When to Separate Kids Overnight for Milking

By the time kidding season rolls around, the kids and I are all but salivating over our favorite goat milk products. Caramel consistently tops the list, but one thing is certain: we’ve missed fresh goat milk for the past couple of months!

When those kids begin to arrive, it’s a balance between the kids’ needs, the milk quality and our own eagerness to begin tasting fresh milk. I see a lot of people asking around this time how long they need to wait before separating kids overnight, so I know we’re not the only family looking forward to milk!

Colostrum
Before we can even begin to think about milking, the colostrum needs to have time to flush completely out of the udder. Colostrum is thick and has a salty flavor that only a newborn kid could love. Expect to wait between 3-7 days for this, though it can vary on either side of that range.

Kids
There are a lot of personal opinions on this. Some folks begin separating within a few days while others wait weeks before the first time kids are away from mom overnight. When we have bottle babies, they are going eight hours overnight without a bottle from the day they’re born, so kids can go overnight as early as then.

Our Method
We typically try to worm does the day after they kid and right now we’re using Ivermectin, so we allow for a seven day withdrawal period. This works out perfectly with a seven day wait time for the colostrum to clear out, so we begin separating kids from their dams overnight at seven days old, or seven days after worming, whichever comes later.

At 8 o’clock that evening, kids are moved to a safe enclosure adjoining the main shelter, a fenced off section of the main shelter is this year’s setup. Cattle panels wired with 2×4″ wire make an excellent divider; kids can see mom but can’t reach their heads through to nurse. We cut the 2×4″ wire out of one 4×6″ section of cattle panel; this serves as the kid door. At night, this door is locked by way of a section of hardware cloth hinged at the top and latched at the bottom with a carabiner.

Kids are safe in this enclosure and no other animals can get in there. We put a Little Tikes playground (similar to this) in there, along with a dog house, plywood and a small log. They love to hop and jump throughout their area and hardly notice that their moms aren’t in with them.

We also place a mineral feeder and free choice hay, along with a bucket of fresh water. Kids will start getting into minerals at a few days old if they can reach, so this is a great way to make sure they start life with excellent nutrition.

The First Night
The first night is always the hardest. The kids don’t know what’s going on, only that they can’t reach their moms. They will call to their moms for a few minutes but, since it’s bedtime already and they’re tired, settle down quickly to a night’s sleep. The straw filled dog house lets them cuddle in tight together, keeping them warm and cozy on even zero degree nights.

Some people shorten this separation time the first few nights to allow the goats to adapt, but we’ve found it doesn’t really make much difference, so our kids are separated a full 12 hours from the first night.

Once milking is done, the flap covering the kid door is opened and latched open, allowing the kids access throughout the day. This is their safe place and they quickly learn that they have no other competition for food or play; it’s not uncommon to find a kid or two lounging in there any time of day.

After a few days, the routine is set and the kids come piling through the gate when we arrive, ready for some scratches and rambunctious play. This time of year when winter makes for long nights, they’re already sleeping when we come out to “put them to bed,” so they enjoy the wake up and opportunity for more play when the lights come on.  This is the special time when, after a day of working and living, the stress melts off and we take time to relax with the kids, enjoying their antics and snuggling the quieter ones.  We have a rule at our farm, which is, “If you’re in the barn, you’re holding a kid.”  It applies to us too, and we are glad to adhere to it!

We continue this overnight separation until kids wean, which is 8-10 weeks.  Retained doe kids aren’t weaned but left on mom until she weans them in the fall or we get tired of separating sometime past 4 months, at which point doe kids are moved to a weaning pasture and we no longer have to separate daily.

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