Goat kids: bouncy, lovable, adorable…and difficult! Today I want to talk about goat kid care—everything from what to do right after birth, to bottle feeding, to weaning!
Prepping for birth:
While this is not a post dedicated to pregnancy, kidding prep, etc., it is important to have a complete first aid kit by your side ready for the newborn kids:
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The first moments of life:
Once a kid is born, you will want to use your nasal bulb to get mucus and birthing fluids out of the nose and mouth. Gentle but firm rubbing of the whole body will help stimulate the kid to cough or sneeze out excess birthing fluid as well. Assess the kid’s immediate situation – checking for weakness, unresponsiveness, deformities, and other glaring issues.
A healthy kid – possibly sneezing out some fluids, alert, possibly vocalizing. This is great! Just continue to clean the kid and place in front of the doe to finish cleaning.
An unresponsive or weak kid – if a kid is born unresponsive or very weak, a pinch of cayenne on the tongue or a few drops of cayenne tincture should be your first action. Lots of firm rubbing on the rib cage. Once the kid is responsive, an oral or SubQ dose of 1/2cc Vitamin B Complex injectable (use only the injectable version of B Complex, not oral gels. At under 24 hours of age, the injectable version can be dosed orally or by injection) & selenium (via a pea sized dollop of Replamin plus gel, the label dosage for Selenium/Vitamin E gel, or BoSe and a Vitamin E gel cap for humans) should be given.
Deformities – If you notice a kid is born with deformities, often in the legs/hooves, this goat will need mineral and vitamin supplements – including selenium, vitamin E, and likely some A&D (cod liver oil is a good source of this). Selenium and vitamin E should be the first thing you give once the kid is cleaned off. Shortly after this, you should determine whether splinting of a deformity is needed.
Stillborn – Sometimes an unresponsive kid is deemed stillborn. These are two different situations. If there is an unresponsive kid that was recently alive and healthy in the womb, even if there is little to no heart action, cayenne and rough stimulation has the possibility of restarting the kid’s system. With a stillborn, the cayenne and stimulation will not change the outcome of the situation as the kid will be too far gone. If the eyes are sunken, that indicates the kid had been deceased for a long time in the womb.
If a kid is having trouble suckling, whether due to weakness or appetite issues, this is another time to use your cayenne (tincture on tongue, or powder mixed with a little honey to rub on their gums). B Complex & selenium/vitamin E as mentioned above should also be given.
The doe’s udder may be plugged, as they produce a waxy seal during pregnancy to keep bacteria out. Be sure there is a steady milk flow and the plug is released after kidding.
If all is well and the kid is nursing, the last thing to do after making sure the kid is healthy is to dip the umbilical cord in iodine. The umbilical cord will break on its own, but if it is longer than 4 inches, you can tie it off with dental floss and use a sterilized scissors to trim it to a reasonable size. Dip in undiluted iodine. An un-dipped cord can lead to navel infections.
At a few days old, the kids should be nursing well, walking well, peeing and pooping. Because they are only drinking milk, especially the rich colostrum-filled milk in the first few days, they will have more mustard-colored, yellow, pasty stool. This is normal, but it may get caked on their bottom if the doe does not clean it off, so watch that it does not become a blockage.
To ensure that the kids are drinking enough milk, you can weigh them daily on a scale that measures in ounces, and be sure they are not losing weight, and are gaining weekly.
If you notice that a kid is hunched and lethargic, they may be constipated. In bottle kids, which we will discuss later, this is usually a sign of overfeeding, but it can also mean they are not getting enough. Take into account urination and stomach appearance to determine what this position means, especially in a dam-raised kid. An enema is always a good idea when you see this, and taking the kid’s rectal temperature is also good to be extra cautious. Note that if the kid is pooping normally, hunching can also be a sign of illness.
Directions for an enema: Mix 2oz warm water with 2 drops of a gentle dishwashing liquid. Dawn Dish Soap (Original) is a good option. Do not use anything with bleach. Place the kid on a towel in front of your sink. Put the kid on its side and make sure that the rear end is facing toward the sink. Use a 3cc, 6cc, or 12cc luer slip syringe to draw up the warm water with soap mixed in, and slowly and very, very carefully, slide the tip into the kid’s rear end. Be cautious with this step and be ever-so-gentle. You are not putting the whole syringe into the rear end, simply the tip. Gently push the plunger to release the warm soapy water into the goat – this process will likely need to be repeated a few times to loosen the hardened feces. You can massage the goat’s sides to help the liquid and feces come out.
Any profuse scours (diarrhea) in kids under 3 weeks of age is usually a sign of E. Coli, Salmonella, or other bacterial/viral issues. These will often be accompanied by a very foul smell and high fever. Kids can go downhill quite quickly with these issues, and the best treatment is Neomycin or SpectoGard (this may go by other names, but it is a red liquid for pigs). If you prefer a natural treatment, I would try GI Soother, HerBiotic, and Kochi Free used all together. Please reach out to a mentor or vet and discuss the situation in-depth, including the smell, texture, and color of the stool to help solve the issue.
