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