many. Again, do the math. Four kids multiplied by 24-32 ounces a day is 96 to 128 ounces — or three to four quarts a day! My best milker in her prime peaked at 6 to 6.5 pounds a day, so she would have produced enough milk to feed four kids, but based upon milk test lists that I have seen, I would assume that only about 10-20 percent of does can produce that much. And remember, that was in her prime.

Vera and quints

What if a first freshener or a nine-year-old doe has quads? However, the doe’s ability to produce is only part of the equation. The doe’s temperament and the kids also play an important role. Goats only have two teats. Because does have to be standing for kids to nurse, that means a doe with four kids will have to spend twice as much time standing as a doe with only two kids. Some does simply do not have the personality to do that.

Having only two teats also means that bigger, stronger, and pushier kids have the advantage. Baby goats want to nurse all the time, so if their mama is standing, they think they should be nursing, and they will not hesitate to knock a sibling off the teat so they can nurse longer. When a doe has more than two kids, it is not unusual to have a runt, and the poor little thing will not have a chance.

five baby goats

When we had our first set of quads in 2004, we naively assumed that the doe would feed the kids, even though one of them was much smaller than the other three. At two weeks of age, my daughter found the smallest kid almost dead. We wound up having to tube feed her to bring her back, and she became the second bottle baby ever raised on our farm. Unfortunately that was not the last time I over-estimated a doe’s ability to feed quads, but I did eventually learn.

With our last set of quintuplets, we watched the kids nursing several times a day, weighed them, and offered them a bottle of fresh milk from another goat. Within two days, one of the quintuplets had completely given up on trying to nurse from her mother. When we would walk into the barn we would see her standing there with her head and ears hanging down while her four siblings were fighting over the two teats. We began bottlefeeding her exclusively, and when one of her sisters had gained only 8 ounces by two weeks, we switched her to a bottle also.

Her siblings had all doubled their weights by then, which meant gains of 3-4 pounds each. Clearly she was not able to get her fair share of the milk! We had been trying to give her a bottle for those first two weeks, but like some kids who still have access to mom, she was completely refusing to take the bottle. So, at two weeks we had to take her away from mom and spend a lot of time getting her switched to a bottle. Today, I would not wait that long to take a kid away from mom if it was not on track to double its weight by two weeks — or at least be very close to that target. (Larger goat breeds may not gain weight this fast.)

Over the years I have become increasingly skeptical about the ability of does to raise more than three kids. Unfortunately there are quite a few people online who happily share that they had a doe raise four or five kids. However, I also see a lot of sale ads that say a kid is small “because it was a quad.” Being a quad is not a reason for a two- or three-month-old kid to be small. By that age, kids are small because of genetics, parasites, or not getting enough to eat. Nigerian kids can survive on about 16 ounces of milk a day, but they don’t thrive. They grow slowly because they are not getting enough protein and calcium, and they have lowered resistance to parasites and disease because they are not getting enough antibodies from their mother’s milk.

Although I am not a fan of bottlefeeding, I would much rather bottlefeed one or two kids from a litter of four or five than wind up with sickly or dead kids.


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24 thoughts on “How many kids can a doe feed?”

  1. Hi Deborah! Quintuplets! That's amazing! Our Nigerians are due to kid in July, first time. I'm hoping they'll have only one or two at the most! I will surely keep this post in mind if they have more! Thanks for sharing! Blessings from Bama!

  2. I have never seen quintuplets before. My dad has raised goats for years and I am quite sure the most he has ever had (and only once to my memory) was quads. With the quads one did have to be bottle fed. We happily live near my parents so we have been enjoying their baby goats and their extra milk!

  3. My dwarf Nigerian had triplets and I bottle fed the tiny one. 1.5 pounds at birth – she never would have made it. Brother and sister were 3.5 and 3.7 pounds each. Now she is hale and hearty, and doing great. Font hesitate to pull a baby and bottle feed / they need that extra care.

