Caring for Rejected Kid Goats

What to Feed Baby Goats and How to Care For Abandoned Kids

kid-goat

Whatever the reason behind it, a rejected kid goat needs care right away. There isn’t much we can do to prevent rejection but we can be ready to step in when necessary.

If a doe refuses to care for the newborn, it is a life and death matter for that kid. It’s intense at first. Baby goats eat frequently throughout the day and even require night feeding. Dehydration, scours and a general failure to thrive can occur.

One of the cutest things you will ever encounter in farm living is a baby goat drinking from a baby bottle. Those tiny kid goats can really work hard to receive the nutrition they need. Unless you love being sleep-deprived, the cuteness wears a little thin after a few nights. Because of this, most goat breeders hope that the does will all be wonderful, nurturing mothers after delivery. The causes of rejection could be a number of factors. Some of these can be quickly remedied and the kid then allowed to nurse naturally. Other times, nothing we try will coax a doe into accepting the hungry newborn. Take a look at some of the factors which come into play.

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Heredity

Maternal instinct is a strong urge. When a new mom sees her kid, she instinctively takes over the care and protection. The doe will encourage her kid to nurse after she has cleaned it off from delivery. Keeping records of this behavior for your breeding does is helpful. When you notice that a particular doe is not as strong as she should be in the maternal qualities, that could be a trait passed down in her genetics. This is a good question to ask when purchasing a future breeding doe. If the doe was a bottle baby because her mother refused to care for her, take that information into consideration.

Health of the Doe

Was the doe in top condition heading into goat gestation? If a doe is not healthy, she may reject her kid. Healthy, strong does will make better mothers.

Difficult Labor and Birth or Infections

Did the doe have a tough time of delivering her kid? Especially with a first time mom, a difficult delivery or lengthy labor can leave them confused and depleted. Offering grain to nibble, and warm water sweetened with molasses, might bring her around and restore her energy. Then you can try to get her to accept the kid goat, again.

Infections of the teats or udder can cause a doe to kick the kid away. If it hurts her to be nursed, she isn’t going to be a willing mom. An infection on one side only, may cause her to reject one twin.

The causes of rejection are varied and sometimes unknown. There are some tactics you can use to try to get the doe to accept the baby. Keep a careful watch as you try any of the following ideas. A kid goat can be harmed and seriously injured by a mother that wants no part of being a mom.

  • Give the doe some space. If you can, hand-milk colostrum and bottle feed it to the kid while staying close to the doe.
  • Attempt to bond the pair after the doe has had something to eat and drink. Make sure no other goats are bothering her while she recovers. This is why it’s good to use birthing stalls. The other curious goats can make the doe nervous and cause her to forget what her job is.
  • Rub a drop of vanilla on the doe’s lip and on the rejected kid’s anal opening to disguise any scent that might be bothering the doe. Don’t let people who wear heavy perfume or cologne handle the kids.
  • Hobble the doe and see if she will let the rejected kid nurse. This might take more than one person if the doe becomes agitated. Use a halter and a milking stand as another method of restraining the doe. Often, a few days of repeated forced feedings will convince the doe to accept and feed the rejected kid goat.

Grafting the rejected kid to another calm, accepting doe sometimes works out. Of course, this situation will be different for every flock and might be different from year to year with the same doe. Also, keep in mind that the doe that rejects her kid one year might be a first rate mom the next time that goat kids.

Carrissa Larsen, owner of Feather and Scale Farm in Standish, Maine, uses a combination of dam raising and bottle-feeding. This practice preserves the bond between the doe and her kids. The kids continue to reap health benefits of dam raising, while Carrissa provides a security plan in case the kid goats have to be removed from the dam.

