Bottle Raising Baby Goats!

Bottle Raising Baby Goats!

How to Bottle Raise Baby Goats

Male goat kids and calves are a by-product of the dairy industry.  They can be purchased inexpensively at livestock auctions, or by contacting a local dairy farm directly. Although challenging, it is possible to raise these babies successfully. 

When you get your babies they may be dehydrated from hanging around the auction half the day, and have also been exposed to all sorts of disease pathogens.  Buying direct from a dairy farm would be preferable for these reasons, but there will still be issues to deal with. 

First off, they have probably never taken milk from a bottle nipple, and may be depressed and unwilling to continue living because they have been taken from their mother. It is also possible they did not receive anti-body rich colostrum from their mother for long enough before being taken away from her. 

In many cases they have not been allowed to nurse from mom at all, so do not have the basic building blocks for an active immune system. Veal calves are administered a regular cocktail of anti-biotics to counter act this in a commercial operation.  Ideally if you can get your hands on fresh, powdered or frozen goat or cow colostrum it would be good to give them a few feedings of it. The colostrum doesn't have to be species specific. 

It will take up to 48 hours to get the bottle baby to accept the nipple as his new milk source. Some severely depressed or very young babies may insist they just do not want to drink at all.  In these cases it will be necessary to insert a stomach tube to give them enough milk to strengthen them for more struggling to accept the nipple.  See instructional video above. Stomach tubing usually only needs to be done once, and should be followed by some nice snuggling and a nap on your lap so that they feel loved and decide to go on living. 

When we started out we were raising our babies on powdered milk replacer from the feed store.  On this we had an unacceptably high incidence of scours and death.  Eventually, out of frustration and desperation, we tried regular old homo milk from the grocery store.  Using this method we didn't lose another baby to scours (diarrhea). If scours does become a problem, feed probiotics and baking soda. 

I have heard that homo milk doesn't contain enough fat, and this is probably true, as they didn't gain as much weight as I would have liked.  Recently I started stirring a tablespoon of active organic plain yoghurt into a litre of milk.  This boosts the fat content somewhat and helps populate the gut with good bacteria so they get more nutrition out of what they do eat.  It remains to be seen if this will improve weight gain. 

Yesterday I was speaking to a man about raising baby goats and he said when he used to do it he pulverised oatmeal in a blender and added it to the re-constituted powdered milk replacer.  He explained that this thickened it, making the babies less prone to scour.  Of course the nipples needed a larger hole cut in them to accommodate the thicker liquid.  Adding the oatmeal, he says, caused the goats to gain more weight more quickly.  I haven't tried this method, so cannot vouch for it at this time. 

The nipples we use for our goats are the soft lamb nipples that fit over the end of a pop bottle.  We use beer bottles because they are glass and easier to sterilize. The hole in the nipple will have to be cut larger for goats.  I do this by cutting an 'X' in the end about 4 mm across. For the first day or two we feed our goats about a 1/4 litre of milk 3 X per day, and eventually work toward one full beer bottle twice per day.  We feed this way until about 2 months of age and then go down to once per day for another month.  By this time they are eating enough of everything else, so don't need milk anymore. 

Our calves get about 3/4 of a litre of milk per feeding.  We start off with 3 times per day, going down to once per day for the third month.  You can easily train calves to take their milk from a bucket once they are a couple of weeks old by getting milk on your fingers and letting the calf suck them.  Move your fingers toward the milk in the bucket until you have your fingers right in the milk and the calf starts to suck it up from the bucket.  After a couple of times he will drink directly from the bucket. 

To get your new baby to accept the nipple you will need lots of patience and determination. Insert a finger in to the side of his mouth to pry his jaws open enough to insert the nipple. With your arm behind his head so he can't move away from the nipple, put your fingers along the sides of his mouth to keep the nipple centered.  Gently, slowly, move the nipple in and out only slightly. This will help stimulate sucking by making him think the nipple is in danger of being pulled away from him.  Using your fingers to close his mouth tighter as you pull the nipple out a bit will squeeze some milk into his mouth so he can taste it.  Rubbing or nudging the top of his head may help stimulate him to take the bottle. If he refuses to start sucking after a few minutes, give up until the next feeding when he is hungrier. 

