I first published this story in November of 2017. It’s full of great lessons about caring for young animals and for those faced with hand-raising a lot of baby goats or lambs, the early weaning feed recipe is a life saver.
There are a number of reasons you might be raising goat kids by hand. Back in 2000, my reason was Johne’s disease. Two of my wethers died of Johne’s, raising concerns that other animals might be infected as well. Since this was a research herd at Utah State University, management of suspect animals was very strict. The University was concerned that the disease could be passed to the offspring through mothers’ milk. If I wanted to keep the kids from the 32 pregnant does in the herd, I was required to raise them all by hand.
This video shows how we successfully raised and “weaned” about 60 kids.
To be sure you’re successful, here are key points to keep in mind:
Feed your does in the evening so the babies are born in the morning.
I wish I could remember who told me this would work, because he or she deserves a lot of credit for making my and my team’s life easier. At first we weren’t sure it would work, so we set up schedules for checking the animals periodically during the night. After awhile, we could see that it was working, and we slept through the night and showed up bright and early to see what the does had ready for us. Try it! I think you’ll like it too!
Purchased colostrum does work.
Johne’s disease is prevalent in dairy herds, so to be sure we weren’t potentially infecting our new kids, we couldn’t use colostrum from other animals. We were concerned that the powdered colostrum wouldn’t work, but it seems to have done the trick nicely.
Don’t overfeed with the bottle.
Overfeeding is a quick way to kill your kids. It’s tempting to let them suck all they like because they seem so happy. But you’ll be very sad about the outcome.
Stick to one kind of milk replacer.
Even though the ingredients appeared similar from one brand to another, the results to kid health showed us otherwise. Runny stools and increased bloating were all side effects of switching from brand to brand.
Feed warm milk to start, cold as they grow.
When you’re trying to get new kids drinking from a bottle, making the temperature as close to what they might get from mom is really helpful. As they get older, mixing milk replacer with cold milk slows down how quickly they drink, and reduces worries about over-eating and bloating. It’s also less work. 🙂
Keep your equipment clean.
We washed buckets, tubes and nipples after every feeding to ensure that we weren’t feeding bacteria to our kids the might harm them. Their rumens seem very delicate as they’re just getting their rumen microbes going. Helping them out a little is easy enough.
Be very observant and patient when introducing the weaning feed mix.
Don’t expect that you can just put the feed out and they’ll start eating it all on their own. They don’t know it’s food, so you have to help them learn. Key to making this work for the kids was to first introduce them to hay and always have some available to them. By making sure they eat small amounts of hay while they’re still feeding from the buckets, you’re helping them begin to prepare their rumens.
Be sure that each kid is eating a little hay before you begin the switch and then pay close attention to their health and how much they’re eating as you give them the new food. We had to work with them, sometimes one on one, to make sure that they understood that what we were putting in the feeders was really food. Putting it on a finger and letting them suck or lick it off is a good first step. Once you have a few eating, the rest will follow.
YOU CAN KILL KIDS IF YOU PUSH THEM TOO HARD AT THIS STAGE. If they look like they’re getting skinny, give them some milk replacer and don’t force the issue. They can starve to death very quickly.
When you shift them to pasture, they won’t know that grass is food either because they have no Mom to show them what it’s for. I spread hay on the grass so that they ate some of the hay and a little bit of grass by accident. It took very little time for them to begin grazing.
Do your best, but remember that some things are out of your control.
My friend Beth Burritt had raised lots of lambs by hand because of her work at Utah State University. She told me to be prepared because sometimes the fastest growing animals would just suddenly die. She was right. She also told me that those sickly kids that I struggled to save might seem to do alright for awhile, but then they might just die too. She described it as “failure to thrive.” That happened as well.
In the end, I learned a lot, and we raised most of the kids to adulthood. It was one of the most difficult and fun things I have ever done. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.