The Rollercoaster Ride of Weaning Baby Goats…a guest post by Cara, herd manager


As I write this I can hear the distant cry of this year’s babies. They are not in pain…they are being weaned. Two weeks ago I took them off their noon bottle and yesterday was the first day that they did not receive their 7am bottle, leaving them with only one feeding a day – in the evening at 5pm. It will take them a few days to adjust…and it is just as hard for me as it is for them. They look at me with their sweet innocent eyes and cry for the comfort of their bottle. I am not being cruel. They are strong, healthy babies who eat plenty of solid foods – hay, grain, and treats such as evergreen trees and dried leaves. It is time.

When babies are first born they need to be fed bottles 3 times a day. The first 5 days we give them their own mother’s colostrum (the first milk that comes from a lactating doe which has antibodies to protect the newborn against disease.) After that we give them goat’s milk. At about 2 weeks old we add hay and grain to the kid pen. They do not eat it right away, but they play with it, chew it, get used to having it around.

Once their digestive systems are ready for solid foods, they begin to swallow the grain. The first sign that they are digesting the grain is while they are at rest they begin to chew their cud (goats swallow food, let it ferment in their rumens, then bring it back up to chew again). Once I saw that they were doing this, it was time to think about weaning.

My issue this year was that I noticed they weren’t eating the hay or really drinking any water. When a baby is around older goats, they learn from example. Since we keep the kids separated at this point, it is harder for them to learn how to behave like a goat. When something isn’t working, you try something new. I decided to move the hay rack. Where I placed the rack the older goats were able to get their heads over the wall and eat the hay from it. The babies saw this and immediately began eating the hay. This was a huge step. No more noon bottle. This was when they were just shy of two months old.

The next step was to try to get them to drink the water. I again decided to move the water bucket. I chose a spot where they were used to getting their treats. I tied a colorful string to the bucket to keep it in place. They immediately started to play with the string…and sipping water soon after. At this point the kids have been getting supervised play time in the hoop house with the big ladies every morning. We would run back and forth and play outside on the big rocks. They loved this! It was always during the time when the goats were being milked and spending time in the holding pen so there were less ladies in the hoop house.

We kept them on 2 bottles a day for 2 and a half weeks.  Before the decision was made to wean them off their 7am bottle, they needed to spend more time in the hoop house getting comfortable with their surroundings…and hopefully learn out to drink water from the big trough and hay from the big hay racks. Once left alone, the babies spent the entire morning with the big ladies and eventually relaxed. They watched the goats drink water and eat hay…and they followed suit. Seeing them peacefully napping in the sun in the hoop house surrounded by big goats was a huge sigh of relief. It was time to wean them off their morning bottles.

So now we are down to one. Just one bottle a day. And in just a couple weeks – weaned completely off their bottles. In no time they will be living full time in the hoop house as part of the larger herd completely forgetting their days spent crying for bottles. Goats grow up so fast. Just a little over 2 months ago I was watching them take their first steps. Weaning is bittersweet. It gets exhausting and repetitious feeding the babies 3 times a day…but once it’s over, you miss that special time you had bonding with them. I had a wonderful team of volunteers that helped me get through it all with big smiles on their faces…and I know that they miss feeding times as much as the babies do.

Every year will be different. Every goat will be different. The most important part of raising baby goats is to watch for every little detail. Are they eating? Are they drinking? Even – are they pooping and peeing? How do they interact with others? Are they acting normal? If not, what could be wrong? There are so many factors that can affect a baby goat’s life. Observation is everything.

So I write this to look back on in the future, to remind me that although it will be tough…and the babies will look at me with their sweet, innocent eyes as if I have bestowed upon them the ultimate betrayal, weaning is just a small part of a goat’s life. I will get to watch each of them grow, go out to pasture for the first time, have their first babies, get milked for the first time, and live a long happy life here at the farm. And in just 10 short months, I will be doing it all over again with a new set of babies!

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