Once your baby is taking the bottle well you will want to hold the bottle in the correct position to open the milk stomach.  The baby should stand with his neck stretched forward and low.  His head should be only slightly higher than his shoulder with his chin titled up so its a little higher than his jaw bone. Picture a baby goat bending down to get at his mother's teats. Holding the bottle so the nipple is at the same height and angle as a mother animal's teats will help. When the milk gets into the correct stomach more nutrients are absorbed. 

To help prevent disease pathogens (bacteria, etc.) from taking hold I mix hydrogen peroxide and apple cider vinegar into the drinking water for my babies and my chickens.  I use 1.25 oz. each of 3% Food Grade hydrogen peroxide and raw (with mother) apple cider vinegar to 1 gal. of fresh water.  Change the water and wash out the dish daily. 

Another big threat to the life of a baby animal is hypothermia.  To combat this we hang a heat lamp over one corner of the pen so they can sleep under it for warmth when they need to, but can get away from it if they are too warm. Be sure and hang it high enough they can't reach it. Keep babies in a stall in the barn, garage, or greenhouse and line the floor with a good layer of hay to insulate from the cold ground.  Add more hay on top as it becomes dirty.  (This soiled bedding will make great compost later.) Make sure the walls of the stall are draft free.  You can use almost anything for this.  Old feed bags, cardboard, plywood, or even stacked hay bales will keep drafts away from your babies. 

You will want to have a good green, grass hay available at all times in case they want to nibble on it.  Alfalfa would be too rich for them at this age. Have a shallow pan of fresh water available as well. They won't drink much of it, but it needs to be available if they want it.  I don't give any grain at all for the first month, as it will be too rich and can cause bloating, which becomes deadly very quickly. 

On sunny days it is good to let them out on the grass for a while, bringing them back in if they start to look cold or tired. They will begin to nibble at the grass when quite young, and the sooner they start eating it the healthier they will be.  Be sure to protect your babies from dogs and other predators, though. Coyotes love little goats, and are very fast and sneaky. 

Introduce grain (goat text, calf text, cob, or flatted barley) very slowly, in small amounts.  It is something they need to get used to or they will bloat and die.  If you feed several animals in one dish some will get too much and some will get too little, so never feed more than about 1/4 C. per animal at one time.  You can give them grain several times a day if you want your babies to grow faster, but always a small amount at one time.  Start with only once a day, then twice a day, etc.  Grain should never be the main part of their diet.  Hay should be available all the time.  Hay should be as green as possible, without alfalfa.  Our goats don't even like alfalfa. 

A goat’s favorite food is blackberry plants.  You can introduce it by picking the soft green shoots at the tips of the branches and hand feeding them to your babies.  Soon they will be gobbling them up as fast as you can bring them.  Prunings from grape vines and fruit trees are also great food for goats.  One caution about fruit trees, though: the leaves of stone fruits (cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, etc.) are poisonous to goats if wilted, so feed as soon as they are cut and remove anything that they don't eat within 30 minutes.  Other favorites are the leaves of Hazelnut, Roses, Maples and Willows.  Do not allow them to eat Rhododendron, Azalea, Hydrangea, Horse Tail or Morning Glory.  Goats can O.D. on too much of these.  

Goats will decimate your garden if they have access to it, so surround your garden with a mesh fence if your goats run loose around the yard.  They love strawberry, raspberry and blueberry plants, and will be happy to leave them devoid of leaves and bark. Speaking of bark, they will strip a piece of bark from the trunk of your favorite apple tree before you can get there to stop them!   

