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April 4, 2012

How to Bottle Feed Baby Goats or "Be The Udder"

It is a fact that I am the meanest person you know. If you don't believe me then ask any of them *OFG points to Dog Horde and Insane Cat Possee - all of which avoid eye contact except for Zander who still thinks that his momma is the best thing since sliced bread*.  Cold hearted, tough as nails, impervious to sad eyes and weepy little tears - that's me. And that is why I can bottle feed any baby goat.

"Be The Udder"

Its true. If you are gonna start bottle feeding baby goats you need to take a few lessons from the Klingon Book of Management to get the job done. I'm always surprised at some goat sites that talk about how "heartbreaking" it is to take the baby goats from their momma and how difficult it is to feed them with a bottle. Apparently, for some, there is a lot of crying involved. Not here. Any bellyaching around here is met with a sharp reprimand and a reminder that "hay is for milkers" and to get back to work. So I don't get what the big deal is - so far so good for us.

What feeding baby goats looks - and sounds like. Hilarious!

Baby goats are "pulled" from their mommas for a couple reasons:
1. To keep certain diseases from spreading from the mommas to the babies thru the milk.
2. Because the babies will be sold before they are weaned.
3. Some people believe that bottle raised, and not "dam raised" (momma-raised), babies are more snugly.

Of course as with anything to do with goats there is a ton of controversy about the "right way" to bottle feed goats. If you really want to start a brawl, ask goat people about their nipples. There could be a fist fight. I'm not even kidding. So do your research and figure out what works for you. There are lots of goat sites that have tons of information about how to raise baby goats. I'm not saying this is the best or only way - but it works for us.

When it was clear Nibbles wasn't going to feed this year's babies either, the store manager wasn't altogether surprised when it was me running into the local TSC screaming that I had "a nipple crisis" and needed quick attention. He kindly directed me to a shockingly big display case of about 47 different kinds of nipples. Most of them were extremely expensive.

Puppy bottles - works like a charm. And look! Its me!

"Six Dollars? Is that American or Canadian, friend?" I asked. For one nipple? I was bewildered. I turned to my able retail king and asked what else he had.  After a while I found myself standing in the dog accoutrement aisle looking at puppy bottles - the whole enchilada, nipple and bottle was about $3. I grabbed a handful of them and raced back home. (You can also order them online I found the PetAg Complete Nursing Kit 4oz here.)

We knew that all the babies had some sips off Nibbles the first day so we did not need to give them colostrum or replacer. We just needed to get the bellies full of good ol' goat milk. While it seems like a lot of work to voluntarily milk your doe, put the milk in bottles, then feed it to babies who'd rather get their meals from that tap - thats exactly what was about to happen.

The steps are pretty basic:
1. Milk your doe until she is empty
2. Take the milk into the house and strain it
3. Pour milk into bottles and immediately go out to battle.. I mean bottle feed.
4. March boldly out to where the babies are (cuz they are not in the house, right?)
5. Insert Tab A into Slot B and away you go.

We kept the extra milk in the fridge in wide mouthed jars. For the next feeding we just microwaved the milk in the bottles until it was warm and then repeated steps #4 and #5.

How often to feed?
Well that depends. Do you work or are you home during the day? We believe, for all of the masses, that little creatures should be fed a little but more often. So for the first several days I bottle fed the baby goats about 5 times. I also gave "half feeds" or snacks if I thought they needed it. After about a week we settled into a pattern of 7am, 10am, sometime in the afternoon - usually about 2, and then 7:30pm.

How do you get them to take the bottle?
Now, from the perspective of a baby goat...if some huge, two legged creature is trying to shove some kind of weird, odd smelling, contraption in your mouth - you can imagine that it might freak them out. So my #1 Rule for Bottle Feed Baby Goats is.... Be The Udder.

Hunker down so they can find the bottle

That's right - Be The Udder. Hunker down, friend, get low, don't pick that baby up - get down on her level. She's looking for legs because that's where the udder usually is. Next, you might have to squeeze out some milk and put it on the nipple so it doesn't smell so weird. And when we get started I make sure that the milk can easily get out of the bottle - the babies may give up trying to drink if it doesn't work right away.