Nibbling solid food:
At a week old, kids may start mouthing hay or leaves, especially if they are with their mother. Hay should be available to them, but they are not expected to really eat it.
A note on disbudding:
Disbudding (removal of horns) should be done at anywhere from 5 days-14 days of age. It is a personal choice, and is by no means necessary!
3-4 weeks and older:
At 3-4 weeks of age, the battle with parasites begins. Coccidia is a protozoan parasite; it lives in almost all goats, but in very few numbers, so it does not cause issues with a functioning immune system. In kids, their immune system is not fully developed, so they are extremely susceptible to coccidia. I recommend having kids on a natural coccidia prevention via natural dewormers. The two herbal blends I recommend are GI Soother and DWA from Fir Meadow LLC. I use GI Soother to target coccidia, and DWA for most other parasites. These two formulas can be started at 4 days old, and will give you a head start on parasite management and immune support. Your job at this age is to watch closely for signs of parasites or illnesses.
Eating solid foods:
At a few weeks old, kids should begin to develop an appetite for hay. The rumen is not fully developed until a few months of age, though. At about 3 weeks or a little sooner, you can introduce some grain as well if you plan on feeding this.
Kids will start to explore water at around 2 weeks old, and should consistently be drinking water by 4-5 weeks old. It can be tough to teach bottle babies to drink water; as most kids learn to drink from watching their mothers drink from buckets. Try to expose any bottle babies to other adult goats, put water on your fingers, use shallow bowls, bring the bowl to their noses and touch the water to their lips, etc. and they will eventually get used to it. Despite temptation, do not feed kids water from a bottle. This can lead to hemoglobinuria, or “water intoxication.”
The earliest a goat should be fully weaned is 12 weeks of age. While most breeders tend to send their goats to their new homes weaned at 8 weeks, I personally feel it is healthier for them to go a full 3 months with their mother’s milk. If left to be naturally weaned, some does will let their kids go 6 months, often longer. The longer kids nurse, the healthier they are.
A note on wethering: 12 weeks old is also the earliest age that a male goat should be castrated. The preferred age is 4 months.
Bottle Feeding vs. Dam Raising:
I am not a huge fan of bottle feeding ‘by choice.’ Some people like to pull kids from their mothers and bottle raise to have more friendly kids, or to send them to new homes at an earlier date. While this isn’t a horrible thing to do, I prefer dam raising, and I believe it creates healthier goats. Thus, I only recommend bottle feeding in certain circumstances. You may need to bottle feed if:
- There are birthing complications and the doe is unable to produce milk for the kid
- The doe has mastitis
- The kid is born with a health issue, and cannot nurse properly
- There are too many kids, and one is being underfed or neglected
If a kid is not able to nurse properly, gain weight, and stay in good health, you will need to bottle feed. Bottle feeding is not as easy as you may think. The saying “mother knows best” is quite a true statement for raising goat kids. When dam raised, the doe will do most of the work. You may want to weigh the kids daily to ensure they are eating enough, but you are not responsible for each feeding. When you bottle feed, it is up to you to take over the role of the doe, and regulate the milk you are feeding. Overfeeding bottle babies is a huge issue. They are so adorable, and they will cry for a bottle all day long, even if they are well-fed—this can make it hard to resist giving more milk. It is important to know, based on the weight of the kid, how much to feed and when. Please see this link for my complete bottle feeding directions: https://thegivinggoathome.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/bottle-feeding-goats.pdf
When giving a gel to a newborn, such as Selenium/Vitamin E gel or Replamin gel, I would not use the applicator tube. Instead, I would put the dose on a finger and place it onto the kid’s tongue. Kids can easily choke on or aspirate a large glob of a gel.
When using Replamin gel in kids, I recommend a pea-sized dollop. When using Selenium/Vitamin E gel, follow label instructions for a newborn. When using BoSe, I would give 1/8th-1/4cc and a vitamin E gel cap for humans (these are usually about 500IU).
WHY SELENIUM AND VITAMIN E GO TOGETHER:
Vitamin E is necessary for the body’s utilization and absorption of selenium. Selenium & Vitamin E gel already has vitamin E in it, as does Replamin. BoSe is best when given alongside a secondary source of vitamin E, which is why the gel cap is recommended.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet, nor am I a licensed professional. I am in no way a “goat expert” and my opinions are only that of personal experiences, and my insights shared are not medical treatment suggestions, care suggestions, or any directions for raising goats at all. I am simply sharing my own personal opinions. Any and all changes to your goats’ health regimen, care, etc. should be approved by a veterinary professional or licensed professional. I also believe that every goat owner has their own way of doing things, so just as my opinions are my own, and cannot apply to anyone else, your opinions are also regarding your individual goats, and I welcome you to share them in a kind, constructive manner.