Goat Kid Nutrition

kid having its colostrum

Newborn goat kids require special attention to their neonatal nutrition and sanitation to avoid any health challenges that may negatively impact their chances of growing to be a healthy, productive adult. Ruminants are born with minimal levels of immunity, making them susceptible to any number of bacterial infections in the first hours and days of life.

The feeding of colostrum – the first milk produced by the mother – is the primary means of bolstering the immune systems of newborn goats. The antibodies found in the immunoglobulin – one of the primary proteins found in colostrum – is readily absorbed through the stomach lining (abomasum) during the first 10 to 12 hours after birth. After 12 hours, a kid’s ability to absorb the antibodies diminishes and after a day, antibody absorption will cease. However, colostrum can still be fed if available.

Read more: Dairy goat nutrition

Susceptible to joint infection

Goat owners may desire to let kids nurse with their mothers soon after birth. However, within the goat industry, caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) is a common malady affecting the joints of adult goats. It’s believed that the infection is passed from mother to kid through the process of the doe licking the kid after birth. Therefore many goat owners make the extra effort to be present at births and immediately separate the kid from the mother, drying the kid and bottle-feeding collected colostrum.

Besides the potential of spreading CAE at birth, keeping newborn kids free of mud or manure will help prevent the introduction of bacterial infections coming from coliform, campylobacter or staphylococcus. Maternity areas where birthing occurs should be clean and have pathogen-free bedding.

Goat dairy farmer Jennifer Poirier of Holland, Massachusetts, makes the extra effort to ensure her newborn kids get the best start possible. Some of her kids will be added to her milking goat herd while most will be sold. To ensure the all-important colostrum consumption, Poirier has been separating newborn kids from their mothers at the time of birth for many years.

“When a doe has two and sometimes three kids, it’s difficult to know if all of them are nursing and getting enough colostrum on their own,” she said.

Feeding newborns by bottle is the only way she feels confident that the kids will get a cup of colostrum during that critical time frame of under 12 hours. While many kids are standing and active and ready to nurse shortly after birth, some kids will be too exhausted after delivery to drink much, if any at all. Poirier takes the extra time to make sure they get adequate colostrum, feeding them a few ounces at a time. During the hectic kidding season in February and March, she will be up during the middle of the night to make sure they get an adequate amount of colostrum.

Natural colostrum preferred

Poirier believes there’s no suitable replacement for natural colostrum. The commercial colostrum replacers should be avoided altogether, according to Poirier. If colostrum is not available for the newborn, Poirier said that raw cow milk is a better alternative than a commercial colostrum replacer. If cow milk is to be fed to newborn and young kidlings, it should be nonpasteurized. Pasteurization and homogenization of cow milk alters the fat and protein molecules, making them less digestible for goat kids.

As does begin their lactation, they continue to produce milk that is still too thick and creamy to be bottled for retail sale or processed into yogurt. Poirier collects and continues to feed this milk to the babies. Within a couple of weeks the kids have transitioned from the bottle to buckets and they continue to be fed goat milk collected from the milking herd. Poirier keeps close watch on the kids to ensure that none are falling behind. She stresses that the kids should be fed milk until they are three months of age to assure that bones are developing correctly and their immune systems are strong.

When feeding newborn kids, close attention to the sanitation of feeding equipment is essential. Bacteria grows quickly on uncleaned equipment, and new milk should never be added to old milk that has been sitting around for many hours. Even with a group feeding systems for kids, the buckets and nipples must be cleaned daily.

Once the kids are older, Poirier will feed a commercial milk replacer if in a pinch. Again, her experience with the commercial products fed over a longer period of time has resulted in kids not doing as well. She recommends that only those milk replacers made from “milk components,” as opposed to plant proteins such as soy or canola, be used.

In newborn goats, the rumen has yet to develop. When kids are born the abomasum is the primary stomach chamber and its function is similar to the human stomach – food and milk is broken down by enzymes and acids. So it’s very important that the milk that’s fed to the baby goat is “milk based.” The abomasum in young ruminants does a poor job of digesting plant protein.

Rumen development is a complex process involving the growth of the rumen papillae, which are necessary for proper fermentation of feeds as the goat matures. In goats, rumen development seems to progress rapidly, enabling kids to begin digesting soft hay or grasses by the second week of life. Poirier explains that kids will begin nibbling at hay and other forages a day or two after birth. So solid feed should be made available to the kids immediately. Though they may not derive a lot from nutrition forages in the first weeks of life, the forages help introduce the bacteria necessary for the rumen development as they grow. Poirier also allows kids to nibble on a little bit of the pelleted grain mix the mature lactating does consume in their diet.