You might have to pry open that little goat's mouth to shove the nipple in - just be sure that you get it on top of her tongue. For whatever reason - I don't know since the only thing I've ever nursed is a hangover - if you point the nipple back and to the top if her mouth, she'll be stimulated to start drinking. Be careful now, you don't want her to aspirate ("get down the wrong pipe") the milk. You want her to actively drink from the bottle and suck it down.

See how she wraps her tongue around the bottle? How cute is that?

Once she gets the hang of it she'll start dancing around and start "bumping" you - this is how babies get the momma goats to "let down their milk." At this point you can start singing "Who wants some bumps?" which is guaranteed to add in your bottle feeding success. Just sing it along, roughly to the tune of "Who let the dogs out."  They love it.

There is a lot of goofing around that happens

You can adjust the angle of the bottle to help the baby drink - but remember that the momma's teat hang straight down. The babies will naturally want to get under the bottle and even kneel down. So don't over adjust - part of her wiggling around is just that she's happy.

How much should you feed?
Well, that depends on the size of your goat. One of the funniest things that happens is their little bellies visibly get full and swell. You sure don't want them to get sick or over feed! There are charts and graphs available online for your breed of goat. We feed them until they stand there a little dazed with a milk mustache and a funny look in their eye - that's what we call being milk drunk. Its adorable.

They'll shake off their milk drunk and start pippin' and poppin' around in a couple minutes. The puppy bottles held about 8 ounces - which was perfect for our mini's - I think we started out with 4 to 6 ounces and worked our way up to 8 or more.

What if they are still hungry?
Then feed them more the next time. You really don't want to over feed the babies - but they should not stand there screaming as you walk away.

What else do the babies need to eat or drink?
Nothing. Their rumens (goat digestive system) won't be developed enough to handle bagged food or hay for a while. And they don't need water either - for heavens sakes don't leave them with a bucket of water that they can drown in.

But what if you are the person getting the baby goat? And you don't have a momma goat from them to nurse off?  Easy peasy.  My pal K. gave me an incredible "how to" for new baby goat owners. This is her information on how to bottle feed baby goats. See that she says to use regular milk from the store if you don't have goat milk. Thanks K!

Feeding Schedule  *this is meant as a general guide, some babies will need more*

1st week~ 4 feedings per day, 2-4 oz. per feeding for small goats and 4-6 oz for large goats, colostrum for the first 24 hours!

2nd week to 8 weeks ~ 3 feedings per day, 5-12 oz. per feeding for small goats and 6-20 oz for large goats, you will be gradually building up to the larger amount of milk

8+ weeks ~ 1 or 2 feedings per day, 10-12 oz. per feeding for small goats and 15-20 oz for larger goats, gradually reducing the amount in the bottle until weaning is complete

*we aim for about 1 oz. per lb body weight for the 1st 3 weeks*

We recommend using Whole Vitamin D Cow’s Milk from the grocery to bottle feed your baby. At 4 weeks of age, we add .5 cc’s of Poly-Vi-Sol to a bottle every day for additional vitamins and minerals.

Always warm the milk to about 102* (a little warmer than you would for a human baby) – a baby goat cannot digest cold milk. The microwave is fine for this, but make sure to shake the bottle before feeding it to eliminate hot spots in the milk. You should start introducing water, hay and goat feed around 4 weeks of age. They probably will do little more than play with it at first, but they will eventually get the idea about solid foods.

Kids usually will drink only until they are full. If they are usually drinking a 12 oz bottle and for one feeding they only drink 6 oz, that is ok. Be careful not to overfeed them. Don't give them more than 12 oz per bottle for the small goats and 20 oz per bottle for the large goats.

So what do you think, folks? Are you ready to run right out there and feed some baby goats?

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Are you looking for a great reference for how to raise dairy goats? Check out Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats: Breeds, Care, Dairying!

If you can't find the puppy bottles locally you can find there here online: