Last year we had Fancy as a first freshener (that’s what they call a first time goat mama, you gotta love goat terminology). Fancy was a bottle-fed baby herself, which is why I think she was totally confused about the whole mother thing. What the H-H-HELL are these creatures, she seemed to say, and W-W-WHY do they keep bothering me??? But after a few days, she figured it out. While never the most attentive of mothers, she did come around, allowing her kids to nurse when they asked. This year, Lucy was our new mama. She was dam raised, and I thought for sure that would mean she would jump right in, because her mama, Cesna, is great with her kids. But nope. She pushed those babies away even longer than Fancy did, actively butting them (not hard enough to hurt) back, and standing up on the bed to get away from them. Perhaps it was her difficult labor that interfered with her connecting with her babies. Dunno. But one week later, something clicked, and we went out to the barn to find the kids nursing. Yeah! We’re all about the mims around here.
On the other hand, some goat keepers don’t want their goat kids raised by their moms. There are generally two reasons for this. The first is CAE, or Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis, a nasty disease that is passed through body fluids from goat to goat. A friend of mine recently lost her entire herd of Toggenburg goats to CAE—it’s serious business. In the interest of preventing CAE, some goat keepers remove their kids from the mommas at birth and bottle feed them, thus preventing the babies from possibly getting exposed to CAE through their mommas milk. The babies and mommas never know each other.
For my part, I can’t do it. It’s against my religion (in a metaphorical, not literal, sense). The goat kids may have one source of CAE exposure removed, but at huge cost. Mommas and babies being close and connected is a kind of central tenet of our life here at the yurt. Since CAE is fairly unusual (though awful when it shows up) separating the mamas from the babies seems like extreme measures beyond reason to me. We keep a closed herd (minus an annual buck visit, which we try to make safe by carefully choosing the buck and the farm), we keep clean conditions, and we boost our goat’s immune systems with herbs and good living. We might be naive, but so far, so good.
Still, if my goats came down with CAE at some point, while terribly sad, I would be glad for all the babies that had gotten to be happy and healthy with their moms at our barn, prior to that. That’s just my stance. This is a charged issue in the goat keeping world. I can only recommend doing the research and making your own decision.
But back to bottles. The second reason many goat keepers give for bottle raising kids is that they feel it leads to friendlier goats. In a way, this is true. The goats connect comfort, nourishment, pleasure, full bellies, etc. with their human keepers. And these goats certainly are friendlier than semi-wild goats who run away from people. My experience with this, however, is that it isn’t the feeding, it’s the quantity of contact with humans required by bottle feeding that makes the kids comfortable with humans. What you also get with bottle fed goat kids is needy pushy goats who yell a lot! Okay, I’m sure that isn’t always true, but it has been my experience. Dam raised goats who have had a lot (ten minutes a day won’t do it!) of contact with humans are friendly, sweet, playful, and come up to humans to be petted and loved on—but they are happy with their goat herd, too. They don’t strain to get to the humans like needy babies will. They see us as friends, not The Source. I like that relationship much, much more.
The dam raised, frequently played with, goat kids I’ve known and helped raise have been happy, friendly, well adjusted, healthy, and relaxed in the herd. So this is what we go for at Honeymilk Farm.
But is hasn’t always been easy.
When our first goat mama wouldn’t nurse her babies, I was in a frenzy, emailing all my goat contacts, asking them what to do. Here’s the information I really wanted to find:
If you want your goat to nurse her babies and she is refusing, it’s worth sticking with it for a few days as long as the kids are getting *some* milk. Put the mama and her babies in a stall together for a few days. Try to help the babies nurse while the mom is distracted with eating. If she can look back and sniff the babies without kicking them off, that’s good, but even if she gets away from them once she is done eating, the oxytocin released into her system every time she nurses will help her feel more motherly. Think frequency over duration. I went out there five or six times a day to hold Lucy’s collar and let the babies get a drink, either giving Lucy some food, or holding her collar to get her to stand still. I was always calm and friendly, never violent or pushy (even when I was feeling frustrated—and it is VERY frustrating), because I surely didn’t want her to make those associations with nursing her babies. make sure the babies are getting enough milk to not get dehydrated (if you let them suck on your finger, their mouth should feel hot and wet) so keep close eye on that. If you don’t think the babies are getting enough, milk the mom and give the milk to the babies in a bottle, supplementing what they are getting from the teat, but I wouldn’t give up on the nursing right away, either. The babies help with all of this by being really, really persistent. They don’t give up. By keeping the babies and mama in a stall together, the babies have a continual opportunity to try to wear mama’s defensiveness down. If they can hang in there for a few days, chances are, mom, with her increasing oxytocin levels, will come around.
It took Fancy three days and I was about to give in because I wasn’t seeing the babies get much of anything and I was worried for them. I was heading to the barn, bottle in hand, when I saw her nursing both of them. Woo hoo! It took Lucy a WEEK, and I never would have waited that long if Lucy hadn’t been willing to nurse while I held her, thus making sure they were getting a minimum of what they needed. The kids were jumping around, not listless or sick looking in the slightest, so I kept thinking I’d give it one more day, one more day…and it worked. They finally connected. Now Lucy gets down on her knees and sticks her head under the goat bed (where the kids like to sleep) to y-y-yell at them to come out and n-n-nurse! It’s pretty funny.
Still, there are times when the mother just WON’T. Bottle feeding is a blessing then, because you don’t have to lose the kids! I wouldn’t bring the kids into the house (some goat keepers do), because I think it’s important for the babies to bond with the herd, important for them to know they are goats, and to learn how to be a goat from other goats. Bottle feeding can be tricky to get started—they don’t know what they heck this bad smelling rubbery thing is you are trying to shove in their mouths, but if they’re hungry, and they will be, they’ll figure it out. A bottle made for humans with a small X cut into the nipple will work.
For information on any of this, especially on the humane treatment of goats, I HIGHLY recommend the fabulous Fiasco Farm site.
One final note. It’s important that the babies get the antibody rich colostrum in the first day or two. If mom is really, really refusing her kids a drop, I’d milk her to get the colostrum and bottle feed it to the kids.
Bottom line, it’s worth hanging in there for a few days. Goat mamas often come around. Stay calm and sweet with her at all times. Be gentle but persistent. And just keep helping those babies get a drink.