Bottle-feeding kid goats is quite a bit of work, but I feel it’s worth the time and effort. We bottle-feed all of our kids for disease prevention of CAE. We also bottle-feed the kids so they bond more with their human handlers. An added benefit of bottle-feeding is being able to monitor how much milk a kid is consuming at each feeding.
We bottle-feed for the first 8 weeks of a kid’s life. It’s an additional set of tasks to a work-load that can impact normal routine, but once started, the bottle-feeding fits into the farm schedule.
Bottle-feeding baby goats is an obligation that some goat owners don’t want to take on unless necessary. Bottle-feeding is a commitment that can’t be broken, especially during that first week or so. Bottle-feeding has its disadvantages, but it’s a task that also has advantages. It is time-consuming — bottles must be cleaned, milk must be warmed, and then those hungry baby goats must be fed on a schedule 3-4 times a day. Bottle-feeding also forces the goat owners to being at home when it’s time to feed those babies. And some goat owners don’t want to bottle-feed because it’s considered unnatural when the baby goats’ mother is usually close by. I understand these issues. But I chose to bottle-feed. With bottle-feeding, the baby goats will identify closely with me as their mother. The babies will also become more accustomed to human interaction and will be easier to handle. This is especially important with dairy goats and/or showing goats in competitions.
With bottle-feeding, I also know the amount of milk that each baby is taking in at each feeding. And when it is time to increase their milk intake, I can slowly increase the amount of milk.
Bottle-feeding baby goats also gives me the ability to use pasteurized goat milk which is a preventative measure against disease transmission. The most prevalent disease that is transmitted to baby goats has been CAE disease and I guard my goat herd against this disease.
When a pregnant doe kids, she is in milk — in goat-speak, she freshens. I hand-milk all of our milkers and I pasteurize the milk for the goat babies. Once the milk has been pasteurized, it is immediately poured into half-gallon jars, then chilled and stored in the refrigerator until feeding time.
The first day of bottle-feeding baby goats can be chaotic so I’ve learned that it’s best to establish a routine as soon as possible. This is a good, workable routine I’m sharing for those interested in raising goats or newbies who have goats and will be first-time goat breeders:
Day #1. After delivery and being welcomed into their new world, they are dried off and moved to their first home (usually a large plastic tub for warmth and security). Within the first hour after their birth, the babies are given warm colostrum that has been heated from previously pasteurized and frozen colostrum cubes that I prepare from that pasteurized colostrum.
The first day of the babies’ life, the newborns are checked on and fed often. They are only bottle-fed pasteurized colostrum (the first milk from the mother, full of vital nutrients and antibodies to build a baby’s immune system). The first feedings are important for nutritional needs and to build each of the newborn’s immunity. But those first feedings also teach the newborns how to use their natural sucking instinct on a bottle’s nipple. Holding a little newborn goat in your lap while cupping it’s tiny head and chin towards the nipple is such a precious moment.
The first day of feeding a newborn goat milk colostrum every couple of hours is critical for the baby goat’s life. In essence, those feedings are providing the ‘life blood’ for a healthy goat for life. I feed about every 4 hours during daytime and only 1-2 ounces for those first feedings. The first feeding should be within the first 2 hours of birth because of the absorption rate of the newborn. Absorption of colostrum is best right after birth and it decreases quickly during the first 12 hours or so. The sooner a newborn goat gets that first feeding of colostrum, the better. (Note: I have pasteurized colostrum that is frozen so that I will always have some back-up colostrum to get started with since it takes an hour of very slow cooking with a regulated temperature to pasteurize goat colostrum.)
Day #2. The normal feeding schedule begins on the morning of Day #2. The babies are fed about 3 ounces of colostrum-rich milk 4 times a day. With all newly freshened does, I keep the milk separate because it is rich with colostrum for the babies. By Day #2, the colostrum is not as thick but it should still be fed to the babies.
