Bottle feeding and hand-rearing goat kids

Why hand-rear your goat kids?

There are a number of reasons to feed your kids by hand, separate from their mothers, some by choice, and some by necessity. This article explores why a producer might want to hand-rear kids and discusses the pros and cons of some of the different options. 

Reasons why you might choose to hand-rear your goat kids

  • Allowing for the doe to be bred more quickly after giving birth. This is sometimes a necessity in commercial operations.  
  • Managing the amount of milk fed to kids to ensure maximum volume of milk for consumption or sales.
  • Preventing spread of disease carried in bodily fluids, such as Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE), Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL), and Johnes Disease.  
  • Ensuring survival of kids if dam is suffering from mastitis, is not producing enough milk to feed all her kids, has rejected one of more of her kids, or has died.  
  • Promoting kid bonding with human handlers, not their dam. This helps develop trust and ease of handling when the kids mature. 

Some of the common methods of hand-feeding goat kids

Feeding methods can differ from one breeder to the next, and in some cases, from one situation to the next within a herd. Ultimately, you must choose what works best for you and your herd. With that said, here are some possible feeding solutions.

baby goat drinking from a bottle

Bottle feeding

If you have a small number of kids, bottle feeding can be a great way to feed your kids. It is an inexpensive option as bottles you would normally recycle, such as soda or water bottles, can be reused for this purpose. It also gives the handler one-on-one time to bond with the kids as their "mother" and helps develops the trust required for easy handling as the animal matures. 

Even if you use a different method for feeding older goat kids, getting newborns or kids just starting on hand-feeding comfortable with bottle feeding first will help them have confidence as they transition to the more competitive methods discussed below. 

One of the biggest benefits of bottle feeding is also its downside; with many kids to feed, bottle feeding one or two at a time can take a while. Additionally, with the need to thoroughly clean those bottles between every feeding, washing between feedings can again take a lot of time out of the day

Lambar or teat feeder

The Lambar is teat feeder (sometimes called a "momma bucket"), which is a bucket with nipples attached to it that your young goats use to feed. They are often used to feed 6-10 kids and are a great step up from hand-feeding one or two kids at a time. Some people worry that using a bucket minimizes the bonding benefits of hand-feeding kids, but if you sit out with the bucket resting near you, the kids will still associate you with feeding, and therefore trust you like their "mother."

baby goats feeding from a Lambar momma bucket

The cold milk method

This is a variation on the teat feeder that allows you to provide free choice feeding to your kids. Instead of simply putting the bucket out on a stand or holding it while your goats feed, the cold milk method has you keep the feeder in an ice bath, keeping it icy cool and fresh throughout the day. This allows you to let your kids drink when they feel hungry, but it prevents them from drinking too much at one time as the cold milk gives them a brain freeze.  

Since this method encourages the kids to take several small meals in a day versus a few larger meals, it more closely replicates the natural feeding they would get if they nursed their dam.

notice of overfeeding risk of free choice options

Automated feeding systems  

If you run a large-scale operation, you may want to use automated feeders that can feed many more goats at a time. Automated feeders ensure regular feeding by dispensing milk or milk replacer throughout the day. If you opt for automatic feeders, milk can be kept cold all day, or at room temperature switched out twice a day. This feeding method has the drawback of minimized bonding with your animals, but will still help prevent the spread of disease. 

Pan or trough feeding

Another feeding option is using a trough or pan to feed multiple kids at once. If you opt for this method, stay vigilant to ensure the smaller kids are getting enough and the larger kids aren’t overindulging. If you trough feed, be sure to clean your kids' mouths after each feeding so they do not develop milk sores. 

Can I use a multi-animal feeding system right away?

It is not recommended that put your kids on a multi-animal feeding system right at birth. Bottle feeding kids for at least a week after birth will ensure they initially get enough colostrum, and later enough enough milk, to provide the required nutrients for a good start. After that, you can begin teaching them to feed from a different feeding system. 

Photos courtesy of Goat Milk Stuff

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