Caring for Chilled or Rejected Kids

If you raise goats, having a chilled and/or rejected kid is somewhat inevitable.  We select carefully for good mothering ability, but still wind up with 1-2 bottle kids every year in our 30-50 kid crop.  While the inclination seems to be to bring these kids inside and raise them up, it can create a host of problems down the road.

House raised kids are psychologically completely different than kids raised with the herd.  If your goal is tightly bonded house pets that feel like a part of the family, raising them indoors can make sense, but if your eventual goal is that they will be living full time outside with other goats, it’s important to start them out that way. Here’s how we care for bottle kids so that they can grow up to become well adjusted members of their goat society.

Get them Warm and Dry

There are a variety of reasons a doe might reject a bottle kid and many of them result in a wet, cold kid, so our first step is to bring the kid inside–temporarily!–and get him fully dried and warmed up.  You may choose to use a thermometer; I find them cumbersome and unnecessary.  Their internal temp should be 101-103, but an easy way to tell if they are warm is to stick a finger in their mouth – a warm kid feels warm in the mouth and a cold kid is…cold.

My preferred method of warming is to place inside my shirt against my skin, place a heat pad set on high outside my shirt, then wrap us both up with blankets.  If I’m busy and they’re not super critically cold–still sitting upright and not crashed out–I’ll put a towel in the bottom of a small cardboard box, set the baby inside and cover with a blanket or towel with just enough of a gap for air to come and go, then set on my forced air heater vent.  I often have a human child hanging around the area who can let me know when they’re warm enough – they’ll let you know by getting active and talkative.  We have also placed the box on a heat pad set on high, which works well but a little more slowly than the vent.

In a totally crashed out emergency, I’ll either sit with them with the heat pad or stick them in a Ziploc bag with head out and submerge in the hottest tap water I have.  This doesn’t really work as effectively as skin on skin (fur?) contact though and it’s a lot more comfortable for the holder of the kid to snuggle up on the couch and maybe read a book while it warms.

Tube, Syringe or Bottle Feed Colostrum

If your kid was down awhile or is very weak, you can take a mixture of blackstrap molasses and a tiny pinch of cayenne powder (yes, the hot stuff) and swipe it along the inside of his cheeks.  This will permeate membranes and get energy/heating into the kid quickly.  I almost always start with this while I’m heating the kid, then move onto feeding once he’s warmed.

If the kid is too weak to suckle, the very best and simplest method of feeding him is via a tube.  You can pick these up for a few dollars at the feed store or get them online.

Here’s a brief video that explains the process.  Just to reassure you, we had no one local to teach us when we learned and we were able to easily tube feed our first kid after watching a couple videos demonstrating the process.

Once you get the method down, it’s hands-down the simplest, most effective way to quickly feed a kid who waited too long to eat.  In the height of busy season, we may use tubing for a kid who is reluctant to suckle so we can move on to catching other kids or doing what needs doing.  It really is one of those skills you’ll be glad you’ve mastered.

If you don’t have a tubing kit or aren’t ready to try that option, you can dribble milk using a needle-less syringe into the side of the kid’s mouth.  This is a slow, tedious process that is best left as the last resort.  A small Nigerian kid will need about an ounce, while a normal Nigerian kid will need about two ounces to begin.  That’s 30-60cc.  Double these amounts for standard goat kids.

For a strong kid, try a bottle of colostrum first.  Though folks have good results with other types, we use only these purple lamb nipples.  You need to cut an “x” in them, but they work flawlessly – we recently decided to get all 46 of our kids, ages 1 to 3 weeks, on morning bottles.  Most of them hadn’t ever been bottle fed and all but one took to nursing from these nipples. These will require a glass bottle so we save up the ones we get from the occasional drink in the goat cabinet.

Once Fed and Dry, Return to the Herd

I know – this might go against your instincts, but the very best outcome for your rejected kid is to get him back in with the herd to learn how to be a goat.  Kids raised in the house miss out on the important social learning that happens in the early stages of life.  They associate more with humans and thus are less satisfied with life out in the barn.  These also tend to be the kids that turn out the loudest – calling and yelling at you whenever you come out of the house.

Depending on the dam, I will almost always return the kid to his mom and leave them penned in a kidding stall for a day or two.  If the dam is going out of her way to attack the kid–butting to say, “Get away from me!” is okay–leaving them together will not work, but generally they’re avoidant rather than aggressive.

Left together, oftentimes the dam will change her mind and accept the kid back.  Usually you’ll know within 24-36 hours if this is going to be a possibility.  If not, I will return both mom and kid(s) back out into the herd.

We once had a young doe deliver a single kid at about midnight, dropping him in the aisle and walking away as if unaware he existed.  We warmed, dried and fed him, then left them together.  I happened to be out in the kidding place the entire next day with other does and I could watch the progression.  Gradually, as the day went on, she would glance more frequently at him, a puzzled look on her face.  About 16 hours after he was born, it was as if a switch clicked and she suddenly realized he was her baby.  From then on, she was ultra protective super mommy, calling out urgently every time he was out of her sight.  She is still that way today, several freshenings later.

Provide a Safe Space

I recommend having a kid specific area even when you don’t have rejected kids to take care of.  We have an approximately 12′ by 20′ area fenced off with a kid-sized door in the barn so kids can come and go as they please without the does coming in and hogging all their “special” food (not really, it’s the same food as the big girls, but the big girls haven’t eaten all the yummy leaves out of it).  This is their safe place and they know it.  It also works well to provide a way for young motherless kids to get away too if needed.  You can accomplish this by putting a section of cattle panel across a decent sized corner, large enough a doe couldn’t reach her head in and nip the kid(s), with a kid-sized water bowl and hay feeder, also out of reach of greedy does.

Kids who have other kids to buddy up with are more content and better able to regulate body heat on cold nights.  They get a lot of comfort snuggling with their buddies and it saves you the commitment of having a baby with you all the time.

Another benefit to leaving the kid out is that he may learn to nurse off the other does even if his own dam won’t let him.  Kids are very opportunistic and quickly learn they can get extra spoils from other unsuspecting moms who think they’re nursing their own kids.

Bottle Feeding Out in the Herd

We keep a strict bottle feeding schedule, feeding 4 bottles a day in the beginning and dwindling down to one a day before weaning.  Contrary to some sources, kids do not need bottles through the night hours.  Those moms are not waking up every 2 hours to feed babies and neither should you!

When it’s time to feed, we heat the milk on the stove in a pan and then bring out the warm bottle right away to the waiting kid.  Our kids know when we come; we’ll call out, “Bottle baby!” and anyone to whom the name applies will come running for food.

Though needier than their dam raised counterparts, rejected kids raised with the herd will be more independent, socially adept and overall “goaty” than babies raised in the house.