In our goat breeding days, we had one dam that would not accept her kid. The doe was aggressive toward the kid and, for it’s own safety, we brought it into our house for the first few days. Once the kid was eating well, and strong, we returned him to the barn so he could grow up as a goat. Although we continued to bottle-feed him throughout the day, he often tried to nurse from the other does when their kids were eating.  Ms. Larsen had similar experiences with her rejected kid goats from one particular dam. She keeps colostrum in the freezer for such occurrences and uses either milk replacer or fresh goat milk from her herd to bottle-feed the rejected kid.

Some farms leave the kids with the herd from day one, even if they are being bottle-fed. The argument for this is that the kid goats learn to eat food, drink water and nibble hay earlier if left in the herd. Unless there is a serious health concern, this should work. Smaller farms often do what Feather and Scale Farm does and make sure things are going well for a day or two before returning the rejected kid to the herd. For normal goat behavior to develop, it is important for the kid to learn from the herd.

kid-goats

Photo credit Carrissa Larsen – Feather and Scale Farm

Using Milk Replacer When Caring for a Rejected Kid

When you have a rejected kid, feeding is your job for the next few weeks. The choices for bottle-feeding are commercial goat kid milk replacer, a homemade milk replacer mix, or fresh goat milk benefits. Obtaining fresh goat milk can become costly if you don’t yet have an established herd. We were fortunate to have a natural grocer nearby from which we could buy goat milk. Although it was not an economical choice, it worked and we made the sacrifice. The powdered milk replacer, available from the farm supply store, was not working for our rejected kid. Carrissa Larsen recommends Advance Milk Replacer for Kids, as an option. You can also try to obtain fresh goat milk from a clean-tested goat dairy farm near your home.

A commonly used recipe for homemade goat milk replacer uses the following ingredients:

  • 1 gallon of homogenized whole milk
  • 1 can of evaporated milk
  • 1 cup of buttermilk.

Shake gently before filling bottles each time.

What Type of Bottles Should You Use for a Rejected Kid?

When we began our breeding program and were expecting the arrival of kid goats, we stocked up on every conceivable item that might be needed. Livestock feeding bottles were part of the kit. However, since our Pygora goats are a smaller breed, the nipples and bottles were too large for our rejected kid. We ended up using baby bottles from the discount store and making the nipple openings just a little bit bigger. I have since learned that many goat owners follow this same practice. Commonly, the Pritchard nipple is suggested for bottle-feeding. It works well with any plastic bottle, such as soda bottles or water bottles. The livestock nipples seem to mostly be geared to larger  breeds and calves. You may be able to find smaller nipples specifically for smaller goat breeds by shopping through a goat farming supply website.

While feeding the rejected kid from a bottle, it is important to hold the bottle above their head at an angle. This closely mimics the stance the kid goat would take while nursing the doe. It allows milk to bypass the undeveloped rumen and go through to the other three stomachs, for digestion and nutrient absorption.

kid-goats

Photo credit Carrissa Larsen – Feather and Scale Farm

How Much Milk Does a Rejected Kid Goat Need?

The answer to this question will vary due to the size of the kid and breed. Smaller breeds will have smaller kids. There is a fine line between feeding enough for growth and letting the kid gorge on milk. As a general rule the first week of feedings, after colostrum, is in the neighborhood of four to six ounces for small breeds and six to eight ounces for larger breeds. Repeat the bottle feedings four times per day. The second week, increase the amount offered and continue until the amount per feeding is close to ten to twelve ounces per feeding. As time progresses, begin to offer soft hay, creep feed, and pans of drinking water. Slowly decrease the amount fed by bottle, and bottle-feedings per day, as you see the rejected kid begin to eat. Most kid goats are weaned and eating well by twelve weeks of age.

From my own experience and from talking to other goat breeders, caring for a rejected kid goat is likely to be part of your life at some point, when raising goats. Being prepared by monitoring the expectant does closely, preparing birthing pens, and having backup colostrum in the freezer and supplies on hand will give you a leg up on a successful outcome. Rejected kids are adorable and fun to watch as they grow and thrive from good care and management.

Originally published in the March/April 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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