For goat dairies, the kids represent the future of the herd. Planning for their birth and rearing is an essential element of an effective and profitable management program for a goat owner. Newborn kids require that special level of attention so as to avoid any health challenges at birth that may negatively impact their chances of being a healthy and productive adult.
Kids are susceptible to many diseases at the time of birth, making sanitation the number-one item to focus on. Maternity areas must be clean and dry—preferably on bedding that does not harbor pathogens. Forcing does to give birth in muddy conditions is an open invitation to bacteria such as coliforms and campolybacter. Many breeders practice strict Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE) prevention methods and remove newborn kids from their dams just as soon as they are born to prevent the spread of CAE. Other breeders may chose to let CAE tested "negative" does raise their own kids for reduced human labor and maximum kid growth potential. But no matter what kid-rearing method is chosen, the importance of colostrum (first milk) feeding is the same.
The feeding of colostrum to the newborn is always encouraged due to the antibodies available in the immunoglobulin. A couple of cups of colostrum should be administered just as soon after birth as possible. The newborn’s ability to absorb the antibodies diminishes over 10 to 12 hours and after a day, antibody absorption will cease.
Herd owners who know they have CAE in their herds must be extra vigilant at keeping kids from nursing their mother and even allowing the doe to lick the kid dry. Even though separation of doe and kid at the time of birth is not "nature’s way," this is one of the few proven management tools that will help eradicate CAE from goat herds.
Colostrum should be collected from non-infected does when the opportunity presents itself and frozen for future use. Cow colostrum has also been used successfully for kids but there are concerns about the transfer of Johne’s Disease (a debilitating cattle disease) into goat herds unless colostrum is heat-treated effectively. There are commercial colostrum supplements and milk replacers available for both calves and kids for an expensive alternative. But, if commercial milk replacers are to be considered, the owner should take care to purchase only those that are made from "milk components" such as whey and other milk proteins. Many cheaper milk replacers are made from vegetable proteins, which are poorly digested by the young goat.
Healthy kids should have access to soft hay as soon as possible, in order to stimulate the development of their rumen. Photo by Jennifer Stultz
Jennifer Poirier of Holland, Massachusetts, separates newborn kids from their mothers immediately after birth and does not allow them to nurse even though she’s very confident her herd is CAE negative. She hand-milks the mother and feeds that colostrum (after heat treatment) to the newborns by bottle.
"When a doe has two and sometimes three kids, it’s difficult to know if all of them are nursing and getting enough of the colostum on their own," she said.
Feeding them by the bottle is the only way she can be confident that the kids get adequate amounts of colostrum. She tries to get at least a cup of colostrum into the newborn kids in the first 24 hours after birth. While many of the newborn kids are up and around and ready to nurse shortly after birth, some of the kids will be too exhausted after delivery to drink much if any at all. With these kids Poirier takes the extra time to make sure they get adequate colostrum, feeding them a few ounces at a time. When necessary, she will get up in the middle of the night to make sure they get adequate colostrum in the first 24 hours.
All of Poirier’s kids are bottle-fed individually until they’re consuming a quart of milk per day at which time they are introduced into a group environment with other kids where they will all drink from a bucket feeder. She still keeps a close eye on them to make sure that none are falling behind.
When feeding newborn kids, sanitation of feeding equipment is essential. Bacteria grows quickly on uncleaned equipment, and new milk should never be added to old milk that has been setting around for many hours. Even with group feeding systems for kids, the buckets and nipples must be cleaned daily.
Disbudding is an unpleasant chore, but not as hard on kids as one might think. It saves the goat from a lifetime of distress in most goatherds. Acid pastes are available for discouraging horn growth, but Poirier, like most dairy goat breeders, prefers to use the hot-iron for the task. She makes it a point to disbud by the time kids are a week old—she’s disbudded kids as young as four days old. When the kid is that young the process only takes about 10 seconds, and recovery time is less than five minutes. The older the kid gets the more painful disbudding becomes, making the task that much more of an unpleasant process for everyone concerned.
Coccidia is another endemic disease in goat herds. While older goats eventually develop an immunity to coccidia, young kids are highly susceptible. The bacteria is present in barnyard soils, cannot be eradicated, and sooner or later, once kids are let out of their pens into a common barnyard, they will be exposed. Coccidiosis prohibits absorption of nutrients and if serious enough will kill the kids through starvation. There are several effective methods for controlling coccidia in goat herds, and a local veterinarian is often the best resource for what works in each local. Some breeders use Decoxx® (decoquinate) added to the kids’ grower diet, to prevent an onslaught of coccidian-related problems in kid growth and survival.
Kids cannot be weaned from milk until they are consistently eating several ounces per day of fine hay and a grain pellet. Newborn kids do not have a functioning rumen. They can only digest milk in their omassum and abomassum for the first week of life. However, in goats, rumen development seems to progress rapidly enabling kids to digest soft hay or grasses by the second week of life.
Len Woodis of New Braintree, Massachusetts, prefers to wean kids by the fourth or fifth week of age. He will however, wean them as early as three weeks if they’re particularly healthy and aggressive. He watches them closely, making sure they are eating well. During that weaning process, which can be stressful to the kids, he will often give them a bottle of warm water for a few days to help make the transition off milk. Woodis stresses the need to have plenty of fresh, clean water available for kids during the weaning process.
Poirier likes to wait until the kids are a little older—eight weeks to even three months of age. She has both grain pellets and some soft hay available for the youngsters to nibble on just a few days after birth. Many of the kids will nibble on the hay and pellets right away even though their stomachs are not ready to digest it—probably more from the standpoint of exploring their new world than for nutrition. She noted that the bucklings are especially aggressive when it comes to sampling the new feeds.
Rumen development is a complex process involving the growth of the rumen papillae. Research on calves has shown that introducing grain to the diet, along with hay, soon after birth, helps the papillae development by way of the acids that are produced from grain fermentation. Most successful breeders make certain that the kids are eating a little bit of grain along with the hay before weaning off of milk.
Goat herds that spend much of the year on pasture will most likely have parasites. Kids are most susceptible to parasite infestations especially if they are in any way stressed from other problems such as coccidiosis or respiratory problems. Parasite infections will significantly slow growth and development. If a herd is known to have serious parasite problems, the kids, most importantly, must be evaluated through fecal sampling and eyelid evaluation.
One of the great joys of owning goats is watching the kids play and romp. They should remain that way forever—but—they do have to grow up. As kids grow they should be consistently eating between 3% and 4% of their body weight each day. A kid weighing 40 pounds should be consuming about 1.6 pounds of dry matter. To maintain a proper ratio of muscular-skeletal growth to weight gain, a diet consisting of 20% crude protein should be fed to kids until they themselves have kidded the following year. Young goat diets should always include a vitamin/mineral supplement, as well as plenty of clean, fresh water. Proper diets and an environment free of stress will result in a healthy, productive adult that will remain in the herd for many years.