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.

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37 Responses to when goat mamas won’t nurse their kids

  1. Mom says:

    great piece.

  2. Amy says:

    Ah! You are right it is frustrating! -And I love Fiasco, too. I have an American Alpine who’s freshened 4 times. She’s had the babies removed the first two times and failed to nurse her baby despite my pleading last year. This year she had triplets and she she’s done ok. But, every week or so she goes a day or two where she’s temperamental with them and won’t let them nurse. Her udder fills up and I end up milking her once or twice and bottle feeding the extremely hungry kids. Then, her mothering instincts kick back in and she lets them nurse again. They’re only 5 weeks old and I’m hoping she’ll be patient enough to make it to 12 weeks. We’ll see… Enjoyed the post!

  3. Amy says:

    Oh, I forgot. I purchased her after her 2nd freshening and have personally decided to let my goat kids nurse, too. I’ve had less trouble with goats who have been allowed to keep their babies from the 1st freshening.

  4. maya says:

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Amy! Yes, it is SO frustrating. I’m glad she’s figuring it out. Even if she makes it to eight weeks, that’s pretty good! The babies can get along without milk from then on. Only a few more weeks to go! Maybe next time for her the whole mothering thing will gel….? Personally, I can’t imagine nursing triplets. I’d be a zombie. I can understand her need for a day off every now and then, haha.

  5. Jan says:

    Hi Maya, thanks so much, I’ve been searching for info, my boer x nanny lost her kids last year and now has lovely twins, I’m getting worried that they are not getting enough to drink, they are two weeks on Sunday and while they are full of fun they seem to be constantly trying to suckle, frantically going from teat to teat, Mama is great with them and just the sweetest natured goat we’ve ever had but it looks like she is dry. The kids are not growing at the same rate that their cousins are. Tonight I tried to bottle feed them but they were not having any!! I don’t know whether to persist trying to supplement them or if I’m panicing for nothing – any thoughts?

  6. maya says:

    Hi Jan, thanks so much for your visit. You might have solved this by now, sorry I’ve been away from the blog for a couple of days. I’d say the fact that their hopping around, full of fun, indicates they’re getting enough to eat. A mama might seem ‘dry’ when you go to milk her, simply because the babies have already gotten the goodies out, and they can seem frantic, going from teat to teat, but still getting plenty–they get a lot in a quick drink. But here’s a test. Keep the babies and the mama apart for a night, put the babies in your kidding stall or whatever. In the morning milk the mama before the babies get their first nurse. If her udder seems full and you’re getting milk, then don’t worry. But if she is dry in the morning when they haven’t nursed all night, then you have a problem. I hope everything works out!

  7. Milkweed says:

    Thanks for this post – we have a first freshener who is not accepting her little buckling, and this piece is the clearest, most helpful thing we’ve read in our search for help. We will keep trying and hope she gets the hand of it!

  8. maya says:

    Good luck, Milkweed! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I hope your little buck and mama figure it out…

  9. Brigitte says:

    Hello just wanted to say Loved reading your blog. It has helped me immensely, we just bought a 22acre property with 50 boer goats. It is kidding time at the moment and found that mostly they are having twins and triplets. We have an orphan which the mother wont have. These goats were raised by the previous owners so there is no way we can get close without them running away. We left the orphan there hoping the mother would come but she never did. She is a happy little mite especially at feed time when I give a bottle to her then I place her with the others we have 20 kids and still more to come. There is one goat had twins and is pushing one of them away it still early days as they were just born. Loved this blog. Gives me an insite on what to expect.

  10. tina says:

    I have an interesting problem. My nanny wants to wean too early. It’s her second freshening. I noticed she did this with her first kids too. Is seems like she just doesn’t like nursing. The kids are six weeks old. I was going to start milking her soon. Her udders are not very full though. She was very full when the kids were born. Therefore, I know she’s capable of a full udder. She was pretty full for about the first three weeks. But she started going down in her milk after that. She’s allowing just enough nursing to give them some milk throughout the day. But she’s far from having a full udder. Since she’s already pushing them away, can I separate the kids from her after they nurse in the morning? I have a safe place for them near her. They can see her and nuzzle her through the fence but won’t be able to nurse off of her during the day. Then I could start milking her in the late afternoon. I am also going to give her urtica uhrens 200c according to Dr. Macleod’s homeopathic book for goats. What do you think? I wish I knew a homeopathic remedy that would help her enjoy nursing more. She’s very loving every other way to them. She nuzzles them, licks them, gets upset if they look like they’re in danger and runs over to see them, etc. But I don’t have any idea why she doesn’t like nursing. I got her before she had her first kids. So anybody…please help! On the contrary, I have an older goat that if you let her, she’d let kids milk until they were one year old if you let it happen. She even allowed her grandaughter to be nursed by her when her daughter wouldn’t nurse her grandaughter…Wow! that was something to see.

