Raising Kids: The First Year of a Goat’s Life

I thought summarizing information on raising kids, instead of forcing you to jump between several posts to put it all together, would be a good idea.

There are several things to pay attention to before a goat turns a year old. Particular attention needs to be paid to feeding. It’s also when some diseases will make themselves apparent. Their bodies grow fast. They grow teeth and personalities. They hit puberty.

Heck, think of a 16-year-old, and shove all the previous 16 years into one year, and then put it inside a goat body.

First off, you’ll want to decide if you’re going to dam-raise or bottle-raise. My post here highlights the considerations to take into account. The different ways will add certain factors into their care.

Secondly, you’ll want to decide if you are de-horning or not. If you want to show, you’ll need to dehorn. If you have already de-horned goats, it’s GREATLY advised you de-horn going forward. Mixing horned and non-horned animals is generally a bad idea and results in moderate to severe injuries. The On Disbudding Kids post can help.

We’ll start with feeding. If you’ve read through my feeding posts you’ll know some of this already, but I’ll put it all together here.

Newborn babies should get as much colostrum as they want. Colostrum, or the mother’s first milk, is packed full of vitamins, minerals, antibodies, and immune system helpers that kick-start a babies growth and health. If you’re bottle raising, the best idea is to try to find (or have) colostrum directly from the source. If you’re bottle raising to prevent CAE infection, make sure you heat-treat the colostrum to kill any virus in the milk. Otherwise, there are colostrum replacements available that you can order. Try to find one specifically for goats.

After about a week dams will no longer produce colostrum but straight milk, and babies will have had enough to kick start their health. At this point, if you’re bottle raising and are using milk replacer, I highly recommend you mix the replacer with cows milk. There have been instances of baby goats getting bloat from being on straight milk replacer.

By a week or two babies will already be interested in eating solids. You can offer a little bit of alfalfa and they may start trying to eat. Dam-raised babies will naturally be interested in whatever mom is eating and they’ll nibble on things by even just a few days old!

By a month, they should be eating alfalfa. If they’re interested and eating some beforehand, great! Alfalfa has all the good things that kids need to grow up big and strong.

Feeding a little bit of grain by 1 1/2 – 2 months is all right, but too much can cause problems, and many breeders don’t like to “growthy” kids that come out of that. Minimize grain intake until about 4-6 months old, when they should be getting a handful or two. You can slowly increase this amount, but do not exceed 1 1/2 lbs a day.

Offer minerals, too, starting at a few months of age. Either a block or loose. They’ll like that.

Technically doelings can be bred at 7 months of age. I don’t know anyone who recommends this. It is best if you wait until they are at least a year old, and have gotten all their growth and maturity, before you expose them to bucks.

This also means that bucks can breed at 7 months. Make sure they’re separated from their female companions by that time!

By the time they’ve hit a year old, they don’t need alfalfa or grain. You can switch over their feeding regime (remember, slowly!) to a quality grass hay, and pasture if that’s available. If you’re breeding your doelings around this time, it’s best to just continue feeding alfalfa, but you may want to decrease how much grain you’re feeding until the last couple weeks of their pregnancy. This will help prevent pregnancy ketosis and hypocalcemia, a topic that I will explain in an upcoming post.

Bucks can stop receiving grain after a year and rut is over with, and you probably won’t need to feed them grain after that (though, if they’re struggling to keep up weight, you can feed them some). Alfalfa can be important during winter months and rut, as well as a quality grass hay to make sure they’re getting enough roughage and staying warm (since goats gain heat from the movement of their stomachs).

Any questions? Comments? Anything to add?

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Genetics of Personality

As new babies are born and become little bundles of (increasingly bratty) joy, their personalities emerge full force. It’s amusing to me to see the differences between Maggie and Aztec, and now Beltane and Inanna.

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When I worked with 120+ kids a year it was harder to see how their individual personalities presented themselves, except for the few who really let their personalities shine. With a smaller herd and making sure I spend a lot of time with my dam-raised babies to make them tame, I can’t help but notice all the differences between them.

For Maggie and Aztec, I didn’t raise their parents (Blackberry and Rhett), so I don’t know what their personalities were like when they were toddling around. But the similarities to their adult parents’ personalities is striking.

They were a little doomed for being attention-needy, as both Blackberry and Rhett are both obvious and loud about their desire for attention. And I can understand the kids being whiny and hiding behind me when they’re threatened — Blackberry does that, and they will follow her example.

But weird quirks that Rhett has keep popping up — and I can’t blame that on learn by example because they’ve never spent time with him!

