‘Goat Mom’….if you ever see this sticker on the back of a pick-up truck, you’ll know that you probably just passed me on the highway.
Yes, I get a lot of strange looks, and it makes a lot of people laugh too. But in reality, if you have goats, you often do feel like their parent.
However, I’ve never felt so much like a ‘Goat Mom’ as I have recently. Two of our new goats (who were pregnant) totally freaked out at the idea of having babies. They wouldn’t feed them, clean them, and in fact, one of them tried to attack their baby!
It was crazy! But just like that my inner ‘mom instinct’ kicked in, and the babies were officially moved from the barnyard to in front of my woodstove. Raising baby goats has been a huge learning curve.
But I have learned a few things along the way, and I think they are important to know whether you’ve raised a few bottle fed goat kids already or if you are someone who could potentially face this challenge in the future.
Please remember, this is just my experience and there are a million different ways to raise goats and their kids. So you may do things different and things may work a little differently in your circumstances. When in doubt, contact your local veterinarian.
Here is what you should know about raising baby goats on the bottle:
1. It Isn’t Cute
Okay, so feeding a baby goat is absolutely adorable but this is not why you should ever choose to bottle feed a goat. I know some people do it so they will be friendlier, easier to handle, and often bring more of a profit.
However, I will say that you can bond with your goats and make them friendlier by spending time with them out in the pasture while they still nurse from their mom. In my opinion, bottle feeding should only be done in extreme circumstances like the kid is orphaned, the mother completely rejects it, or worse the baby is being attacked by the herd.
And remember, the herd will naturally ‘bump' babies trying to keep them away. Most does don't like other goat's children. But if you find them trampling the baby and acting extremely aggressive, it is time to move in.
2. Cleanliness is SO Important
When bottle feeding baby goats, it is so important to keep everything clean. You don’t want them to get sick from any bacteria. Their immune systems are still young and developing.
So be sure that you clean their area daily. Also make sure that you wash their bottles and nipples after each use. You don’t want any old milk being left for them to get sick from during a future feeding. This takes only minutes to do so be sure to make the time. You’ll be glad you did.
3. Don’t Over-Feed
Overfeeding is one of the largest risks of bottle feeding goats. The reason is that they will eat and eat, and they have extremely sensitive stomachs. If you feed them to where they are full and lack interest in their bottle, then you’ve fed them too much. This is the total opposite of the way it is with human babies and can be quite confusing.
So how much do you feed them? I really struggled with this when first bottle feeding. This is the safest answer I have found and use it when it comes to bottle feeding baby goats.
You will need to weigh your goat. You are going to laugh, but after I discovered the issues with overfeeding I tried to weigh my goats on a regular scale. They were so small that they didn’t register since it was a digital scale.
Then I thought quickly and came up with the idea of using a kitchen scale. I have the kind that has a removable dish on top of the scale. So I plopped the baby goat into the dish and weighed him. Then I washed the dish.
After you know how much they weigh individually, you’ll need to turn that into ounces. Once you have the ounces worked out, you’ll need to figure out what 10%-12% of those ounces are.
Finally, you’ll need to divide that 10%-12% into 4 equal feedings. That is how much they should eat.
But trust me, this is a huge deal. So make sure to keep a close eye however you decide to measure your goat's milk.
4. Try to Milk the Mom
If you can get your doe to cooperate, you really need to milk her instead of depending upon milk replacer. Her milk will be much easier on the baby’s stomach and it is obviously what is best for the kid. If you need help knowing how to milk the mother, here is an article I wrote on that.
So if you have that option by all means, use it. I did not have that option with my goat kids. I hadn’t had the mothers very long when they gave birth, and they were not friendly when I got them. But I wanted these goats to have a great life so I took the chance anyway. I will definitely work to bring them out of their shells before they are ever bred again for this exact reason.
5. Have Milk Replacer Just In Case
It is always a good idea to keep milk replacer on hand. The reason is because you never know when a kid will be born and not have the milk they need. It could be that you have hysterical goats (like me), or the mother could have passed away during child birth.
Either way, that baby goat still needs milk and colostrum. It is a good idea to keep a bag of the colostrum on hand as well. You want the baby to get that within the first two hours of life and every 4-6 hours the first 24 hours of life.
If you have a mother goat that has too much colostrum, milk her and freeze it. That is another great option and natural as well to help out baby goats that don’t have the best start to life.
6. Stock Up on Electrolytes
If you use milk replacer or if you accidentally over feed your baby goat, the goat will probably end up with a case of the scours. Hopefully, it won’t be severe. If you catch it in time, then it shouldn’t be.
