Is My Goat Kid Fat?

Is My Goat Kid Fat featured image

A lot of people new to goats think a kid is “fat” when it has a big belly. However, a big belly — sometimes called “hay belly” — is a sign of malnutrition, either from a parasite overload or not getting enough milk. And not enough milk leads to parasite problems because the kids are not getting enough of mom’s antibodies to fight them. Malnourished kids get a big belly because they are eating as much solid food as they can stuff into themselves, but it doesn’t have the nutrients they need for growth. If they have a parasite overload, they are overeating because, depending upon which type of parasite it is, the parasites are either sucking their blood or consuming the food in their digestive system, either of which leaves the kid malnourished and possibly anemic.

So, how do you know if your kid is fat or getting too much milk?

Goats put fat on their spine, ribs, and brisket, not on their bellies. There are lots of goats with big bellies that are actually underweight. Here is a great PDF on body condition scoring in goats.  I have seen many kids that people thought were “fat” when they actually had a body condition score of 2, which is underweight.

When kids get too much milk, they get diarrhea. This usually only happens when bottle-feeding because some people try to get the kids down to only two bottles a day, which means large amounts of milk in each bottle.

When kids get more milk than they need but not too much, they will grow very fast. When our best milker had triplets at her prime, one of her bucklings was 30 pounds at two months, which is huge for a Nigerian. My daughter referred to him as “the draft horse.” We have lots of kids that are sold at 3 months, and people exclaim that they’re the same size as their 5-6 month old kids at home. It’s because we don’t limit the amount of milk they get from mom for the first two months. That also means that we rarely have any of the problems that people think are normal, such as coccidiosis and parasites in kids. We have many goats here now that have never had a coccidiostat or a dewormer in their entire lives — because they didn’t need it. If they need it, I will certainly give it to them. It all starts with a solid foundation of good nutrition provided by mom’s milk, coupled with good management, which I discussed last month in this post.

Dam-raising and separating kids from mom

Many people who are new to goats think that they can start separating the doe from the kids within a couple of weeks of birth. If a doe has only a single kid, then you can actually start milking her the day she kids, but if she has two or more, it’s probably not a good idea to start separating the kids regularly until the kids are two months old.

It is definitely a bad idea to separate kids from their dam if the doe is a first freshener because she is unproven as a milker, so you have no idea what her production will be like. With first fresheners, it is a great idea to put them on the milk stand twice a day and try to milk them — but NOT separating her from the kids beforehand. I say “try” because you may or may not get any milk, depending upon when the kids last nursed. That’s fine if you don’t get any milk because she’s producing just enough for the kids. If she has produced a little extra, you can take it. But separating her from the kids regularly is setting her up for producing less milk than if you left them together. Research has shown that nursing kids cause the doe to release oxytocin, which results in better production than when a doe is milked by a person or machine.

The idea that you can separate babies from their mother overnight from birth comes from the dairy cow world. For the past century, milk production in cows has been driven so high that most dairy cows produce far more than a single calf could possibly consume, so separating them overnight is usually not a problem. However, goats have not been bred to produce such astronomically high volumes of milk, so most of them only produce enough to feed their kids for the first couple of months when the kids need the most milk because they are growing the fastest.

Dam-raising multiples

I often see sale ads where people say that a goat is “small because she was one of quads” or an even larger litter. Being a multiple is not an excuse for being small by two to three months of age. There are three reasons for a kid that age to be small: parasites, not enough milk, or genetics. Even though a kid may be born small, if it receives adequate nutrition, it should catch up in size to other kids its age within a couple of weeks.

Far too many people think that a doe will make enough milk to feed whatever number of kids she has, even if it’s five or six. This is simply wrong, and it can result in small or dead kids within a few days or a few months. If a kid is getting as much milk as its siblings, it would be growing as much as its siblings. When we had our first set of quads 11 years ago, one almost died at two weeks of age because everyone in the Yahoo goat group was saying that a doe could feed quads with no problem. A year later, another doe had quads, and one died at only two days of age because it wasn’t able to get enough milk. Today I don’t normally let a doe try to raise four unless she has a track record of exceptional production. Click here for more info on How many kids can a doe feed?

Milk vs. solid food

Some people think that once a kid is eating solid food, it doesn’t need milk any longer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dam-raised kids are usually eating solid food within a few days of birth. However, nothing else can provide the high levels of nutrients, as well as the antibodies, of fresh milk. Baby goats are born with very immature immune systems, and without all the antibodies of their mother’s milk, they usually have problems with coccidiosis, which is why many people who bottle-feed kids will start them on a coccidiostat or medicated milk replacer at three weeks of age.

Be a hands-on goat breeder!

It’s not enough to look at kids from across the barn and assume that they’re healthy. You need to pick them up every day or two so that you know how their weight compares to the other kids. You also need to run your fingers down their spine and under their chest. Is there plenty of meat along the spine? Or does the spine feel sharp? The body condition guide linked above is not just for adults. Kids should have the same scoring done on them even more often than adults. It’s not that hard to turn around an adult that has a problem with parasites, but if a kid is not growing adequately, it can be impossible to turn around if you don’t catch it soon enough. That means you could have an animal that never reaches its genetic potential. In the case of does, they won’t be big enough to breed until closer to two years, and in severe cases, their growth can be permanently affected, and they’ll never be big enough to breed. Or in the worst cases, you’ll wind up fighting parasite overloads for a few months, and the kids will ultimately die.

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fat baby goat

8 thoughts on “Is My Goat Kid Fat?”

