Baby Goat Care: Bottle, Udder, or Both?
How to Tell if a Baby Goat is Nursing
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Before spring kids arrive, think about how you want to raise them. Will you bottle raise them, dam raise them, or do a little of both? Advice and opinions on baby goat care, just like human baby care, are vast and varied. There is no absolute right or wrong, and you don’t have to (or might not be able to) always do it exactly the same way in every situation. Each option has pros and cons, and sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. Consider these things when deciding how to provide the very best baby goat care in your barn.
- Friendliness: Bottle-raised kids initially bond quicker with human caretakers, making them easier to catch and work with.
- Udder Health: Kids often pick a favorite side of the udder leading to uneven udder development, so milking the does yourself will alleviate this concern.
- Knowledge of Production and Feeding Quantity: You can weigh the mother’s milk and measure the desired amount into bottles.
- CAE Prevention: Since CAE in goats primarily passes through the mother’s milk, many goat owners pasteurize milk or feed replacer to the kids.
- Easier to Wean: It’s much easier to take a bottle from a baby at weaning time than to separate bonded mothers and babies.
- More Milk for You: If you bottle-raise your kids, you can feed milk replacer or a combination of replacer and mother’s milk which means more milk for you.
- More Work: Kids who are bottle-fed from the start will not learn how to nurse. This means you are completely committed to daily baby goat care as well as twice-daily milking for at least two to three months.
- More Equipment: You’ll need milk buckets, containers to hold the milk, bottles or feeding buckets, nipples, and possibly even a milking machine. All this equipment can get expensive and also needs daily cleaning.
- Less Natural: For some goat owners, the joy of seeing mothers and babies bonding during the nursing months feels more natural.
- Over-friendly Kids: Many people bottle-raise kids primarily to make them friendlier. My own experience is that sometimes these kids are friendly to a fault, jumping on me and tripping me every time I try to come through a gate.
- Less Work: When the does are doing the bulk of the baby goat care, you won’t have to milk the doe or feed the kid.
- Less Equipment: You also won’t need all that equipment.
- More Natural: It might feel more natural for some goat owners to allow the bonding between dam and kids.
- Earlier Eating of Solids: Dam-raised kids tend to imitate mom and begin nibbling on hay and grain earlier than bottle-raised kids.
- Increased Milk Production: Since demand directly impacts supply, dams that have kids nursing constantly throughout the day (and night) will generally produce more milk than does only milked twice a day.
- Don’t Know Production or Consumption Quantities: It can be hard to determine just how much your dam is producing or how much your kids are eating if you’re not the one doing the milking and feeding. How do you tell if a baby goat is nursing? Check its belly several times a day – it should feel like there’s a water balloon inside.
- Udder Health: Kids may nurse unevenly or does may produce more than the baby is eating. You may need to milk out some of one or both sides a bit, especially at the beginning.
- Wilder Kids: Kids who are dam raised interact with their human caretakers less so they will be a bit wilder and harder to handle.
- Harder to Wean: Some dams will wean their own kids, but often it will be necessary to completely separate dams and kids when you decide to wean them.
- Less Milk for You Early On: If all of your doe’s milk is going to feed her kids, you might not get any of that yummy milk for yourself for two to three months.
A Hybrid Approach
Some goat owners, myself included, opt for a hybrid approach when it comes to baby goat care. I often allow my babies to nurse for the first few weeks, and then gradually begin to separate them and introduce a bottle at least once a day before putting them back together.
- Makes Some Things Easier: No milking or bottle feeding or cleaning of equipment for the first few weeks. And later on, you’ll have a choice of whether to milk and feed babies yourself or let mom take care of them on days when you get too busy or want to get away.
- Easier to Milk First Fresheners After First Few Weeks: Once the initial hormone surge of early motherhood dies down and that first freshener gets used to the feel of an udder full of milk and teats being pulled on, it might be easier to work with her on the milk stand.
- Feels More Natural: Keeping mothers and babies together right after birth might just feel more natural to you.
- Stimulates Better Production: Constant nursing can increase milk production.
- Friendly, but not Over-Friendly Kids: Kids who are bottle-fed some of the time will be interested in you and may be easier to catch, but they won’t be so bonded to you that they make it impossible for you to work around them.
- Must Monitor Early Production and Consumption Closely: You’ll need to be sure dams are producing and babies are eating in the early days and weeks that you are allowing dams to nurse their kids.
- Kids Wilder at First: When you’re ready to start introducing your babies to the bottle, it may be hard to catch them, especially if you wait more than a few weeks.
- Sometimes Hard to Get Kids on a Bottle Later: You may have to get them good and hungry and be fairly forceful the first few times you attempt to teach them to take a bottle. Every now and then, you’ll have a kid who just won’t do it!
How you approach baby goat care, especially when it comes to feeding, may be a function of how much time you have as well as what your personal philosophy and goals are. There are no absolutes and as you can see, pros and cons for all the options. You may have to experiment a bit to figure out what works best for you.
Kate Johnson raises Nubian Dairy Goats in Longmont, Colorado at www.briargatefarm.com. She is an active leader in the local 4-H Goat Program and a Superintendent for her county’s fair. She also runs a cheesemaking school at www.theartofcheese.com
Originally published in the May/June 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.