On our farm we dam raise all of our kids. I think it is better for all parties involved and it is easier on me. But every so often we have a mother who rejects all or some of her kids and we end up with a bottle baby.
When this happens you are the kids mother- it can be hard work, especially those first few days, but in the end you get some really sweet kids that will follow you everywhere just like a puppy would! So if you are in a situation where you need to feed a newborn kid, here’s a look at how to bottle feed a goat.
How to Bottle Feed a Goat
When you are expecting kids you should always be prepared for the fact that you might end up bottle feeding. This means powdered colostrum, bottles, and nipples should be part of your kidding kit, just in case. You need to work fast and get milk into the babies as soon after birth as possible and won’t have time to run to the store.
If possible, hold the baby up and force the mother to feed it the colostrum. This gets the powerful antibodies into the kid and it might encourage the mother to change her mind on rejecting the kid.
There are different options when it comes to nipples and bottles- some use cheap baby bottles from the dollar store. We have found the Pritchard nipples work the best for us and the kids accept them much easier than the other options. These nipples will screw on to most standard soda or water bottles.
Getting a kid to accept a nipple can be tricky sometimes- and more so if they have been on their mother at all. You need to remember their natural stance when they are nursing from their mothers and get the bottle in a similar position as her teat would be.
For newborns, I gather them up in my arm, so that their heads are right under my chin. This should get their reflexes going and they will start to but you like the would their mother’s udder. Sometimes it helps to get them sucking on your finger first and then slipping the nipple in their mouth. Once the feel the milk in their mouths they should start to suck.
Newborns can be pretty sleepy- just like humans. We’ve had particularly weak babies that would hardly suck, but would chew on the nipple in their mouths. I let them to this because they were swallowing some milk down as well.
By 24 hours old they had pepped up and were sucking strong. They may not take in much at one time, but feed them often in that first 24 hours.
When to Bottle Feed a Goat:
The following is the basic schedule we follow when we are bottle feeding:
First 24 Hours: Colostrum from a mother (or other goat) if possible. If you don’t have fresh colostrum from a goat you can use Powdered colostrum. 1/4 cup every 2-4 hours for the first 24 hours. Then move to milk.
First week: approximately 4 oz of milk every 2-4 hours. There is some argument about nighttime feedings but in my experience they can go about 5-6 hours maximum. I keep the kids in the house at night the first 2 nights to get a feel for their schedule and then set alarms to go outside to them after that. I try to get them to the every 4 hour mark pretty quickly- usually by 4 days old or so.
Weeks 2-4: Start spreading out the feedings to every 4-5 hours. They will be able to go longer stretches at night as well-we move our babies to an 8-hour stretch by about 10 days old. They should be getting about 5-6 oz per bottle at first but this amount will go up a bit as they grow larger. We get our babies on this schedule by about 10 days old: 6:30 am, 10:30am, 2:30pm, 6:30 pm, and 10:30 pm.
Weeks 4-5: They should be getting bottles 4 times per day evenly spaced throughout the daylight hours (morning, noon, evening, and just before bed) with each bottle being about 8 oz depending on the size of the kid.
Weeks 5-6: Move to 3 times per day (morning, noon, and night) each bottle containing about 8-10 ounces of milk.
Weeks 7-10 weeks: Give 2 bottles per day, in the morning and evening. Each bottle should have 10-15 ounces milk depending on the weight and appetite of the kid.
Weeks 10-12: Start reducing the amount of milk per bottle or go down to 1 bottle a day. The goal is to have them weaned completely by 12 weeks of age.
The amounts I have listed are just what has worked for us and our goats. Start with less and build up to what your goats seem to be healthy and thriving on.
The biggest thing to remember when bottle feeding a goat is to always leave them wanting more as opposed to overfeeding. If the kid starts to play with the nipple they are done and you can reduce the amount of milk in the next bottle according to how much they took in during the previous feeding.
And if they start to scour reduce the amount of milk per bottle as well. You want their tummies full, but they should not be round and bloated. All goats should have fresh water and forage/hay available as well. We offer some grain once they are a few weeks old.
What to Bottle Feed a Goat:
If possible we use our raw goat milk to feed the babies, but if that is not an option this is the recipe we use as a milk replacer:
- 1 gallon of whole cow’s milk
- 1 cup cultured buttermilk
- 1 can of evaporated milk
Simply pour out a few cups of the cows milk, pour in the evaporated milk and the buttermilk and add back in the cow’s milk until the gallon jug is full. Shake gently before each use.
(Note: I have no experience with using powdered milk replacer, I have always used fresh milk or the above mix. I have been warned by MANY, MANY, MANY goat owners to never use the powdered replacer- it will cause scours and likely death in your kids. I would rather spend money on fresh goat or cow’s milk than use it)
I also like to add a pump of Nutridrench to at least one bottle a day for the first few days for an added nutrient boost. If you use this mix and eventually need to move them to goat milk make sure you do it gradually so you don’t mess up their digestion and cause scours.
Want more help? Check out The Busy Homesteader’s Goat Management Binder! It has a newborn checklist to help get your babies off to a great start. Plus to-do lists, record keeping sheets, checklists, and resource pages to help keep your herd happy and healthy!
I am not a veterinarian. This article is based on our experience bottle feeding our own goats.