Like a lot of new goat keepers, the question of dam raising kids vs. bottle raising kids was a big topic of discussion in our house when we decided to raise goats. We’ve heard a lot of opinions from experienced goat keepers on the benefits of both, from friendlier kids, to an easier work load, to healthier kids, etc.
When we were given a wonderful opportunity to bring home some really spectacular doelings from Old Mountain Farm, we couldn’t resist. The catch? The kids were under two weeks old and bottle fed. In the few days we had to prepare, I frantically researched, questioned my goat friends and gathered supplies. Over the years now we have had a lot of bottle babies for various reasons, though we try to primarily dam raise when possible.
The most important supply when bottle feeding, is the nipple. Hands down, a Pritchard teat works best for bottle feeding baby goats. These are easy to find at Tractor Supply, most feed stores and online shops wherever you buy livestock supplies. These fit on the end of most soda and water bottles.
Before using, I boil the nipples to sterilize them and to help get rid of any rubbery, chemical taste. After that, cut the tip to allow the milk to come through. I do this with tiny wire cutters, slicing a small “x” into the tip of the nipple. For the bottle body, I usually use 12 oz. bottled waters. I do this to avoid any lingering traces of soda smell of taste, and so I can easily gauge how many ounces each of the kids are receiving. Since our kids are Nigerian Dwarfs, we never give them more than 12 oz. at one feeding, and using the 12 oz. bottles keeps from accidentally overfeeding
We always use raw goats milk with our bottle babies. We are lucky enough to be able to get the milk from our own does 99% of the time. On the rare occasions we don’t have any of our own herd’s milk available, we’ve gotten milk from goat friends who we know have clean, tested herds. We do not buy goats milk from the store, or use cows milk due to the risk of the transmission of Johnes disease, which isn’t killed even through pasteurization.
Milk replacer is usually a last resort in a desperate situation. Replacers can really upset a baby goat’s very delicate digestive track, contain a lot of soy, and are generally not advisable if they can be avoided. We try to keep a bag of Advance Milk Replacer for Kids in the freezer for emergencies. If you do need to supplement with replacer, look for one that is goat specific, and not a universal milk.
A lot of people opt to use a homemade milk replacer recipe rather than powdered replacer. I have never done this myself, but a lot of people swear by it when needed. Here is where to go for some good replacer recipes:
To prepare the bottles, we fill each one with apx. 12 oz of cold goat’s milk, then put a pan of water on the stove and heat it until it’s just boiling. After removing the pan from the heat, place the bottles in the heated water for about three minutes. The milk should be quite warm, but not so hot that the kids will find it hard to drink. Doing a wrist test is always advisable, and soon you will know just the right temp.
The most important thing to remember when feeding a bottle kid, is to make sure the kid’s head is in the proper position. The kid’s head must be tilted upwards with the neck well extended so the milk bypasses the rumen and goes directly into only one of their stomach chambers. Milk entering the rumen can make a kid extremely ill and even kill them if it causes enterotoxaemia.
We drape the kids across our laps with their legs hanging down so they can’t move around too much, then gently open their mouths and insert the nipple of the bottle. If a baby is having a hard time figuring it out, we gently circle their muzzle with our fingers to keep the nipple in place, while covering their eyes with the rest of our hand – the darkness helps to simulate being under an udder. For the first day or two while their getting the hang of it, we’ll give them a few chances to latch on to the bottle and drink. After their eating well however, one the baby lets go of the bottle or stops sucking, we take the bottle away, so they learn to regulate their intake.
For a feeding/weaning schedule, this is what we following, and it’s really worked well for us:
- 4 bottles a day until they’re 4 weeks
- At 4 weeks old, drop down to three feedings
- At 6 weeks, drop down to two feedings
- At 8 weeks, take evening bottle away every other day
- At 9 weeks only one bottle per day
- At 10 weeks, one bottle every other day
- Stop bottle feeding after this
We try to be very regimented about keeping the feedings on a consistent schedule daily, and we feel that this helps a lot. We monitor their poops closely for anything loose or problematic. While bottle feeding is a real commitment, it also has also defiantly had it’s joys, and creates a very special bond between you and your goats.