By Cheryl K. Smith, Oregon
Feeding baby goats with a tube can save weak or premature kids. Learn how to properly insert the tube, avoid inundating the lungs, to get precious colostrum into their tummies during a critical moment.
Buttercup, a 3-year-old Oberian doe, unexpectedly went into labor before the goat gestation calendar indicated she should. Upon checking breeding dates, I discovered that my farm partner and I had different dates. She was at either 140 or 145 days gestation. That would make the kids either premature or just on the cusp of maturity. Still, it didn’t occur to me that there might be a problem with the babies.
The labor was normal and uneventful, and around 10 p.m., Buttercup delivered a little doeling then a buckling and then a stillborn doeling. The problems began with the first kid, who was in respiratory distress and having trouble getting a breath. Her tongue was hanging out and, despite stimulation by both Buttercup and me, she was very weak. Her brother followed suit, and despite swinging and removing mucus with a bulb syringe, neither of the living kid goats could stand up. They were floppy, weak, and had no sucking ability.
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This was one of those times that I had to pull out my book, Goat Health Care, and relearn how to use a stomach tube for feeding baby goats warm colostrum. If they were mature enough, it would be the only chance they had to survive. Anyone caring for goats is wise to include a tube and syringe designed for such feeding in their birth kit to give weak or sick kids a fighting chance.
You can purchase a flexible rubber feeding tube, along with a 60 ml syringe and an irrigation tip, for $5 or less at most veterinary supply stores or from a veterinarian. The tube has a tapered end, which attaches to the syringe. The cost is minimal, compared to paying a veterinarian, and while tube feeding baby goats seems scary, it really isn’t that hard.
The biggest fear that people have about tube feeding is that they will accidentally get liquid into the goat’s lungs. Although you need to be careful, it is much easier to get the tube into the stomach than into the lungs, and there are several ways to check to make sure it isn’t in the lungs before you add milk or colostrum.
To determine how far to insert the tube, measure from the kid’s nose to the center of the ear base. Then measure from the ear to the chest floor and mark the feeding tube with the sum of those two measurements. That mark is how far the tube must be inserted into the kid’s mouth. (If the tube cannot be inserted that far, it is the first sign that it is in the windpipe [trachea] rather than the stomach.)
Although tube feeding baby goats can be done by one person, having a second person to hold the kid is better. Some kids (like Buttercup’s kids) are too weak to even fight back, but others may have more spirit but yet be unable to suck.
To tube feed, hold (or have someone hold) the kid on your lap and tilt its head back slightly so the tube has a straighter path to follow. Open the kid’s mouth a little by pressing on one side of the jaw with your fingers. Take the softened tube and slowly slide it down the kid’s throat, small end first. If it does not go as far as the mark, slowly pull it out and start over. (I have never had this happen.)
If the kid was crying before the tube was inserted and suddenly stops during the process, slowly pull the tube out and start again.
Putting one hand on the front of the kid’s throat will help you feel when the tube enters the esophagus. When the mark on the tube is at the opening of the kid’s mouth, you are there.
There are several methods for checking to ensure that the tube is in the right place. The first is smelling the end of the tube for a milk smell coming from the stomach. I didn’t use this method in the case of Buttercup’s kids because they were just born and had no milk in their stomachs.
The second method is to place the end of the tube into a cup of water. If bubbles come out, the tube is in the lungs. I have done this, but it can be unwieldy, especially if you are working alone.
The third method is to blow gently into the tube to see whether the lungs inflate. I have not tried this method, in part because I have concerns about blowing too hard into fragile newborn lungs.
I chose the fourth method: Listen at the end of the tube for the little crackles that are the sounds of breath. I heard no sounds so I was ready for the feeding.
After determining that the tube is correctly placed, you are ready to feed. Attach the 60 ml syringe to the feeding tube. Use your 6 ml syringe filled with warm water to add water to the syringe to ensure that it goes down properly and is not twisted. If everything seems fine, pour the colostrum or milk into the tube, while holding it up higher than the kid. (The plunger is not needed for this procedure because gravity will pull the milk down.)
After the milk or colostrum is gone, add another 6ml more water to rinse the syringe. This step is not essential, but can help to prevent milk or colostrum from going into the lungs while removing the tube, if some is left in the syringe or tube. Then withdraw the tube slowly, but in one smooth motion.
In some cases, you will see a striking difference in the kid. It may stand up within minutes and even show interest in nursing shortly afterward. In others, you may need to do several such feedings before the kid develops the necessary strength.
In the case of Buttercup’s kids, their prematurity made life impossible and the tube feeding had no effect. Their lungs were not developed enough for them to survive without more treatment than an average goatkeeper like me can provide.
I try to take something good from every experience with my goats. In this case I learned that tube feeding baby goats is something I could do without hurting the kid, and I was reminded that on the homestead, you are never far from new life or death.
Tube Feeding Supplies:
• Feeding tube, warmed with hot water to soften
• 60 ml syringe with irrigation tip
• Colostrum or milk
• Warm water
• 6 ml syringe
Have you tried tube feeding baby goats? We would love to hear your stories.
Cheryl K. Smith is a freelance writer and editor. She has been raising miniature dairy goats in the coast range of Oregon since 1998. She is the author is Goat Health Care and Raising Goats or Dummies.
Published in the Nov/Dec 2016 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.