Young goat diets also should include a vitamin and mineral supplement as well as plenty of clean, fresh water. Proper diets at the beginning of life and an environment free of pathogen contamination will result in a healthy, productive goat that will remain in the herd for many years.

Read more: Breeding goats

Breeding Goats


At what age are does ready for breeding? Should you keep or rent a buck? What are the advantages and disadvantages of keeping a buck and does together? What happens during kidding?

Dot Perkins, educational program coordinator, agricultural resources, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, answers these questions and more. She has raised backyard livestock for more than 27 years. In this second part in a series of articles on raising meat goats in the Northeast, she shares both her theoretical and practical knowledge.

The well-bred meat goat: puberty versus physical maturity

Does: As a general rule, does are ovulating and can breed when they are 4 months old or weigh at least 80 pounds. However, 80 pounds is a small doe that may not have finished her own growth and, as such, is not large enough to breed. The extra weight of a pregnancy could stress her body, including her legs, which may have to be splinted.

Most goats come in season and breed in the fall. By their second season, between August and March, does would be over a year old and, at 100 pounds or more, big enough to carry twins or triplets.

Polyestrous goats, such as Boers, can breed year-round, although they do not breed well during the off-season (April to July). “The shorter the days, the stronger the heats,” says Perkins. Goats come in heat every 21 days for two to three days. Sperm is viable for 12 hours.

Bucks: By 5 months of age, bucks, on average, are fully mature. However, since some individuals mature early, bucks should be separated from does at 3 to 4 months. At 6 months, one buck can breed 10 does; at 1 year, 30 does.

A buck of your own?

“The smaller your herd, the bigger your dilemma,” says Perkins. “Should you keep a buck, or should you pay service fees?” Keeping a buck costs approximately $150 per year. An average fee for service is $30 per doe. If your herd is larger than five does, service fees would exceed the price of keeping a buck. However, there are more factors than a simple calculation reveals.

Start with a buck’s size. At 250-plus pounds and very strong, a Boer buck could overpower you. Like does, a buck requires constant maintenance, and during breeding season, bucks smell. To attract does, bucks urinate on themselves, and the closer they are to breeding season, the smellier they are. Because they smell, bucks are relegated to a pen out back where their maintenance needs tend to be forgotten. They tend not to get regular hoof care, shots, parasite and teeth checks, worming, etc. In addition, bucks are generally off their feed during breeding season, which can result in a weakened immune system.

The advantages of keeping a buck

Even if you have only a few does, it is to your advantage to keep a buck, says Perkins, but not with the does. “Some do keep bucks and does together, but it causes havoc in the barn. Buck kids rapidly become much larger than does, and then they bully them. They chase does even after breeding season and even after does have been bred. Bucks constantly pester the does. I don’t leave bucks and does together after bucks are 2 years old,” she says.

Even though you have to keep another herd animal such as a wether (castrated goat) with a solo buck, it is to your advantage to keep a buck. If your herd does not have an available buck, heats are missed. There is also the issue of disease. A borrowed buck will have been exposed to every disease every other farm he serves has to offer. Maintaining your own closed system, or perhaps sharing with one other farm and having two closed systems, is to your advantage.

A buck for two seasons

How long do you keep a buck? “The spring following his second breeding season, you put him and his herd companion in the freezer,” says Perkins. “You put him in the freezer in the spring when he is not breeding and, therefore, not smelly. Then you buy a new 6 to 12-week-old buck who will be available the following January and February so that you have new kids in April.”

Feeding the pregnant doe

Embryo development requires no extra nutrition, so does should be kept on a maintenance diet until four weeks before they kid at between 149 and 155 days (five months). However, the mixture of hay and grain should change before then. At six weeks before the doe is due to kid, grain should be gradually increased, because at this point babies are growing rapidly and the doe requires high-density foods. Since both the babies and food take up a large amount of space inside the doe, hay should be decreased. “Starting to use hay at this point can lead to disaster,” says Perkins. “You can’t get enough hay into the doe’s limited internal space to provide adequate nutrition for the doe and her kids.”

Goats put on fat inside the body cavity. If the doe does not get enough nutrition at this point, her body will begin to use its own fat for energy, a situation that leads to acetone buildup. Acetone buildup will make the doe sick to her stomach, a condition that leads to further starvation. To avoid feed-related problems, does’ pre-pregnancy body condition score should be in the middle, not too fat and not too thin. In the first three and a half months of pregnancy, feed lots of hay (which takes lots of space) and little grain. The last six weeks before delivery, does should be fed about .4 pound of grain a day, but amounts vary from doe to doe. At this point, minerals should also be added to the diet. Perkins recommends free choice kelp meal.

How do you know whether a doe has been fed the correct amount? Examine does, hands on, and score their body condition. Delivery will confirm your rating. If a doe delivers twins and they are of equal size, she has had correct nutrition. If one kid is big and the other small, the doe was starving. If a starving doe was carrying three kids, only two will grow and the third will be an aborted fetus.