  11. maya says:

    I wonder if nursing hurts her, like maybe her babyies are getting their teeth in and it just doesn’t feel good. She isn’t rejecting the kids, just not wanting to nurse. The more you milk her the more milk she’ll have, if she’s already drying up, you’d better get in there, even if you give the milk to the kids. Milk several times a day to get the milk production up and then you can go to whatever your regular program is (twice a day?). I used to do once a day in the mornings and let the babies have the rest. Not sure why you would need to separate the kids from her if she is already keeping them from nursing? But yes, I would definitely be milking her, even if you just get a little, several times a day to try to keep her teats from drying off, which they will do quickly if the kids aren’t nursing and stimulating them to make more milk.
    Good luck! And nice to meet you, Tina, :) .

  12. Iris Johnson says:

    What a great article. I’m new to goats myself. Our neighbor has 2 houses and didn’t think it was fair to her 5 little Nigerian Dwarf goats to be away from them, so she gave them to us. We just had a second time mom have triplets, a bit over a week ago. Up until yesterday, they nursed just fine. Now, she kicks them and has no interest. They are feisty and go after her frequently, so I think they might be nursing when I can’t see. I go out with apples and raisins, grain & hay and lots of warm water and have her nurse but she hates it. I am a bit worried but I will keep on keeping on!
    Thanks
    iris

  13. Lily says:

    If a goat has triplets and at first she let them drink milk and now isn’t, is that okay?

  14. maya says:

    Goodness, I’ve not a clue. Never had triplets. Okay in what way, is the question that comes to mind. How old are the babies now, is it okay for them? Are they eating hay yet?

  15. Brandy says:

    Thank you so much, your blog is quite helpful. I am a new goat owner with a doe who just had her 3rd freshling 4 weeks ago. Her buckling goat seperated from her for 36 hrs in which he was bottle fed. My question is upon them being rejoined she is rejecting him from nursing. Have you ever had success or know of any old tricks to get the mother doe to re-accept her buckling? I wiped her defications on him and she seems to be more warm towards him…Thank you Maya for any input.

  16. maya says:

    Hmm, I don’t know, 36 hours is a blow the bond isn’t it. Maybe keep them in a small space, a stall, together just them for a few days. The kid will be persistent and try to nurse. He might wear her down. But don’t let the kid get dehydrated, if he isn’t getting anything at all. Good luck!

  17. Rhonda says:

    Hi, We just had a first freshener have twins. She has accepted one, but not the other. I put him up there when the other one is eating and as long as she doesn’t sniff him, she is okay. I read earlier in your blog that someone rubbed the does defications on the kid. Should that help? Thanks!

  18. maya says:

    Hi Rhonda, nice to meet you. I had never heard of the goat-poop treatment before, sounds interesting. Goats are so funny. I mean, gross, right? :) Good luck!

  19. LaDonna says:

    Hello Maya, we are very new to goats and are raising Boer. I just had a Nannie who had twins on Saturday. She had one buck and one girl. I noticed immediately she was not tending to the girl. She wouldn’t let her nurse and the girl was much smaller than the buck (is that common?). Next question, I have been milking her two to three times a day to feed her baby. Yesterday, when I milked her I could hardly get 2 oz where I could get 5 to 10 if needed. Both babies are very active and happy. Do you know what would slow milk production down? I have not seen her with the girl goat but after reading your article I was thinking maybe there is hope for the girl goat we call rosey. This is tthis nannies first set of twins. I enjoyed your blog and thanks for posting it.

  20. Brenda Cornett says:

    We have a new baby,first time momma, and she layed on him, wont feed him or have anything to do with him. Tonight we will get a blizzard like storm. We brought the baby in because yesterday it Was up walking around and today it acts paralyzed. It will take a little colostrum at a time, about every 30 mins and I try to stimulate it when I feed. Any suggestions or suggestions.

