Raising baby goats, also known as kids, can be rewarding, fun, and exciting for both beginners and experienced goat keepers. Baby goats are known for their curious, playful nature, making them a popular choice among homesteaders and small-scale farmers. However, it is essential to understand the specific needs and requirements of kids to ensure they grow up healthy and strong.
The first step in raising baby goats is proper planning and preparation for their arrival. This includes setting up a clean, safe living space, researching proper nutrition, and learning the basics of proper care and handling. Providing a well-structured environment from the start is crucial for the success and well-being of the baby goats.
Along with adequate shelter and nutrition, baby goats require attention to their health and welfare. Good hygiene and early socialization play crucial roles in their early development. By addressing these essential aspects, individuals embarking on the journey of raising baby goats will be better equipped to provide a nurturing environment that allows the kids to thrive.
Table of Contents
Understanding Baby Goats
Baby goat development can be divided into the following stages:
- Newborn (0-1 week): Newborn kids require colostrum from their mother’s milk for the first few days. Active and vocal, they will begin to explore their surroundings.
- Young kid (1-8 weeks): During this stage, kids begin to eat solid food and need more social interaction. Their growth is rapid, and they continue to be active and playful. Our Nigerian dwarf kids typically grow from about 3 pounds at birth to 20 pounds at 8 weeks.
- Older kid (8-20 weeks): At this stage, kids become less dependent on their mother for milk and continue their growth, transitioning from a diet based on milk to a diet supplemented with hay, grains, and other goat-specific feeds.
Goats have unique and instinctual behaviors, and baby goats exhibit the following behaviors:
- Playing: Kids love to play. They engage in jumping and climbing to build their physical strength and agility. Kids love to capriole, which means jumping into the air while kicking out their hind legs behind them.
- Grazing: Baby goats quickly learn to graze alongside their mother and other goats in the herd.
- Social interaction: Kids form social bonds with their siblings and other goats in the herd. They will exhibit dominance displays, which include head-butting and mounting other goats. This may look like mating attempts to new goat owners. But rest assured, your little 3-4 week old baby goat cannot get anyone pregnant. You will even see does mounting other goats.
Goats communicate through body language, vocalizations, and scent marking. Some common goat communications include:
- Body language: Tail wagging (happiness), arched back (doe in heat or a cold goat), and head-butting (dominance) are examples of body language used by goats.
- Vocalizations: Bleating (the classic, “maaaa!”), snort (warning or agitation), and sneeze (clearing nasal passages or expressing annoyance) are common vocalizations.
- Scent marking: Goats use scent to send messages related to reproductive status, hierarchy, and general health. Adult intact males are notorious for urinating on themselves, including the backs of their front legs and their faces, which is why your pet male goats should be wethered.
In summary, understanding baby goats’ life stages, behavior, and communication can help in providing appropriate care and management during their early development.
Housing and Shelter
When raising baby goats, it is essential to provide them with adequate space for their comfort and well-being. A general guideline for space requirements is:
- 15 to 20 square feet per baby goat in indoor housing
- 200 to 250 square feet per goat in outdoor areas
These recommendations may vary based on factors such as the breed, size, and age of the goats. As goats get older, you should use rotational grazing to avoid parasite problems.
Bedding and Flooring
Comfortable and clean bedding is a priority for baby goats’ health and comfort. The most common types of bedding materials include:
- Pine shavings
- Wood pellets
- Peat moss
To ensure baby goats have a clean and dry environment, bedding should be checked daily and replaced as needed.
The flooring in the goat housing area is crucial for the health of baby goats. It should be non-slippery, well-drained, and easy to clean. Examples of suitable flooring include:
- Dirt floors — make sure the barn is on high ground so that water won’t run into the stalls
- Concrete — I don’t recommend rubber mats on concrete because they will trap urine, making ammonia build-up worse.
I don’t recommend wood floors because they will rot eventually.