What causes abortion?

In addition to inadequate nutrition, abortion may be caused by several diseases, among them Listeria and chlamydia, both caused by bacteria.

A condition that does not cause abortion, but is certain to weaken a doe, is preparturient egg rise, the increase of worm breeding and egg laying when kids are born. This is avoidable by worming does four weeks before they give birth.

Preparing for kidding

Birthing stall – Two weeks before the doe is due, Perkins advises putting her in a birthing stall. This way, the doe’s food intake and condition can be monitored. Although it seems to be general knowledge that goats give birth at night, Perkins finds hers usually give birth in the morning or, less usually, sometime during the day. She questions whether this is due to the use of a birthing stall. Goats can, of course, give birth in the field. When they do so, other does are attentive, but are not a problem.

Bagging up – A month or so before giving birth, the doe’s udders, as well as her teats, get puffy, a condition known as “bagging up.” Several hours before giving birth, the doe’s udder will become very large and hard, making the doe extremely uncomfortable. Milking the doe will relieve the discomfort, but will also expel colostrum needed by her kids. “It is generally best to leave everything alone,” says Perkins. “She will survive.”

Other signs of impending birth are a mushy tail head and a swollen vulva.

Birth of a Kid

At the beginning of the birthing process, the vulva swells and the doe bags up.

The foot has a nose!

The doe is standing up. Her legs shake. The kid is in the correct position, nose atop its two front feet (called swimmers position), to present.

Her hard work completed, the doe sniffs her newborn. Note her very hard udder.


Two to three hours following membrane rupture, the doe should be giving birth. If she has not kidded by five hours following membrane rupture, Perkins advises calling your vet.

Pulling and pressure are useful in helping small does deliver. To be helpful, pull with the contractions. When the slippery new kid’s front feet present, wrap them together in bailing twine, then apply pressure, but do not pull. The object is to keep the two feet out rather than allowing them to return to the birth canal during the natural back-and-forth motion of contractions.

Offer the doe warm water to drink. Never give cold water, which may cause the doe to retain the placenta. Warm water during or following birthing will also encourage the doe to drink more, a good thing since placental retention could be related to dehydration. “No studies document this aspect of birthing,” says Perkins, “but we believe it to be true.”

The Birthing Kit

A well-stocked birthing kit should contain…

  • Toolbox
  • Rags or heavy paper towels
  • K-Y Jelly
  • Latex gloves
  • Shoulder-length glove
  • Scissors
  • Iodine
  • Suture kit
  • Propylene glycol, corn syrup, electrolytes
  • Thermometer
  • Dental floss or white cotton thread
  • Frozen colostrum
  • Bottle and nipple
  • Tube feeder
  • Veterinarian’s phone number

A word of caution: Never leave a birthing doe alone with a bucket of water; in the birthing process, the kid could be dropped in the bucket of water and drown.

Following birth

Confirm that all teats are working and that they are not plugged by squirting milk out of each of them. Give the kid 500 milliliters of its mother’s colostrum 15 to 20 minutes following birth and three more times at regular intervals in the first 12 hours. If, for whatever reason, the kid is not nursing, milk the doe and bottle-feed the kid.

What can go wrong?

Most times, all goes well. However, there are some things that could be problems during birthing and immediately thereafter:

  • Toxemia of pregnancy – due to ketosis
  • Retained placenta
  • Milk fever – due to low calcium level
  • No milk
  • Maternal rejection
  • Sudden paralysis due to a pinched nerve
  • Hemorrhage
  • Aborted fetus – Refrigerate (but do not freeze) the fetus and take it (or the placenta) for examination for possible brucellosis. Do not drink the doe’s milk until after a negative diagnosis.

Be aware that certain diseases (termed zoonotic diseases) can be transferred from animals to humans. For your own protection, always wear latex gloves.

One last note

Perkins has this advice on the birthing process: “Never hurry. It’s birth!”

Cover Photos: Five days after birth, the kids are outside with Dot Perkins’ granddaughter. Photos courtesy of Dot Perkins.

Dairy Goat Nutrition

three dairy goats

Goats are small ruminants that have similar nutrient requirements to dairy cattle. Many people mistakenly believe, however, that dairy goats can be fed the same way that dairy cows are fed. Goats are known as “opportunistic feeders” as they can change their feeding behaviors according to the season and diet availability. Especially on goat dairies that allow their goats to be out on pasture or browse, this can be problematic when determining if protein and energy are being underfed or overfed to meet a certain level of milk production.