Day #3 – Day #7. The remainder of the first week after the baby goats are born, I stay on a feeding schedule of 4 times a day. This schedule starts around 7am and goes until 8pm. So with about 12 hours, I divide up the feedings with about 4 hours between bottles. The amount of milk per bottle slowly increases from 3 ounces to 5 ounces or so. The feeding schedule that works for me is: 7am, 11am, 3pm, 8pm.
During this week, I also slowly increase the amount of milk the babies get. The total target amount of milk per day is 24 ounces, so I increase their milk by about 0.5 ounces every couple of bottles until they are drinking 5-6 ounces of milk in their bottles. There are exceptions, of course, and the smaller kids receive a bit less milk.
Week #2. During this time, the babies are a week old and the milk is increased to a total of 36 ounces. The feeding schedule remains at 4 times a day. Milk is slowly increased by about 0.5 ounces every couple of bottles until they are drinking about 8 ounces of milk per bottle.
Once the baby goats are a week old, I also start to introduce alfalfa hay so they can learn to nibble on the hay and begin working their ruminant system.
Week #3. When the babies have reached 2 weeks of age, I watch them closely to make sure they’re eating hay. Once they begin to eat hay, I cut the feeding schedule back from 4 times a day to 3 times a day. The amount of milk in the bottle is slowly increased to 9 ounces per bottle. I also help them learn about drinking water. Some of the babies take to a small bowl of water right away, some don’t. In time, they will all learn how to drink water.
Week #4. At 3 weeks of age, most baby goats can begin eating and digesting small amounts of grain. I give a starter grain (*18%) but only give them about 10 minutes of nibbling on the grain, then it’s removed.
The feeding schedule for bottles remains at 3 times a day for the rest of the week, but I increase the milk to 10 ounces per bottle. At this time, the daily milk intake should be about 32-36 ounces for each baby goat.
Week #5. By this time, the baby goats are eating hay, nibbling on grains, and still getting their bottles of milk 3 times a day. If the babies are doing well, I taper back on the feeding schedule but I slowly increase the amount of milk in their bottles to increase up to 12-13 ounces. The babies should still be getting about 32-36 ounces of milk per day, so it usually takes 3 feedings to do this.
Week #6 – Week #9. The babies are now ‘little goats’ and they’re eating hay, eating grain, drinking water, and sucking down their milk like they’re starved. This is when bottle-feeding can be cut back to 2 bottles a day (morning and evening). The kids should still be getting about 32-36 ounces of milk per day so increasing the milk per bottle can allow one feeding to be dropped if the milk is increased in the morning and evening bottles. I wean my baby goats once they are 8-9 weeks old.
Weaning: When the babies are 8 weeks old, it’s time to wean them. Believe me, at this point, you are ready to get away from the bottles, bottle washings, warming milk, measuring milk out, and the whole process! I withdraw bottle-feeding at the beginning of the day so the last bottle is the night-time bottle. The next morning, being creatures of routine and loving that warmed up milk, those babies will holler and cry — but it’s a routine that needs to be broken. The first missed feeding is the worse one. And they’ll forget about bottle-feedings in a short amount of time, especially when the days are nice and warm and the activity level is high.
Bottle-feeding can be overwhelming when there are more than a few sets of kids born. I quickly learned to write a schedule for each set of kids and I followed that schedule. The schedule allowed me to make those weekly adjustments easily, simply by following the chart I had prepared ahead of time.
Bottle-feeding does take work. And time. That’s quite a few bottles and quite a few bottle washings, and quite a bit of time feeding them by hand. But the extra efforts are worth the time involved.
By bottle feeding the babies, the babies become conditioned to their human caregiver(s) and they are raised to be very tame and very responsive to people.
Again, with bottle feeding, the babies receive pasteurized goat milk which eliminates any remote possibility that a disease could be transmitted from a goat’s milk to a baby goat. Our herd has been tested for disease and they are all negative, but we still use preventative measures, just to be certain the kids remain disease-free.