  4. Wow, quintuplets! Last year one of our does had quadruplets. The year before she had given birth to triplets, and she had a hard time feeding those – she got skinny and we had to make some changes to what we were feeding her. We were worried when we saw three babies pop out, and then all of a sudden there was a fourth! We were very lucky though – one of our other does was giving birth at almost the same time, so as soon as the fourth kid was born, we picked it up and put it right in with the other mom. She took to him great and it worked out great for both moms. I hope she doesn’t have so many this year!!

  5. Some of us watching the 4 kids and mom Maybel at Goats of Anarchy, are concerned for the smallest, Scout, a blonde. How can anyone be sure Scout is getting enough?

    • The smallest usually does not get enough. Weighing kids daily is what made me realize that. Assuming Maybel is a Nigerian — after several years of weighing ND kids on our farm, we’ve decided we want to see an average of 4 ounces per day weight gain for the healthiest kids. If you don’t have a digital kitchen scale, it’s a great investment. We use ours multiple times per day, and you can get a good one for $20-30. If you have a hanging milk scale, that works too.

  6. I agree absolutely with everything you said. I would also keep an eye on triplets – some does manage triplets well, others don’t seem to have the knack. I watch for one kid who is not as active or energetic as it’s siblings, if I have doubts I’ll start supplementing on the side. I like to leave the kids with their mum if possible, but if one is not able to compete I’ll pull it.

  7. When you pull just one kid, where do you keep it? All alone?
    I have a rather small Nigerian due next week and she is HUGE. She had twins last year after hardly showing a bulge, so I am concerned. She may have 4 or 5 in there!
    She is also bulging out behind, where the kids will arrive from, an area that is usually flat vertically. Is this something to worry about?

    • I try to not have just one bottle baby because I like them to always have a goat friend so that they learn how to be a goat and understand goat language. In a few cases, you can leave a kid with the mom and siblings and bottle feed, but most kids don’t want a bottle if they are with mom, even if they are not getting enough milk. If there is another doe that is mellow enough, I have put a bottle baby in a pen with another doe and her kids. When a doe has five, that’s easy — I just take two to bottle feed.

      At this stage, there is no way to really know how many kids a goat is carrying. We have had six sets of quintuplets now, and in every case, the goat was obviously looking pregnant at 2 months, and those are the only goats that ever looked pregnant that early. It is not something I look for, but in every case I was looking at the doe and saying, “whoa! When are you due?” and then checking my records and seeing that she still has 3 months to go.

      I haven’t noticed a correlation with a goat’s vulva bulging and the number of kids she has. We just had one like that, and she had four, but the one that just had five was not bulging. As long as mucus membranes are not bulging out, it’s fine. If it looks like the vulva is turning inside out or if something from inside is protruding, then you could be looking at a potential prolapse. But just a bulging vulva is not a problem.

  8. Just recieved a message that one of my goat has kidded quintaples -amazing and happy at the same time coz its the first experience I googled thanx for thirftyhomesteader for the information I got

    • You’re welcome! When they have five now, I find it quite easy to just take two to bottle-feed. That way you don’t have to worry about an only kid that’s being bottle-fed. They have a goat friend, and mom only has to feed three.

  9. Since milk production is based on supply and demand, I think a dam raising her own 5 demanding kids very likely is producing much more milk than a top ten milker getting hand or machine milked twice a day. They say with human breastfeeding increasing feedings increases supply and scheduling/limiting feedings decreases supply. I would be much more concerned with a small kid getting pushed away from nursing by greedy siblings than whether a doe is actually capable of successfully feeding 5 at once.

    • Supply and demand is just one aspect of milk production. Without enough demand, the body definitely slows down production. However, there is a biological limit to any doe’s ability to produce more milk. Keep in mind that I figured this out by weighing hundreds of kids daily. I have even seen does that can’t produce enough milk for twins to grow appropriately, although that is quite rare. No one should ever assume that their goat can feed all of the kids that she births.

      I absolutely agree with what you said about humans breastfeeding. Not only did I nurse all three of my children, but I was also a board certified lactation consultant for 10 years before we moved to the country.

