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Starting Kids Out Right

By Nancy Nickel

It has always been our philosophy at Nickel’s Dairy Goats, Missouri, to practice preventative medicine and total maintenance with an eye toward the future of our stock. We expect our herd members to be exemplary in production and to perform in the show ring as well. Our show herd has always been our milking string and we have won awards in both categories with the same animals. It has only been in recent years that ADGA has included SGCH or GCH designations when the Top Ten lists were prepared, so a casual search does not illustrate just how few of the Nickel Top Ten does were not show Champions as well.

To prepare a doeling for growth to meet the challenge of top performance in the milk room and the show ring, it is vitally important to start the
kids out right. Record keeping is an important tool in herd management. It is important to know when the kids will be born and to make provisions for the birth to be monitored. Prolonged labor can mean kids are stressed to the point that they begin life unable to respond in an advantageous manner to mothering by the doe or nurturing by the humans. Chilled kids start life at a disadvantage, and are forced to utilize precious reserves of fat for survival. These kids are slow to begin growing and gaining, and may be more likely to contract respiratory illness as well.

These LaMancha kids from Boomtown Farm, Kentucky, are grouped by age for optimum growth opportunities.
These LaMancha kids from Boomtown Farm, Kentucky, are grouped by age for optimum growth opportunities.

We start all kids in the house. There they are observed often, fed four or five times a day, and kept dry and draft free. A chart is made for each birth group noting anything that may be of later interest. We especially like to note those kids who are active and smart to catch on to standing alone to nurse. Kids that must be held on a lap to eat are not as quickly advanced to life with a group.

When they are able to move toward the feeder they begin acclimation to outdoor conditions. The second phase of life is our garage. The second lesson in feeding is to make the transfer from a hand-held individual bottle, which allows observation of milk intake, to jug bars. We like to feed the garage babies from plastic gallon bottle jugs which are fitted with two lambar nipples. Milk is provided in these jugs three times a day at a volume which will allow each kid to eat its fill during the feeding time and still have milk left over for any kid who learns to come and eat without prompting. Four jugs with two nipples each hang on the wire pen and kids are taught to come and nurse. We use jugs as each holds about 3/4 gallon of milk. The level of milk is high and the tubes are short. This means that the suction needed to nurse from a jug is less than from a regulation lambar. No kid should go hungry or leave the nurser because it became fatigued trying to nurse.

In the garage pens, the kids from several does are formed into pods of eight kids. Eight seems to be a good maximum number for observation as well as a good number of kids for adequate competition for feed. Ideally, kids stay with their initial pod, or group, until they are sold or until the bucklings must be separated from the doelings. We like these kids to be less than 10 days apart in age and to have birth weights varying less than a pound. We observe kids that are bullies or those that are shy. At times this may cause a change of placement.

Hay is offered from the early days in the garage. Three-day-old kids are usually not interested, but by the time they are ready to leave the garage they are nearly three weeks old. We have found that the Toggenburgs are the most precocious, followed by the Recorded Grades and the LaManchas. Nubian kids take the most care and are the slowest to adjust to changes of any kind. Having a mix of breeds in a group helps, as goats are adept to learning by example.

The last phase in the placement of kids is adjustment to a pen in the kid barn or an outdoor pen with washable plastic house in the kid yards. Once the kids begin life outside, it is very difficult to keep milk from spoiling in jugs and a lambar becomes the most efficient for milk delivery. Each pen has its own lambar with a color-coded lid. The lambar is delivered four times a day for the first 10 days, then reduced to three times a day. By the time the kids are four weeks old, they are fed twice a day. Positive results have been noted when we added warm water to the lambar and allowed the kids to drink their fill after all the milk was gone. This seems to help develop feed capacity. We feel that to be a little hungry between feedings encourages nibbling grain and hay. Kids are fed the best hay available and have free choice grain mixed especially for them containing corn oil and Karo syrup.

The oil and syrup adds palatability to the mix as well as calories for growth and vigor. It is important to consider a third benefit of this somewhat odd addition to starter—it also cuts the dust that many commercial feeds contain and helps prevent the potential of inhalation pneumonia.

One bout of pneumonia leaves the lungs damaged for life. We know this because Bruce is a retired meat cutter and this has allowed us to make a study of the condition of the lungs of market kids butchered here. We have seen the results in hard pulmonary tissue in animals that seemed to have had a very minor lung problem at one point when they were babies.

An animal that will grow into a strong herd member, able to compete in an advantageous manner, must have the use of all its natural advantages. Keeping kids clean, dry, and well fed is the best preventative in the management against disease.

It is a good practice to avoid sharing worms, coccidia, giardia, and external parasites. Older kids are struggling to develop immunity to environmental hazards. Usually the first group of kids that travel through a pen would be quite able to manage without much preventative treatment. When younger animals are moved into the area they “inherit” the pollutants and parasites that the older animals have “planted” in the soil or bedding. Stress caused by mixing pen mates also becomes a factor to disadvantage the younger or newer members of the group. When at all possible we do not mix groups of kids of different social groups or ages.

Kids are weight-taped every 21 days as they are coccidia treated and wormed. Weight gain charts are used to make management decisions. We have found that some individuals respond to the stress of traveling to shows with slowed weight gain. These individuals are then taken out less frequently. Sometimes stalled weight gain indicates that a different wormer or coccidiastat should be used. In general a kid under six months of any dairy breed should gain three pounds a week. Kids six months and older gain at an average of two pounds a week.

Kids that are growing well and growing steadily seem to be able to resist illness. Keeping good records of gain in addition to quality daily observations of each kid as an individual is an inexpensive but vital tool in raising quality goat kids. To really see kids with the intent of observing differences or difficulties is much easier if the pen mates are different colors. However, it is all too easy to view a group of Saanen kids as a unit, and not as eight individuals. To encourage observation of differences and make reporting or charting more accurate, we color code like-colored kids in each group. For this we found nylon leg bands sold for marking dairy cattle to be an excellent addition to our program. These bands purchased from PBS Livestock Supply come in six colors. For kids we cut them in half, length-wise and use them like collars. They fasten with a strong Velcro closure and maintain marks made by a Sharpie marker for at least six weeks.

There is an old English maxim that states “the value of the flock is in eye of the shepherd.” Nowhere is this more true than in the value realized by careful observation as we work toward future production and enjoyment of our goat herds.

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