For example, Aztec does the exactly same wave his head in a circle while looking up at you that Rhett does when he wants attention. Maggie does the same back arched, head down, eyes half-closed thing as her father does too. And it started by the time they were a week or two old!

Beltane and Inanna are no less striking. Sari is a fearless tank who does exactly what she wants when she wants to — and little Beltane really got that personality aspect. Within two minutes of being born she was getting to her feet and searching insistently for the milk. She’s also the one that just trots out wherever she wants and explores to her heart’s content. The other day she was trying to fight a chicken.

Inanna, on the other hand, laid there quietly upon being born, looking around, collecting herself. She even took a nap before deciding to get up and look around for sustenance. Maybe it’s just that she inherited her father’s sweet face, too, but she is strikingly like her quiet, collected father.

Now that they’re older, both of them definitely have the cantankerous, in your face aspects of Sari, with really sweet moments of Sauvie. And, of course, there’s just something that’s all their own, too. Beltane does this little head flip that’s the cutest thing ever. And Inanna is into everything.

It all just fascinates me.

On Disbudding Kids

Most of us recognize the image of a horned goat. But disbudding goats (or, preventing the horns from growing) is a common practice for those on all sides of the goat-raising business. In the wild, they’re necessary for defense. The argument is that they are not necessary, and even dangerous, in captivity.

This is for a variety of reasons: they can be injure themselves, other goats, and their caretakers, too, ranging from getting caught in fences and breaking a neck in panic (since goats like to stick their heads in EVERYTHING) to accidentally gouging out your eye if you’re too close and they pull their head back too fast. It is also a very bad idea to house horned and de-horned goats together, as the de-horned goats will often get injured with the unequal playing field.

Also, it’s a requirement to have a goat de-horned in any sort of showing capacity. I don’t know if a kid will be barred from being registered if they have horns, but they won’t be allowed in the show ring.

(^Beltane and Inanna napping both Before and After disbudding, in a box in my car^)

On the other side of this argument is how inhumane the de-horning process is. There are several ways to disbud, but the most common way to do it (and the easiest, most humane and fast method) is by using a disbudding iron. A hot disbudding iron is taken and pressed on newly-starting horn buds, cauterizing the nerves and veins that supply blood for horn growth. It doesn’t harm the kid beyond stopping the horns from growing and pain, and if you do it correctly, it shouldn’t be longer than 10 seconds. But they do yell. It’s painful. No one enjoys the process.

There is also the consideration that a goat’s horns is their natural protection. If you take these away, you need to supply something to protect them in return.

You should decide if you will be de-horning fairly quickly after a kid is born, because the most humane time to de-horn is within the first few weeks of age. This is when the horns are just starting to appear as little nubs on top of their heads, before the horns have created roots that attach to the skull. Each breed of goat has a slightly different horn grow rate, so you should pay attention. Once you can clearly feel (and see, if you part the hair) the horn buds, it’s time. Earlier is better.

If the horns get bigger, the process to disbud becomes longer, more painful, and tedious. And if the horns develop fully (and attach to the skull) de-horning becomes a major surgery with a likelihood of complications.

I recommend finding an experienced goat owner in your community to teach you how to do it (or, if you’re squeamish, to pay them to do it). There are also many YouTube videos on it, if you don’t have someone to teach you.

This video is a great PG-rated one for getting your feet wet on the subject (I also appreciate how considerate they are for the little kid):

Notice how little time it takes.

Here is a more involved video showing the whole process and going into the details of the reasons and considerations: 

I don’t give shots against tetanus beforehand like the video above (because I avoid shots as much as possible, and because I’ve never had a kid contract tetanus from disbudding before), though the antiseptic doesn’t sound like a half-bad idea.

The key components about disbudding you should keep in mind:

  1. Buck kid horns will grow faster than doelings; pay attention to your kids and try to get them disbudded as soon as a bud can be clearly felt.
  2. Trimming the hair around the buds not only helps with seeing what you’re doing, but makes the contact time needed with the iron time much shorter, and prevents the terrible burning hair smell.
  3. Always make sure the iron is HOT. It makes the process accurate and MUCH faster, which the kid will really appreciate.
  4. Restrain the kid so s/he won’t thrash around. Some people just “sit” on the kid like the first video, and others use the box. Whatever you decide, you don’t want to accidentally burn anything besides the horn bud.
  5. Copper is the color you’re looking for, all around the base of where the bud is growing.

My method is to pay a lady in my community to do it, not only because I hate doing it (though no one likes it), but because I’m helping her out while I’m at it. (Also, I used to help disbud 120+ kids a year and it’s a relief just to let someone else do it).