  10. I’ve raised pygmy Nigerian crosses and registered nigerian dwarf for 20 years, it wasn’t until I had my registered nigerian’s that I was seeing quads, I am present at births, weigh each kid and stay with them to ensure each finds a teat and has a belly full, I find it easier to weigh and monitor early to be able to step in as needed. I do give all kids a bottle once a day so even though they’re dam raised it makes milk test days easier and if there is a need to bottle feed, which I have, it’s easier to transition. Unless a kid is unthrifty, I leave them with dam and siblings and give a bottle 3-4 a day…plus they will still nurse as they can and have their herd. I would rather have twins and triplets because quads just totally stress me out! My girls however have given me 9 sets of quads over the last 8 years, of those I’ve only needed to pull 2 of one set to bottle due to one being tiny and one being weak of the same set, does can manage but as you said it totally depends on not just genetics but also how well they can utilize their feed , I typically don’t do a first 24 hour milk test until kids are around 3 weeks old so the amount of milk the dam produces at that stage is usually around 3-4# depending on litter size , it’s usually around 5-6 weeks that a doe is at peak production, my girls are not #1000 milk producers, most are closer to breed average for their age and all have raised their kids , a couple with a little help from me.

    • You have said that you supplement ALL of your kids, so your does are NOT raising them on their own. You also said that you weigh them, but you didn’t say anything about target weight gains. If we don’t see an average of 4 ounces a day, we supplement.

      You said your does are making only 3-4 pounds by 3 weeks. If a doe is making only 4 pounds of milk a day and has quads, that would only be 16 ounces of milk per day for each kid, which is NOT nearly enough. By a month of age, ND kids need about 32 ounces a day. Back when we were only giving them 24 ounces a day, we had much slower weight gain and more coccidiosis. Now our kids weigh 20 pounds by 8 to 10 weeks, and we see zero coccidiosis except once in a while when a buck kid is weaned.

  11. Is it possible, with goats, to keep them with the mom when she doesn’t have enough milk, and supplement with a bottle? I did this with a ewe that accidentally got bred, had half a good udder, not enough milk for her twins. Kept them with her but bottle fed. I think this is probably easier to do with sheep. A friend has a Boer doe that had quads. She got one grafted on to another doe that had a single, but one of the remaining three went down hill and she has been tubing her and now has her taking a bottle. Wondering if it would be ok to put her back with her mom but bottle feed her and hope she can get a sip off mom now and again, while learning to hang with her mother and be a goat!

    • This is one area where sheep and goats are absolute opposite! A lamb will take a bottle whether it needs it or not and regardless of whether or not it has ever had a bottle before. I have seriously never had any trouble giving a bottle to a lamb! Goats are a whole different story! They act like you are trying to poison them with the bottle! It is usually not possible to leave them with mom because they prefer nursing to a bottle. I have had a couple of kids through the years that could stay with mom and took a bottle, but it’s really rare.

  12. I found this article while googling for information on desired weight gain. One of our ND does had quads 4 days ago and I have been weighing them daily to make sure they are all getting enough to eat.
    Gains have been-
    Day 1
    3 oz
    4.8 oz
    4.8 oz
    4 oz
    Day 2
    3.6 oz
    4 oz
    3.6 oz
    2.4 oz
    I was kind of worried after Day 2, especially because Baby #4 was the smallest, weighing only 32.2 oz at birth, and is gaining less then her siblings. But then, look what happened the next two days-
    Day 3
    4.8 oz
    7 oz
    6.4 oz
    4.8 oz
    Day 4
    6.2 oz
    6 oz
    8.4 oz
    4.6 oz

    If 4 ounces a day is considered average then I would say this set of babies is doing extremely well. If they keep up at this rate they should all easily double their birth weight within 7-9 days.

    • That’s great! It’s wonderful that they are all sharing so nicely too! There is often an aggressive piggy in the group who winds up getting more than his fair share. Definitely keep weighing them though. Their need for milk increases dramatically in the first two weeks, so the weight gain may slow down. But this is a terrific start! Congratulations!


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