But in the event, you’ll need to stop the milk replacer and begin giving electrolytes in its place. Once the scours have cleared, the goat can be returned to regular feedings. Be sure that you know what caused the scours. If it was over feeding, cut back the amount you were giving so you don’t have a repeated situation.
7. Be Prepared for Long Nights
This was something I was not prepared for. The first night, our first baby goat woke me up once because of a feeding. I was okay with that.
However, I was not prepared for him to keep me up all night every night after he became a few days old. It drove me nuts! I was in quite the bind because I couldn’t reintroduce him to his old herd because they kept trying to really hurt him. I had a more docile herd in another area, but he kept escaping because of how small he was. He could easily fit through the spacings in the fence that this herd couldn’t because of how large they are.
So needless to say, I felt like a zombie by the end of the week. If you have a barn area designated for bottle fed babies, then you shouldn’t have this problem. This was not something I was prepared for because my goats had always been great moms. Guess what suddenly made the ‘to-do’ list after this experience?
8. Be Prepared for Potty Training Duties
I had puppy pads in bulk from my mother in law. I was never so grateful for this item that I wasn’t sure I would ever use. After this bouncing bundle of joy came into our home for the first week of life, we ran through them.
As I mentioned, I didn’t have a barn area set up for bottle fed baby goats. I probably wouldn’t have left him indoors for as long as I did, but it was during a cold snap. So between the frigid temperatures and snow, I was afraid he wouldn’t have survived a make-shift set-up.
So he ended up living in a puppy play pen in front of my wood stove with a stuffed animal and puppy pads covering my floor. This worked really well, but I was constantly cleaning. Be prepared for this if you end up bottle feeding goats indoors.
9. Move Them Out Quickly
I recommend moving the goats out as quickly as you safely can. The reason is that goats are herd animals. They are very social.
So if they don’t have other goats around showing them how to be a goat, then they won’t ever know. Instead they will begin to think that you are their herd and cry when they are separated from you.
When I realized this is what was happening, I moved quickly to get our bouncing baby bundle out of the house. I began the transition by letting him hang out on the back porch.
Then I moved a docile goat we had into the backyard with him. Finally, I introduced him to his herd again. His dad had been up for sale before he was born because he wasn't very nice. He had sold during this time period so I was able to introduce him to the does without them having any further issue….thankfully!
10. Be Alert
This is the tragic part of my bottle feeding story. I’ve had success at bottle feeding, but unfortunately I had a failure as well. It wasn’t because of lack of effort. It was because of my ignorance about bottle feeding and the fact that it is not an easy thing to do.
We had another goat from the same herd give birth only a few days after the first one. She was a pretty little brown and white goat and very sweet. She was a smaller baby goat, and was a weak goat as well. It took her over 24 hours to be able to stand.
But we had one good day that she was scurrying around. The next day, she woke up struggling to stand again. I'm unsure as to whether I had overfed her, or if she just failed to thrive.
Either way, it is super important to pay attention to your goats and act quickly if something is wrong. I went to the internet only after it was beyond apparent that there was something truly wrong. I learned about a syndrome called Floppy Goat.
Now, there are conflicting stories as to whether it is caused by a bacteria, over feeding, or it has an unknown reason but it has definitely left me wondering if I overfed her. If it was something as simple as over feeding, I learned you can give them Pepto-Bismol orally, and it usually clears it up.
However, she was too far gone for me to try this. Unfortunately, we lost her. That is the hard part with homesteading learning curve. Though you learn, often we lose life in the process.
So believe me when I tell you:
Be very alert to any changes in your bottle fed baby. Don’t make assumptions. Research any change so you can stay ahead of the ball game. Especially be on the look out for symptoms of Floppy Kid Syndrome. It is a terrible thing for the goat and for you (the one that has cared for this little creature trying to keep it alive and nurture it.)
- When in doubt, contact your local vet.
I wanted to share this information with you because I researched thoroughly on bottle feeding goats. I wanted to do everything just right and there is so much conflicting information on the internet.
Plus, it is hard to find everything that you need to know in one place. You can find many how-to articles on feeding goats that will give you the actual steps to feeding and getting your goat use to a bottle.
But these were some of the challenges I faced that no one warned me about. Honestly, it felt like most painted this easy picture of bottle feeding, and I think it is important to understand that though the babies are sweet and saving their lives is wonderful, it can still be difficult.
I hope sharing my experience will help you to have greater knowledge if and when you bottle feed a goat. Hopefully you will have great success!
But I’d love to hear from you. I’ve learned a lot about bottle feeding goats, but there is always more to learn. Do you have any further information that people need to know about safely bottle feeding goats? Ideas on how to get a mother to take care of a kid she is trying really hard to reject? Or on integrating a goat back into its herd?