Whether they have two legs or four, all kids have the same five basic needs: food, drink, shelter, sleep and oxygen. Just as tiny humans sleep less but require more food as they get older, each goat kid has different feeding requirements and becomes more active as it ages. (Yes, “kid” truly is the technical name for a baby goat).
My bottle-feeding skills were put to the test this spring! We had a “surprise birth” when Lil’ Romeo entered our world on Thursday, Feb. 28. His mom was a first-time mother, and she didn’t want anything to do with that noisy little bundle of energy that was born via cesarean section.
Because Lil’ Romeo’s birth mother disowned him, I became his surrogate mother. He was so stinking cute – and he was the first bottle baby of the season – so I willingly, lovingly and diligently set my alarm to feed him every four hours. Goat kids, especially a dwarf goat, have tiny tummies. They require frequent feedings in small quantities.
Our entire family fell in love with Lil’ Romeo. Even our Black Lab, Bailey, wanted to mother him. It just so happened that I had to travel on Thursdays after Romeo was born, so I packed a “bottle bag.” Romeo spent three consecutive Thursdays with my parents; they weighed and measured him weekly.
Although Romeo was thriving, he wasn’t sure if he should act like a human or a dog. Goats are gregarious animals, so I decided he needed a buddy. My parents went to the Waverly sale barn in search of a bottle buddy for Romeo and came home with a dairy goat kid. (Side Bar: The difference between dairy and meat breeds will be covered in a future blog.) The dairy goat kid towered over Lil’ Romeo, so I started calling him Big Buddy.
Romeo was fed 4 times daily until he was 30 days old. Then his bottle feedings were reduced to three times daily to mimic the natural nursing behavior of baby goats. Both Romeo and his buddy also had access to feed, alfalfa and water to help them make the transition when they’re weaned from the bottle at six to eight weeks of age.
All was going well in my world. Romeo and his buddy were growing. Then, on March 25, one of our does gave birth to quads. I don’t know what the odds of quads are, but they’re not common for Boer goats. (Honestly, I’ll be okay if I never see another set as this set resulted in the death of an otherwise healthy goat) The quad’s mom was probably carrying about 30 pounds of actual baby as they were all large, and the average weight of a newborn Boer is about 7 pounds.
The quadruplets mother was just a good mother! I posted a video on Enchanted Acres’ Facebook page just minutes after they were born. She was weak, but she was committed to licking them clean. Within six hours, she had eaten and was walking. I was shocked (and saddened) when she died the next day. I had expected to supplement her milk, but upon her death, those babies became dependent upon me.
Loss of Mother
Not only were those quadruplets dependent upon me, but they needed middle of the night feedings. Four hungry babies were crying simultaneously at feeding time. Four crying babies all wanted to be fed at the same time, and they needed to eat about every four hours.
Feeding four kids six times daily was overwhelming… I’m not going to lie. I was spending six hours daily doing chores. With a full-time job and two teenagers, I was doing laundry and dishes at odds times of day and night. I was replying to work emails at odd times of the day and night. I was falling asleep during work meetings and church sermons. I was really looking forward to the end of this kidding season.
The last of our does due this spring had her kids on Wednesday, April 9. I was relieved that “Kid Watch 2019” was a wrap, but that euphoria was short-lived. I watch all newborns closely to make sure they get licked clean, are warm and dry, and get their first drink of milk within the first two hours of life. The first milk contains colostrum, which is the antibody-rich milk produced by all mammals that helps establish the newborn's immune system and fight infection throughout the animal’s life.
Fortunately, colostrum doesn’t have to come from the birth mother. Here’s why…
I happened to be finishing chores late that morning when the doe’s water broke. The clock is ticking for a live birth once the water breaks. In a typical birth, a kid will hit the ground within 30 minutes. The first baby was born, and then 15 minutes later a second kid hit the ground. Unfortunately, their mother wasn’t making any effort to lick them clean. I moved the wet newborns close to her face, and then she started mothering them. It wasn’t long before I realized why she was reluctant… she birthed triplets. She continued to lick the first two but never got up to see the third kid.
I put the triplets in the warming barrel in hopes the doe would feel more like mothering them once they were dry and lively and she was rested. Then I left the goat shed for a couple of hours. When I returned, I thought it was a good sign that all three kids were out of the barrel. I saw two of them nursing. I moved the third baby near his mother’s udder, and she butted him away. I tried again and she butted him away. I wasn’t going to give her a third chance to strike him down, so I wrapped the little guy in a towel and took him home. I mixed up powered colostrum and fed him throughout the night.
To a Good Home
This last bottle baby is super sweet, but I needed him find a good home. I knew this little buckling would make a great Clover Kids or a bottle kid project for someone with the time and energy to feed a young one. I prayed this little guy would find a loving family, and I believe he did. Not long after I posted his photo online, I received a message from the father of a 12-year-old boy who wants to start a goat herd. Be still my heart… I really enjoy seeing youth raise animals because so many great life lessons can be learned from raising and showing livestock. I wish this family all the best!
Tending to Creature Comforts during Winter Weather