Any questions? Comments? Advice or crazy story to add? What’s your method?

Nursing Kids and Lopsided Udders

There are a couple reasons that a doe’s udder may be lopsided. Mastitis is also another reason; if you see your doe severely lopsided, you should probably get a test just to make sure there isn’t anything fishy going on there.

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Lopsided Udder: Picture shamelessly borrowed from the Wild Roots Homestead blog

However, with dam-raised kids that are nursing, it’s often because the kids are nursing unequally. This is especially prevalent with only one kid, but it happens with two kids, too.

For example, about two and a half weeks after Blackberry kidded with Magnolia and Aztec, I noticed that one side of her udder was smaller than the other. Not by a lot, just noticeable. I’d been putting her up on the milk stand and milking a little in the evenings so a) she’d become used to the milk stand, and b) her production would keep up no matter what the kids were doing. The next time I had her on the stand, I inspected and discovered that the smaller side had less mammary tissue, especially up in the back.

Uh oh.

After some research, there looked to be two possibilities about what was happening. Either the kids were drinking mostly on the smaller side, making the “milk memory” smaller as it was constantly being depleted (the other side more prone to filling up and expanding the milk memory). Or, the kids were drinking off the bigger side more, and the smaller side was drying up due to less use.

My research also cautioned that lopsidedness can become permanent really fast, so you needed to jump on it as soon as you noticed it.

That evening I taped up the smaller side to a) see exactly how much she produced without kid interference, and b) convince the kids to drink off the other side. The next morning she’d gotten the tape off, but her udder looked even.

Which meant it was the first reason. So I spent probably a week taping the smaller side in the evenings to give it time to expand and fill out the “milk-memory.”

By this time Blackberry was getting annoyed with the kids nursing, too, so she was only letting them nurse for a few moments when she felt like it (which meant they had no time for pickiness on deciding which side they liked better).

Overall, her udder is almost exactly even now. When you milk her out you can still tell there’s a little difference in the development of udder tissue, but she looks good:

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Now cue Sari kidding. I was being more watchful of the issue this time around, but I barely had time to prepare for this one. The kids ONLY drank off the one side, and within two days, that side was about a third of the size of the other side (which they were not drinking off of). I’m not sure what that’s about.

But, the same protocol as before. In the evenings I started taping up the smaller side to give it time to expand and create “milk memory” while encouraging the kids to drink off of the other side.

There was definite improvement, but she was still pretty lopsided. Worried about how much I had to try to fix this problem, I ramped up my efforts, and taped her up during the daytime, too.

This is where you have to be careful: make sure you fully milk out the side that you’re working with if you decide to tape up 24/7 (even if you tape only for 12 hours, milk the side out). You don’t want to create the opposite problem and have the smaller side dry up because she’s full too often!

The morning after I did that (several days into the night-time taping up) her udder was pretty even, milk wise. The smaller side was still tighter than the other side and obviously had less “milk memory,” even though they both had about the same amount of milk. The next morning, after only a 12 hour tape up, she’s looking much better. There’s only a little difference between the halves.

I wonder if being only a week from kidding helped with allowing her udder to be flexible. She also has such a strange udder that completely disappears when she’s not milking, the super-malleable quality probably helped. I also wonder if it’s hindering as well though, and that’s why the lop-sidedness was severe so fast.

My strategy for now is to rotate which days I’ll tape up that side for 24 hours (with every 12 hours milkings) vs. 12 hours on and 12 hours off. Hopefully as her production naturally increases and the kids become better at nursing (and she gets more impatient with them like Blackberry and only allows them to nurse at certain times and not be picky!) it will be all even.

I think the key thing to keep in mind is to pay attention. If you catch it quickly enough, it seems to be decently fixable!

 

Do you have any lopsided udder stories? What about tricks to keep the babies nursing off of both sides? Anything to add?

Bottle Raising vs. Dam Raised

Whether to bottle-raise or dam-raise your kids is a big decision when raising kids. On the one hand, bottle-raising kids makes them super friendly without a lot of work – but the effort of bottle raising can be quite labor intensive. On the other hand, dam-raising takes away a lot of the work, is more natural – but you need to make sure you spend time with your kids to make them people-friendly, and a much higher chance of milk-related diseases to be passed on.

For those visual people out there, I’ve made a pros and cons list!

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Obviously, this isn’t a balanced list. This list is just to highlight the elements to take into consideration when deciding how to raise your kids. Many of these things can be managed to be a lesser problem. For example, taming kids is solved with just a half an hour of sitting down with new babies to familiarize them with you and people in general. And oh, it’s such a “chore.”