Feeding and Nutrition
Milk and Colostrum
Feeding baby goats begins with providing colostrum, which is the mother goat’s first milk after giving birth. Colostrum is essential for kids as it contains antibodies, nutrients, and energy necessary for their initial growth and immune system development.
Kids need to receive 5% of their body weight in colostrum within 4 to 6 hours of birth and 15-20% of their body weight in colostrum in the first 24 hours. Do not buy a kid that has not had colostrum, as it will have a very poor immune response and likely die.
If you are bottle-feeding, here is our article on “Basics of bottle feeding goat kids,” which provides information on how much milk, when, and what kind.
During the first 30 days of life, the primary source of nutrition for baby goats is milk. Goat’s milk is the best option, but if it’s unavailable, cow milk or a high-quality milk replacer specifically formulated for goat kids may be used. (Do NOT use a sheep-milk replacer or an all-stock milk replacer.)
During this period, kids should gradually increase milk intake according to their growth needs. Typically they consume about 20% of their body weight in milk for the first month, and then you continue providing that amount of milk as their consumption of feed increases.
Introduction to Solid Foods
Introducing solid foods is crucial for baby goats, as it helps with their transition from milk to a more complex diet. Begin offering solid food, like good-quality hay or alfalfa, starting at 1 to 2 weeks of age. It’s important to observe the kid’s eating habits and ensure they have continuous access to fresh and clean hay.
At three weeks old, kids can begin sampling grains in the form of goat feed. The feed should be rich in nutrients (16% protein and at least 35 ppm copper and 0.5 ppm selenium).
If kids are being raised with their mom, they will start nibbling on whatever she is eating, so you don’t need to follow the above guidelines. If you purchased bottle-fed baby goats, however, it can be challenging to get them to start eating solid foods when they have no role models, so it’s important to continue offering solid food to them, even if they ignore it in the beginning. Usually, by a month, they are nibbling on feedstuff.
While feeding, consider the following aspects:
- Monitor the kid’s body condition. (I expect my Nigerian dwarf kids to gain 4 ounces per day for the first 2 months. Bigger goats should gain 6-8 ounces per day)
- Provide clean, fresh water at all times. Change water daily, even if it doesn’t look like they’re drinking it.
- Gradually increase access to pasture, allowing kids to graze on fresh forage.
- Maintain a clean feeding environment to prevent diseases.
By following these guidelines, baby goats will develop strong and healthy because their nutritional needs are adequately met during their early stages of life.
Health and Wellness
To ensure the health and wellness of baby goats, regular preventive care is important. Here are some key measures:
- Vaccinations: The only routine vaccine for goats is CDT, which stands for Clostridium perfringens Types C & D, and tetanus.
- Parasite management: Learn to do the 5-point check so that you’ll know if your goats have a parasite problem that needs treatment.
- Hoof care: Regular trimming and maintaining a dry environment is vital to prevent hoof problems or infections.
- Proper nutrition: Provide a balanced diet based on their age, gender, and breeding status.
Baby goats may encounter various health issues that require prompt attention. Some common illnesses include:
- Diarrhea (scours): The most common cause of diarrhea between the ages of 3 weeks and 5 months is coccidiosis.
- Pneumonia is not really common in kids, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind if owners hear a goat cough, so check out our podcast episode on pneumonia in goats with Dr. Michael Pesato from Mississippi State University vet school.
- Abomasal bloat: Caused by feeding too much milk in a single bottle. Getting all of a kid’s milk into only two bottles a day too soon is a bad idea. We split kids’ milk into 4 bottles a day until a month of age, then split it between 3 bottles a day. We split it into 2 bottles a day at 2 months of age.
- Floppy kid syndrome is not just a weak kid. Check out our article on What Floppy Kid Syndrome Is — and What It Is Not.
Socialization and Handling
Bonding with Humans
Raising baby goats requires special attention to socialization and handling. Bonding with humans is essential for the healthy development of kids as it ensures their comfort and trust. Start by spending time with them from the day they are born, which will help them become accustomed to your presence. Handle kids gently, speak softly, and provide them with a calm environment to foster trust.
