Why Feed Baby Goats with Bottles?

Periodically we post photos and videos of adorable baby goat nursing a bottle enthusiastically.  While most people enjoy these, I’ve noticed a few comments on twitter and other social media asking why baby goats are fed with bottles, bemoaning the fact the babies are on bottles and not their mamas.  I don’t view this as criticism, I view it as an opportunity to educate.

For most people who raise dairy goats, the “udder” is a revered blessing from mother nature that produces liquid gold, whether it be for drinking, cheese making, kefir or yogurt making or soap & skin care.  Udders need care, just like a nursing mother has to take steps to care for her breasts when she is nursing.

Converting from Nursing to Bottle Fed

So, the basic question most people ask is why are baby goats fed with bottles and not nursing on mama?  On our farm and as part of being “Certified Humane“, the baby does nurse the mother for the first two weeks of its life to get the valuable colostrum, the “first food” that most mammals need.  Colostrum kick starts the system, cleans out gut and builds the immune system. After two weeks, we convert babies to bottles for several reasons.  Even after accepting the bottle, babies are allowed interaction with their mothers through adjacent pens and play areas.  Eventually, mother and baby drift apart on their own for separate lives. Just like human teenagers prefer their friends, baby goats stray from Mom to join in the antics of other babies.

  1. As a baby grows and becomes stronger, they become more aggressive during nursing. Yanking, pulling and jerking the teats in their enthusiastic pursuit of milk.  This can damage the udder over time, reducing the level of daily milk production.  For those owners who compete professionally with their goats, the udder is worth 40% in judging. Taking babies off early protects the integrity, shape and production of the udder and the teats.
  2. Not all goat mothers are “all stars”.  When babies start getting aggressive, many mothers will walk away and not allow nursing, or limit it more than is ideal. Some mothers will reject kids entirely if aggravated repeatedly during nursing.  Most does do not have the loving dedication that a human mother does, yet we convey that perception on them.  There are very loving and attentive does, but they also will only take udder discomfort for so long.
  3. If a doe just has 1 baby, it will often have a preference and nurse only on 1 side of the udder.  If this is allowed to persist, the udder will become lopsided and this can become permanent. An observant owner will make sure this does not happen. An udder infection can result on the opposite side as well if there isn’t an intervention.  An infection can permanently ruin an udder.
  4. If a baby is short-changed on oxygen during the delivery, it can take up to 24 hours or longer for the baby to develop sucking ability. Some babies are weak at birth and do not have the energy to fight for the nipple against it’s siblings. Colostrum is needed within the first hour.  Mother nature is a cruel taskmaster.  Often it is the survival of the fittest.  Without intervention by their human caregivers, these babies can die.  If the mother senses the weakness, she will often reject the baby outright and refuse to let it nurse, even once it is able.
  5. Some breeders take the baby from the mother at birth and there is a definite dislike of this by the public at large.  In the goat world, there is an illness passed in the milk from mother to baby called CAE, or Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis. It manifests either as serious systemic arthritis through the body or as inflammation of the brain.  A mother who is positive with CAE can pass the virus to her offspring through the milk and licking her kids.  So to avoid ANY possibility of the baby contracting CAE, breeders will put a baby on a bottle immediately after birth.  In our case, we blood test each of our does bi-annually for CAE and we know everyone is negative, so it is safe for our babies to nurse for the first two weeks that we encourage.
  6. It is easier to tell if a baby is consuming the right amount of milk if you evaluate bottles.  You can also add medication to a bottle which is easier than trying to shove it down a kids mouth and risk it entering the lungs
  7. There are breeders who allow all babies to stay with their mothers for as long as possible. This takes dedication and time because managers must check the udders daily, evaluate babies to make sure they are gaining weight.  Basically, they must be very observant for this to work. This takes TIME that many breeders /farmers do not have.

So it isn’t that farmers don’t care when they put babies on bottles, it is because they do care. We encourage people to ask questions when visiting our farm, because many management techniques are truly for the animal’s health & well-being and may not appear so at first glance.  Click here to learn more about our nigerian dwarf goats.