  1. I have 3 kids I purchased that have these big bellies. One is a buckling. What can do in the summer to help get them nourished? All have been weaned, 6 months old buckling, 4-6 months old doelings. They look like they swallowed a watermelon. Fecals were clear last time. They are with other goats that are normal also. The kids are eating a mix of alfalfa pellets, BOSS, blackeye peas and rolled oat, with mineral and baking soda available.

    • It’s probably either worms or coccidia. A fecal can only confirm parasites. It cannot rule them out. Goat are not always shedding a consistent number of worm eggs or coccidia in every poop. Plus you can easily have an error in a fecal. If it is not done soon enough, the eggs can hatch, and then you won’t see anything in the fecal, which is looking for eggs. When it’s hot out, eggs can hatch in a few hours. If you were told there is nothing in the fecal, that is actually a red flag that something was done incorrectly. They should see something because all goats have parasites — but it should be in low enough numbers that it doesn’t make the goat sick.

      As a vet professor explained to me years ago, a big belly is a sign of a kid that’s starving to death and is trying to eat as much as possible, but the parasites are either sucking their blood (barber pole worm) or consuming the nutrients in the food or feces in their digestive tract (other roundworms). Coccidia can also cause a big belly.

      Check the eyelids. They should be dark pink to red. If they are light pink or white, the kids are anemic, which are symptoms of barber pole worm or coccidiosis when paired with poor body condition.

      The grains you are feeding them are not nutritious. They are mostly carbs, except sunflower seeds, which are normally fed to milkers to increase butterfat. If you are going to feed a grain to kids, it should be a high-quality goat feed, such as Purina Goat Chow or Dumor Sweet Goat feed, both of which have about 35-40 ppm copper and other minerals. Other goat feeds have half as much copper. Those two goat feeds are also about 16% protein. The grains you are feeding are less than half that much, which does not help with real growth.

  2. Can a grown doe have hay belly as well? I have a 4 year-old second freshener who gave birth to a single Buck 4 weeks ago. We were so shocked there were no more kids because her belly was absolutely enormous. It is still huge and she looks like she could have twins or triplets and they’re still. Her previous owner said she was thin before this last kid. The code is nice and shiny and her eyes are a dark pink so I wasn’t thinking it was parasites, but now I am questioning myself again, especially since her milk production is rather low.

    • It’s not as common, but it could happen. Basically if a goat has a very heavy worm load, they are eating, eating, eating as much as they can because they feel like they’re starving. However, if she is not anemic, and she is pooping normal goat berries, then it could just be that she lost her girlish figure. 😉 If you look at this post, you will see a picture of a doe like that. There is a picture of her pregnant and not pregnant, and the difference is in the height of her belly, not how wide she is. When she was not pregnant, her belly was just as wide but it was saggy.

  3. Hi!
    I am at a loss with my doeling. Maybe you’ll have some good advice for me!

    This doeling was born March 2,2021. She is a Nigerian Dwarf. I bought her from a friend 2 months ago. She came to me pretty skinny but looking like she swallowed a basket ball. She had a fecal done and she had very low amounts of parasites. Her spine sticks out, her pin bones are only a few inches apart. My doeling that was 1 of 5 born in June is larger than her! So far I treated with Albon (I thought, what the heck, you know?), B12, Bo-Se, copper bolus, multi-min, safeguard as well as 3 rounds of antibiotics for a URI that she cannot get rid of! (Everything was spaced out over a span of time, she did not receive all of the above all at the same time.) she eats a mixture of dumor sweet goat, dumor equine senior, medicated feed and boss. I tried giving her alfalfa but she didn’t like it. And she has free choice grass hay. She goes on 2 walks a day with my LGDs, the rest of the herd and me. Not strenuous walks, just around part the fence line of my 6 acre pasture. The breeder my friend originally bought her from this spring pulled her from mom and fed her with a lamb jug with dozens of other kids. I’m concerned she didn’t get nearly enough milk as a newborn. I was actually speaking with a lady that owns my doelings litter mate and she is in the exact same situation! Short, thin with a basketball belly.
    What else can I do for my little lady? I am going to pick up some calf mamma this week to try. Would it be harmful to her to get powdered formula to mix with her grain? I’m feeling so defeated and out of ideas!

    • I have several ideas … first of all, if you are feeding medicated feed, that should be the ONLY feed the goat is getting. If you are mixing it with all those other things, then she is not getting enough of the coccidiostat to actually work. Medicated feed should also NOT be given over the long term. You only need to give it to a goat for about 3-6 weeks max to break the lifecycle of the coccidia and slow down the reproduction so that it doesn’t overwhelm the goat’s immune system and make them sick. If you haven’t done that, I’d give it a try for 6 weeks and then call it quits and switch to ONLY the Dumor Sweet Goat Feed. There is no reason to give her equine feed or BOSS.

      She sounds like the classic kid that is starving to death and trying to eat, eat, eat. I’m really curious how much she weighs. Can you just pick her up and stand on your scale with her and then subtract your weight?

      The problem with adding goat milk replacer powder to her feed is that if she doesn’t drink enough water, it could wind up constipating her — and she would have to increase her water intake. Incorrectly mixed milk replacer (too little water) is just about the only reason kids actually get constipated. It does sound like she needs milk or milk replacer, so if you can get her to take it from a bowl that would be good. We soak hay pellets in goat milk to feed to pigs, but we’ve never tried it with goats.

      I’m not ready to give up on her yet, but it is possible that a kid can wind up with intestines so damaged by coccidia that they will never be able to absorb nutrients properly.


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