Kid care is a primary concern in goat management, regardless whether the dairy goat business is based on one or two milkers or one or two hundred or thousand milking does, or at least it should be. These progenies are future milkers, future Grand Champions, future family resource providers, so their health should be the primary focus of any dairy goat operation. After working with dairy goats for the past 12 years, I have had some great teachers, both from mentors and from that old school of hard knocks. My goat-rearing experiences go from a small herd of Nubians to a large mixed breed herd of 1,000 in a commercial dairy setting. No matter the size or number, I have always tried to give the same attention, with the help of a couple of great farm hands, of course. It is that well-guided attention that often means the difference between life or death, and possible loss or profit.
I have found that dairy goats are generally concerned mothers. There are sometimes a few, however, who simply drop their babies and leave them. Chilled or nearly frozen kids are always in danger of non-survival. The best way to avoid this problem is prevention and to be knowledgeable and watchful for signs of labor. Signs to watch for include: vaginal discharge varying in quality and opacity before the delivery, bleating or "talking" of the doe to her unborn offspring, tail switching, and general discomfort. (Of course, there are always those exceptions who will not do any of the above and simply drop their baby.) If labor is detected, it is wise to confine the doe to a kidding pen. This area should be bedded with fresh straw. The water bucket should be placed high on the wall of the pen, to avoid the kid falling into it during delivery.
However, chilled kids are often a reality, no matter how vigilant the breeder. A frozen kid is a pitiful site. If there is a breath of life left in them, it is possible to save them. I have submersed them in warm water with less than satisfactory results. My preference is to put them in the house by the heat source-the wood stove or on top of a floor vent, wherever is very warm. Just be careful not to cook them! I usually wrap the chilled kid(s) in a towel and lay a corn warmer on top. (I will go into the corn warmer in a minute.) Keep a tubing kit on hand for cases such as this. A tube is a small catheter with which a 60 cc syringe is used to get life-saving warm colostrum into a chilled kid. This is difficult to do the first couple of times but after that it becomes much easier. Feed the tube slowly and then using the syringe, feed a small amount-15-20cc-of warm colostrum.
Are these kids future Grand Champions?
Cover the kid, leave it on the heat source and let it rest. Check again in 20 minutes or so. If this works, an hour or two of recovery time can often change a prone kid to one that is up and hopping about. If the kid doesn’t make noticeable improvement, repeat the tubing with the colostrum. As soon as things look promising, move the kid to a warm spot in the barn and let nature take its course. I have been known to keep a kid in the house a day or two or three to get it on its feet. (An alternative to my Intensive Goat Unit [IGU] would be heat lamps in a stall or draft free area of the barn.)
A corn warmer is a cloth bag filled with field corn kernels, then heated in a microwave or in the oven. The corn will absorb the heat and the resulting durable heating pad will stay warm a good while. Before placing a corn warmer on a new kid, make sure the bag isn’t too hot. I like to wrap the goat in a towel, then lay the warmer on top. This idea, by the way, is great for cold or aching people as well!
Even for normal delivery, there are helpful practices that encourage the stamina of the freshening doe. After the doe delivers, I always give the doe a bucket of warm water with molasses or brown sugar added in good quantity. This will re-energize the animal and get her milk flowing. Soon after delivery it is important to milk the doe for the all-important colostrum.
Decisions about kid rearing should be made before this point, planned for and put into place at this time. There are two common methods of raising kids: dam-raised or hand-raised. There are pros and cons to both methods. I prefer to pull the kid, or kids, immediately and hand-raise them. This way the kid does not bond with the doe and will, generally, be easier to bottle feed and handle. The kid will recognize the caregiver as "mom." This is easier if it begins from day one. It will be the responsibility of the caregiver to nourish the kid as its mother would. First, and most important, is to provide the colostrum. A doe will generally give more than what her young ones need. During the first milking or two, I collect it and freeze it in soda bottles. This will generally keep for six months in a deep freeze. The kids need colostrum for their first two or three feedings, and can then be switched to pastuerized goat milk for three days. Remember: a kid without colostrum will not thrive and most likely will not survive. Special attention must be paid in the heating of the colostrum. I thaw the frozen bottles and then heat them in warm water. One effective method is to get a pot of water boiling, remove it from the heat source, then place the bottle of cold colostrum in and let it warm. Test it as for an infant. It would not be good to scald the kid’s throat!
Heat-treated colostrum is warmed to 135ºF and held at that temperature for 30-50 minutes or an hour. This is important to prevent a disease called Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE), which is passed in goats through colostrum and un-pasteurized milk. CAE can cause severe arthritic problems and shorten the useful life of a dairy goat, so care must be taken to prevent it from taking hold in a newborn kid. (See related article by Alice Hall on page 29.)
Once the proper method for raising kids is determined, the breeder must learn to feed proper amounts. One tendency is to overfeed kids. I find that by feeding smaller amounts three times a day for the first five days, kids are hungry enough to eat well and I have had fewer problems with scouring. After this five-day period, I cut down to two feedings and I also begin to cut the goat milk with the lamb replacer, cutting the amount of goat milk in half and substituting the milk replacer for the other half. This will prevent scours from going to a different feed and also disguise the new taste somewhat. After two days of the half and half mix, milk replacer can be fed in full. It may take a bit of coaxing to get them to eat the milk replacer. They know the difference. Once they get good and hungry it will work.
Another alternative is to feed the kid cow milk. This process would start the same, with the goat colostrum, then half goat milk and half cow milk, eventually all cow milk. This will prevent the need to buy the lamb replacer and is a great way to use extra milk. If scours do occur, cut back a little on the milk and replace it equally with water if it is too rich. Scours and pneumonia are major causes of death in kids, and signs of either should be immediately dealt with.
For those first bottle feedings, I like using the Pritchard teats on top of a plastic soda bottle for the first week. (Make sure to wash those soda bottles carefully to avoid the introduction of harmful bacteria into their systems). After the first week a 10-nipple bucket can be a real time-saver. This will take some training, but can feed 10 kids at a time. Make sure to hang the bucket so the kids have to drink with their necks in an upright position. They are not meant to drink from the ground. Picture the goat’s udder and hang the bucket about that height. This will aid in their digestion. Watch out, at this point, for any weak kids. Some kids just don’t catch on quite as quickly as others and the slower ones may need to be fed separately for a time, until they develop to the point of strong sucking. If they can’t compete for food it is better to feed them on their own. The time spent training kids to drink from a nipple-bucket is well worth it, as it will speed chore time along once they learn.
Well-fed kids grow quickly and it is important to keep records on them for future reference. Records can be a pain or a goat breeder’s best friend. I find the more history I have on every goat in my herd, the better. In a small herd it is not as difficult to remember who belongs to who, but in a large herd it is a different story. I had great success in identifying kids temporarily by using the colored Velcro® bands created for flagging cows. I simply wrote the dam’s number and the kid’s date of birth on their collar. (I followed up with a hard copy). They were permanently tagged either by collar number or ear tagged later. By using different color bands I could tell at glance how many males and females I had in the kid pens. This is a simple method but it helped a lot in keeping things straight.
Not only is it good for the bottom line in management to work toward 100% survival of kids born on the farm, but dairy goat kids are without a doubt the best cure for mid-winter blues. Watching them hop and skip from place to place will bring a smile even at the end of a long hard day. As with their human counterparts, they stay small a short time. Don’t forget to enjoy them!