Goats and calves should have access to a block of salt that is rich in minerals at all times.  I like to use Himalayan Sea salt that I buy in large chunks at a local feed store. It contains over 70 different minerals. Other supplements people like to give their goats and calves are kelp, apple cider vinegar, food grade hydrogen peroxide, dairy minerals, sunflower seeds, diatomaceous earth, etc.  You should research these online to find out how much and how often and if they are something you would like to try.    

Keep food for other pets/livestock well out of reach of your goats. They are great at figuring out how to get into feed bins.  We once had a little doe get into the cat food and eat it until she killed herself.  This was very heart-breaking.  If you do find a goat in distress, standing there looking depressed, or laying down and crying check to see if his belly is tight like a drum and round with no give to it.  If so, take some baking soda from the cupboard and put some on his tongue.  He won't like it, but will swallow it. Do this a couple of times to make sure he gets enough down.  Raise his front end higher than his back end to make it easier for him to burp. Bounce him a bit to help giggle out the gas.  Put your arms around his middle and gently bounce his belly up and down to get things moving, then raise his front end again and try to get out some more burps. If he doesn't start burping and his belly doesn't start gurgling and softening up, you may want to get him to a vet. Bloat will kill a goat within an hour if it's bad. 

Also to watch out for are fungal infections and worm infestations.  If you notice your goat getting bald, rough patches on its skin it is likely ringworm (a fungus).  If this happens it is a good indication your goats have worms in their gut and need worming. Other signs of worms are diarrhea, losing weight, not gaining weight in spite of a good appetite, pale skin on the gums and inside the eyelids.  Ask your veterinary pharmacy for a goat wormer that works in your area, or use one of the many herbal worm formulas available online (ie: Molly's Herbals).  Treat all the goats for worms at the same time. Treat the bald, fungal patches with either iodine spray (for animals, from the feed store), Coppertox (also at the feed store), or unpasteurized honey.  Completely cover the bald patches and re-apply as it wears off until you start to see a fuzzy re-growth of hair in that spot.  Do not let children play with goats that have ringworm, and wash your hands well after touching them. 

Sometimes you will notice a goats tail hair is thinning in the middle so it looks like a forked tail.  This indicates not enough copper in the diet.  Goats have a higher copper requirement than sheep (too much copper can kill a sheep) , and sometimes don't get enough from their diet (goat text usually contains extra copper, so don't feed it to sheep).  If this happens supplement with a dairy mineral mix free choice, or sprinkle an herbal, copper rich supplement over their grain. I found an herbal mix online called Kop-Sel, and found it very effective. 

Castrated goats or calves will be much easier to manage, and will not harm each other or use up their energy competing to be the boss, so castration is usually preferred.  We castrate using a simple device called an Elastrator.  It is quick, easy and painless, causing only mild discomfort because the elastic band cuts off blood supply to the scrotem, causing it to go numb.  The babies do not cry when we do it, but just seem concerned that something doesn't feel quite right back there.  We use the elastrator as soon as we can feel that both testicals have dropped into the scrotum. Make sure you hold them both in the scrotum when you release the elastic, or the job won't be completed.  After 6 weeks or so the dried scrotum simply drops off. 

Raising these dairy rejects is not economically viable for commercial meat farmers because they don't muscle up as well as meat breeds, but they are a great option for small farmers who just want healthy meat.  They don't have a long life, but they have a much happier one than commercially raised meat animals. Goats will be at butcher size at 8 to 10 months of age and calves will be ready at 18 to 29 months. 

This information may be a little overwhelming, but raising goats on a bottle successfully is not as difficult as it sounds.  No goat will have all the problems I've mentioned, and some won't have any at all.  The key to raising strong, healthy little goats is to be pro-active, and make small changes to your management at the first hint of trouble.  If one has a problem, assume they all are susceptible and treat the whole bunch (except in the case of bloat, which is more likely an individual problem caused by over-eating one thing, or tasting a plant that did not agree with them).  Follow these simple guide-lines and you should be able to raise healthy, happy goats with a minimum of stress. 

- Lee-Anne