Different elements are going to have different weight depending on what you’re looking for. If you have a huge herd, taming all those kids may be a monumental task – in the same vein, bottle-raising may be entirely too much work.

The risk of CAE is unacceptable to some, and all kids are bottle-raised. Hard-core breeders who show consistently may not be willing to make sure to check for lop-sided udders, and kids are bottle-raised for the same reason.

In other scenarios, such as needing CAE testing, the testing should probably be done anyway. For lop-sided udders, which can be managed with some attention, you might not care if you’re not going to show.

It all depends on what you’re looking for in your ladies and what you want to do. And I have posts on dealing with different issues that arise depending on your preference for raising kids, as well.

Here’s a post on lop-sided udders

Some specifics for bottle-raising kids:

Do not skimp on the colostrum, even if you’re bottle-raising! It’s the absolute best thing for babies in jump-starting their immune systems and making sure they grow up strong. If you don’t have a source of natural colostrum, there are colostrum replacers that can be bought. Try to find a goat-specific version.

If you do have a natural source of colostrum and are bottle-feeding for disease-related reasons, make sure to heat treat, not pasteurize, the colostrum. Pasteurizing the colostrum will turn it into pudding.

Also, if you’re going to continue using replacer, I really recommend buying cows milk and feeding half cows milk and half replacer. Feeding only replacer can make the kid bloat.

Have any pros and cons to add to the list? Let me know! I’d love to add them.

On Baby Goats Born with Weak Pasterns

 

These adorable little kiddos were born on January 15th, 2016, to Blackberry. She’s a first time mom and is one of the neediest, baby-like yearlings I’ve ever met, so I was worried she was going to be a terrible mom.

NOT.

I was actually at an event for work when they were born (typical goats – never kid when you want them to), so one of my house-mates found them first. I instructed him via the phone what to do until my fiancee could get home take over.

I received updates over the next few hours, telling me that, first, Blackberry wouldn’t let the kids nurse. But when they held her still for a moment and let the kids suckle, she immediately got the idea. We haven’t had a problem since. Like, absolutely no problems. Blackberry even cleaned butts and ears incessantly for days afterwards, and pretty much has an anxiety attack if she can’t check on her babies every 30 seconds.

I didn’t get home until nearly 10:30 at night (much to my extreme annoyance), to see all the important after-birth things done: the kids cords had been sprayed with iodine solution; mom and babies had been put together, separated from the herd, in a pen of fresh straw; mom had plenty of food and water; and since it was cold, babies had been tucked into fleece baby coats I’d picked up from Goodwill.

Apparently I’d overestimated how big these kids were going to be, because the kids were SWIMMING in the clothes I’d gotten. We ended up using twine and elastic bands around their bodies to keep the coats from tripping them up.

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Mom (Blackberry) with kids in oversized baby clothes

To be fair, the kids are TINY. (Not so tiny anymore!)

That evening I noticed that the kids – the girl more severely than the boy – were walking on their fetlocks. As in, their pasterns were so weak they didn’t support their weight, so instead of remaining on their hooves, they collapsed down onto the next joint. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take pictures, but I found a picture that’s close enough that I stole from here.

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Notice the extreme bend at the fetlock, causing the hooves to tip up at the toes? All of that should be pretty much straight.

My little girl was even worse than this picture, the bottom of her hooves pointing almost directly forward.

With a little research and a sneaking suspicion, I realized that this is due to a selenium deficiently. (Disclaimer: I am not a vet, nor am I trained as such. I do my best educated guesses based off of the knowledge I’ve gained and almighty Google). Selenium is naturally deficient in the area that I live (NW Oregon), and vets caution pretty much everyone to supply selenium in goats feed due to this.

Usually that means: supply mineral supplements (either loose or a block), feed alfalfa imported from Eastern Oregon (where selenium is not as deficient), and give a shot of selenium once a year. Preferably, 2 months to 6 weeks before a goat kids (if you’re breeding), so that the kids have an adequate supply of selenium from mom and won’t need shots themselves.

Severe cases of selenium deficiency result in white muscle disease. Less severe cases can result in… well, what happened with these kids!

The good news is that an injection of Vitamin E and selenium will usually fix the problem, even severe cases. As it was, I didn’t have any selenium on hand, and the kids’ pasterns were already better by the next day. Within three days, their feet were almost completely normal – and now, you would have never known they had that problem at birth. They’re climbing over everything!

And their names have been decided: Magnolia (Maggie, on the left) for the girl, and Aztec Gold (on the right) for the boy.