Goats are prey animals; if you don’t handle them from the beginning, they can be as wild as deer. Touch and pet the kids frequently, focusing on different body parts such as their legs, back, and neck. This physical contact will not only build trust but also aid in future hoof trims and medical check-ups.
Interaction with Goat Herd
Integrating baby goats into the goat herd is another crucial aspect of their social development. It helps the kids learn social skills and accept the herd’s hierarchical structure.
If they are being raised by a mom, you can put her and the kids back into the herd together, and after a bit of head-butting, everyone is usually happy. If the kids try to nurse from a doe that is not its mom, most will push it away or walk away. I’ve seen a few grab a kid by the tail and pull it away.
If you need to integrate bottle babies into a herd, follow these steps:
- Put the kids in an adjacent pen or pasture where they can see and smell the adult goats and vice versa. Basically, they can get to know each other through the fence initially.
- Put the kids into a pasture with the herd where they will have plenty of room to run away if a goat becomes aggressive with them. If you put them in a small area, they are more likely to get slammed against a wall and hurt.
- If they get along fine in the pasture, you can let them go into the barn with the rest of the herd at night.
Weaning and Growth
Baby goats have specific needs that must be attended to for their healthy development. Weaning technically means transitioning them from a milk-only diet to a mixture of milk and solid food. So it begins when a kid starts eating solid foods.
However, you should never buy or sell a kid that is only a few weeks old simply because you see it eating hay and goat feed. Nothing is as concentrated in protein and calcium as milk, so a kid can’t possibly consume as much protein and calcium by eating solid foods as it can by drinking milk.
I won’t sell my Nigerian dwarf kids until they weigh at least 20 pounds, which can be achieved by 8 to 10 weeks of age if they are getting enough milk. I hear from lots of people, however, who have kids 3-4 months old that weigh only 15 pounds and suffer from chronic coccidiosis because they weaned them too early or they let a doe try to raise four kids, so one or two wound up not getting enough milk and falling behind the others in growth.
It’s essential to provide proper nutrition for the growing kids. Here’s a quick guide:
- Proteins: 16% protein goat feed and alfalfa hay for growing kids until they are about 50% of their adult weight.
- Minerals: A free-choice goat mineral should be available for all goats, including kids. It should have a 2-to-1 calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, at least 1700 ppm copper, at least 50 ppm selenium.
- Freshwater: Always ensure they have access to clean and fresh water.
Regular monitoring of the baby goats’ growth helps ensure they are developing appropriately. Consider the following milestones:
- Weight: Kids should double their birth weight within the first two weeks. Nigerian dwarf kids should gain 4 ounces a day for the first two months. Larger breeds should gain 6 to 8 ounces per day.
- Body condition score: Track their body condition using a scale of 1 (thin) to 5 (overweight), aiming for a healthy score of 3.
A big belly does not mean your kid is fat. In fact, it can often mean the kid has a heavy load of parasites. This article will help you determine if your goat kid is fat or if it has a hay belly.
Providing Shelter and Protection
To facilitate healthy growth, ensure baby goats have a safe and clean environment. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Housing: Provide a well-ventilated, draft-free space with dry bedding. It should not be insulated. Cold is not a problem, but a draft can be.
- Fencing: Use secured fencing to protect them from predators and prevent them from wandering. They make “goat fencing,” which has openings small enough that baby goats cannot slip through.
- Socialization: Goats are herd animals and should never be alone. Allow the kids to interact with other goats and humans to develop necessary social skills.
Proper Management is the Key to Happy, Healthy Goats
Raising baby goats is not hard if you do your homework. Most problems can be avoided with proper management. Nutrition is the single most important aspect of goat care, and proper parasite management is a close second. If you provide appropriate housing and fencing, then you are on your way to having a healthy, productive herd of goats that will provide you with many years of milk, meat, and more.