Goats are unique among ruminants in that they have the ability to be selective as they eat, choosing their favorite vegetation and separating it from what they don’t want. Compared to cows, which tend to take large mouthfuls when they are eating, goats can browse and nibble on bushes and tree branches without having to consume the entire plant. Being able to adapt to a broad range of feeding conditions and forage types enables goats to self-regulate their protein and fiber intakes with minimal daily variations and rumen upsets. They are instinctively gifted in being able to avoid plants that may cause them metabolic problems and they will adjust their eating habits to smaller and more numerous meals during the day to keep their rumen stable.

Management challenges

A goat’s tendency to self-regulate nutrition and feed intake can make it challenging to get her to consume adequate feed each day to support more than a gallon of milk production at the onset of her lactation. Milk production is positively correlated to feed intake and nutrient absorption in ruminants. Compared to cow nutrition, managing a goat feeding program and feed quality can be more difficult and time consuming due to their fussy nature.

It takes about the same amount of energy to produce a pound of goat milk as it does cow milk. Being significantly smaller in size, though, goats consume only a fraction of the dry matter of dairy cattle, which makes them ideal for locations with limited land for agriculture. Goat milk is nutritious and, because the fat molecules are smaller than that of cow milk, goat dairy products are often recommended for people, including infants, who have difficulty digesting cow milk.

At the risk of offending some goat owners, goat dairies are still very much a cottage industry. Goat dairies run the gamut from being predominantly grazed herds with minimal grain and vitamin/mineral supplementation with low milk production per animal to large commercial goat herds seeking to maximize milk production with their goats confined to barns. As with all animal production systems, before diets can be formulated for milk production, a targeted level of milk production must be known.

A lactating doe must consume about 5 percent of her body weight in feed dry matter if she is producing about 1 gallon of milk. So a doe weighing 150 pounds will need to consume about 7.5 pounds of feed dry matter, of which the roughage to concentrate ratio should be about 50-50. Does producing up to 2 gallons of milk per day should be encouraged to consume 6 percent to 7 percent of their body weight in feed consumption on a dry matter basis.

The crude protein (CP) level in lactating goat rations should be between 16 percent and 18 percent. Formulating diets that meet this requirement depends on how much CP is in the hay or pasture that the goat has access to. If the hay or pasture is high in CP, 18 percent CP for example, the CP in the concentrate need be no higher than 18 percent to maintain a total diet CP of 18 percent. Unlike dairy cow diets, balancing for amino acids in goat diets is mostly ignored. However, from personal experience, feeding protein sources high in lysine, an important amino acid, will result in more milk production in goats.

If the forage is of low quality, perhaps only 10 percent CP, then the grain supplementation must be increased to 26 percent CP to balance the diet at 18 percent CP. If the goats have access to a variety of browse, there is an additional level of nutrient variation that may not be accurately measured. Diets for goats that are confined to barns or stalls and have little or no access to pastures or browse are easier to balance since forage and concentrate levels can be controlled. As with all ruminants, care must be taken that concentrates or low-fiber byproducts are not overfed.

Meeting dietary energy requirements for goats is also dependent on the quality of forages fed. Net energy requirements measured in megacalories (mcal) should be calculated separately for production. A doe weighing 150 pounds requires about 1.3 mcals of energy per day just for maintenance. Most grass forages deliver little more than 0.5 mcals/pound (dry matter basis). If a doe were to eat 4 pounds of this forage, her energy intake would be about 2 mcals – therefore exceeding her maintenance needs. The excess energy will be used for milk production, growth or pregnancy needs. Due to a goat’s high activity level, energy is often a limiting nutrient, especially in colder climates. Goats can quickly lose body condition when dietary energy is lacking.

Diets for goats that are confined to barns or stalls and have little or no access to pastures or browse are easier to balance since forage and concentrate levels can be controlled.

Energy needed for milk production must be added to the maintenance requirement. Net energy needed to support a pound of milk at 4 percent butterfat is 0.32 mcals. If our doe is expected to produce 10 pounds of milk, she must consume 3.2 total mcals of energy. Add this to the aforementioned calculated 1.3 mcals needed for maintenance and the total is 4.5 mcals for milk production and maintenance. Additional energy must be factored in when does are pregnant. Energy needs for pregnancy require between 0.5 and 0.8 mcals, which now puts our total energy needs for a 150-pound pregnant doe producing 10 pounds of milk over 5 mcals of energy per day.

In practice, meeting the energy and protein requirements for dairy goats to produce over 1 gallon of milk per day is not difficult. Work with your nutritionist or feed company representative to formulate properly balanced diets for your goats. Most commercial feed mills produce pelleted feeds that meet the nutritional requirements for lactating goats. Knowing the weight of your goats and the expected levels of milk production along with their activity levels is critical in designing and formulating diets that will meet your expectations for milk production.

Photo: ghornephoto/istock