  21. Just wondered if u got my message s out new baby and momma laying in him. Walking yesterday and today it’s legs seem paralyzed

  22. maya says:

    Oh no, poor thing! That does not sound good at all. If they won’t stand up, its usually bad. Have you called a vet? sorry I have no suggestions. Terrible, so sad, sometimes new does are so clueless. Good luck!!

  23. Mary says:

    I have a question. I have raised pygmy goats for years and have never had to bottle feed a baby, lucky me. This year I have a mom, this is her fourth year of birthing. She always throws me twins or triplets and nurses them and is a wonderful mother. She nursed the twins immediately and has nursed them since Feb. 8. Two days ago I noticed she wouldn’t let the kids nurse. That night one of the twins died, not sure if it was injury or illness. Now she won’t nurse the other twin, she nickers to her, and rubs her and loves on her. Her milk is drying up. She usually has udders almost dragging the ground. I have started bottle feeding her in the barn and leaving her with the mom. Any suggestions as to why her milk would dry up, when she usually nurses them 12 weeks.

  24. kenzi says:

    great info! thank you so much! I have a freshener who is very spoiled and strong willed who birthed triplets and who rejectected the biggest of the babies..i am currently bottle feeding “Larry”…and he is still trying very hard to win the love of his mother..lol..she is a stubborn lovely goat..i am going to attempt to milk her this weekend so he can at least get some real milk since the formula seems to be an awful hard substitiute!!! It’s nice to know there are other ladies like myself who worry about these problems and on a positive note my goaties are for pleasure not food so a super friendly bottle fed guy will be a fantastic addition to my little fainting herd!!!

  25. We have a doe that has two kids. Here teats are huge and the kids are having trouble finding the suckling end bc they hang down so much. We have been helping them and once they get on they do great,however they never get on without assistance. Mom was bottle fed and he first two freshening her babies were bottle fed so everyone is acting a bit “dumb”. Wondering if you have any suggestions to get this family more self sufficient?

  26. maya says:

    Interesting. Well, if you keep helping them for now, the problem will solve itself because the kids are growing and the teats won’t be too big anymore. Or wait, are you saying they are too LONG not too thick? I’m thinking once the connection in made that teats are where the milk comes from, they will persevere to get it. I saw my girls in some hilarious positions, trying to get to the udder, they will work for it once they figure it out. Maybe don’t alway put it in their mouths so they don’t get the idea that YOU have to be there for it all to work. Try just pushing them in under there, “remember this?” I don’t know, though. Good luck!

  27. Jackie says:

    We have a first time mom and she has fed her twins fine until a couple of days ago, when we noticed he udder was huge. She won’t let her babies nurse. She still mothers them fine. Her teats seem fine, no scratches or signs of mastitis. If we hold her she will eventually calm down and let the tiny one eat and the tiny one stays on one teat and eats and eats. If we let her brother on he goes spastic, from one to other and doesn’t stay on for more than 2 seconds, and mama goat kicks around more like he is biting or not eating properly. What should we do? Could there be something wrong with the boy that he doesn’t eat properly, he does seem kind of thin. Thank you for any help!

  28. Jackie says:

    oh yeah sorry, they are almost 3 weeks old

  29. maya says:

    Hi Jackie,
    Don’t let her get mastitis by letting her udder get overfull. Milk her to keep the pressure down, if you have to. Keep peacefully, calmly, kindly trying to help the babies drink. Does the boy suck on your fingers? Does it feel the same as when the girl sucks on your fingers? Yo might be able to tell if there is something wrong with his sucking or his mouth that way. They can get a lot of milk with just a little nursing, so the amount of time isn’t a great judge. You say he seems thin, that’s more of a concern. Is he listless or bleating a lot or is being boucing happily around the goat yard? I would just keep helping the babies drink for a few days and see if whatever it is passes. Call a vet, I think, if either baby starts seeming to suffer. Don’t let the mom’s udder stay too full. Good luck!

  30. Sheryl says:

    I have a problem this morning. Nanny had two babies, one she wants and it will not suck, the other one she does’t want is eating if I hold her. Some one told me to rub vicks on nannies nose and she won’t be able to tell them apart. I probably will feed the none sucker on the bottle or tube it leaving it in the stall for a while. Anyone else have a trick.

  31. maya says:

    If the baby is getting fed with you holding her, for now, I think I’d do that. For a couple of days, just keep at it. As long as the baby isn’t showing signs of dehydration, keep them in a stall together and see if the baby can wear the momma down, and keep going out to hold her for regular feedings for at least a few days. Good luck!

  32. Texas Sheepdawg says:

    Well well. Things here at the Sheepdawg ranch just took a turn right into Chaos Street. As I was preparing to head into work, I was turning back my thermostat and as I did, I heard a strange but familiar sound out in the back pasture. I looked out the back door and behind the barn was a newborn baby goat standing out in the pasture alone crying and staggering around. That is very strange due to the fact that normally, my momma goats are darn good mamas and don’t just leave their babies abandoned like that. So I rushed out to the barn and approached it as it fell to the ground and just laid there crying. All the other goats were in the barn and the baby was behind the barn so you could probably imagine my surprise when suddenly another baby goat bleated out from inside the barn. So I walked back and sure enough there was another newborn standing with her momma “Gypsie”. So I got Gypsie and that baby in a stall then rushed back out and picked up the other baby and put her in the stall with momma and her sibling. Well, to my horror, momma grabbed the abandoned baby with her horns and flung it around then flipped it in the air. She was rejecting it! So there I am, screaming at Gypsie, all the other goats are flipping out, I’m flipping out and the baby being thrown around like a rag doll is screaming and crying. So I call work and tell them what’s going on and that I will be a little late. No worries. So I grab a crate and run in the house and get a towel to put in the crate and rush back out to separate the rejected baby from momma. As all this is going on, I see Gypsie attack the baby a couple more times. The whole situation was pretty frustrating. Gypsie has a very good reputation for being a good momma goat and even now, I am still struggling to try and figure out why she has rejected one of her twins. So anyway, I call a friend who lives close and ask if she will watch the baby for the night until I got off work and picked up some supplies at the feed store and she graciously agreed. So baby is now safe for the moment but now comes the long process of milking momma and bottle feeding baby and working with the three to get them where momma will accept her baby and will let the baby nurse without my constant Overwatch. Geesh.
    I think I’m gonna name her Raggity Anne. Cuz that’s what she looked like when momma was slinging her around.
    Help me!!

  33. Karin says:

    Well, I too have a situation. mamma doesn’t want to nurse and the kid was born in freezing weather. We’ve just begun getting warmer weather. And I mean below freezing temps since she was born Jan. 30th of this year.

    Anyway, my question is: Is it possible for a kid and doe to connect after 5 weeks??? We’ve been milking and feeding mom’s milk to baby, and baby is in the house. She pees on pads, but oh man does she need to be in the barn!

    PLUS,I have surgery soon and have to stop.
    Do I need to dry mom up and switch to formula? I want to get them connected…Help Please!

  34. Ashley says:

    We obtained 3 free female goats last year and 1st time goat owner. We don’t their ages or if they have had kids previously. We brought in a male back in the fall and 2 of our goats got pregnant. One of the pregnant goats (a boer) had twins a week ago Saturday and then a week ago Monday our other goat had twins too. The Boer Momma seems to be nursing her kids non-stop while the other Momma not so much. I constantly see her babies trying but not really nursing. I have noticed her kids looking a little frail but the kids don’t act sickly. The kids are running around playing. Yesterday, I decided to try and bottle feed the Momma’s kids but that did not work well. The Momma goat is pretty skittish and her kids are unsure of me also. I grabbed one of the kids and she held still but wanted no part of the bottle. I heard you may have to milk the Momma goat but this goat is so skittish that is not going to be an option. I have noticed her udders don’t seem as full as the Boer Momma but she Boer Momma is a lot stockier/robust goat. I am hoping things will fix themselves and I was even hoping the Boer Momma could nurse these 2 if their Momma can’t. I guess I am just keep going to keep an eye on the kids to see if they start acting dehydrated or malnourished. Our goats are brush goats and so they are not super friendly. The Boer Momma is the only goat you can pet. I am trying to spend quality time with goats so the kids will be used to humans and be friendly. Would love any advice? Thanks!

  35. maya says:

    Hi Karin, You’ve probably already decided on a answer to this, sorry. But it sounds to me like that ship has sailed. If the baby has been in the house with you, she missed that window, I think, to do the little baby thing with the momma. I might be wrong! I’m not sure why you would want to dry mom up, don’t you want the milk? Sorry I can’t help. Good luck!

  36. Julie says:

    Thanks for your information. We have a 2 year old Alpine who had her first freshening last week. She wouldn’t and still doesn’t want the kids to nurse. We hold her gently many times a day. It seems like she has more milk in her udder but she won’t “let it down”. Any suggestions?

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