Goat Kidding & Raising Baby Goats
Raising baby goats has been one of the most challenging - and rewarding - parts of homestead life for us.
It is crazy to think that we have only been 'homesteading' for 9 months. We have actually only lived in our home since August of 2020; in just under a year, we have acquired six goats, two pigs, twenty chickens, seven guinea hens, five ducks, and a million plants. We've undertaken over a dozen huge building / home improvement projects, and on top of that I have been growing a baby since October. Damn.
It can feel like there is so much left to do, and walking around our homestead often feels like being hit with an overwhelming list of projects not yet accomplished. But when we stop to reflect on how far we have come, we are hit with waves of endless awe and gratitude.
And it's an ode to the fact that, with dedication, anyone can create sustainability & self-reliance.
One of the first things we did was get our goats. I have no idea what inspired us to do this. I just remember that in the fall we began egging each other on to this end: we have grass, so we should have goats! Less than a month after moving into our new home, we got our first two Nubians.
Two goats felt manageable. What we did not know was that they were both pregnant.
Most goats give birth in the spring - this is because, generally, goats are 'in heat' between July and December. Their gestation lasts about 5 months. And our goats didn't look particularly pregnant (with Nubians, you can tell by observing their side - the left side is their ruminant, and sticks out when they've eaten. If the right side is also 'sticking out', they may be pregnant). So we were completely unprepared when, one morning in September, Ben went out to feed them and discovered a teeny, crying baby goat in their shed. He ran inside and bounded up the stairs so fast and out-of-breath I was sure the emergency was that one of the goats must be dead. The second baby came in November, and we just added two new babes (Evie and Pumpkin (aka Bloody Murder) - named for her otherworldly screaming abilities) to our herd this month.
What followed after that first birth was a day of observing our goat mama and her newborn babe, completely humbled by the way nature needs no intervention at all - left to their own devices, mamas will generally birth well on their own, no interventions, lick their babies clean, start feeding them, eat their placentas, and move on with their lives. Kind of like humans - but I digress.
In fact, just observing an animal birth can cause issues with the process - and so leaving animals alone to birth really is the most conducive to having physiological success. It's best not to get involved.
There are, however, a couple of things to remember when raising baby goats that can be imperative to a healthy upbringing post-birth process, especially in northern climates when kidding occurs in cold winter months. Here are some of our top learnings ...
Temperature control with baby goats is an odd thing that requires us to not overthink. Baby goats do need to be warm - especially for the few days after birth. Using some type of heat lamp or heating element out in the barn, one which is not a fire hazard, is recommended. Especially when temperatures drop below freezing (as often happens in kidding season), baby goats freezing to death can be a concern. Make sure their bedding is dry and clean, and that they have access to heat for the couple of weeks after birth. After this time, baby goats can begin to acclimate to outdoor conditions (given they have a draft-free, dry living space). They do not need to be kept indoors, and we were shocked that ours were often unbothered by temperatures in the low teens and twenties.
Think about how you're going to manage mother-baby relationships. Did you breed your goats for fun, for selling kids, or for dairy? If selling the kids, you'll likely benefit from separating them from mums early and bottle-feeding them, so they become more accustomed to independence and human presence. For our dairy goats, we kept the babies with the mums for the few days after birth, and then only separated them at night. This way we could milk in the morning, and babies could feed off their mums during the day.
Have an area for the kids separate from the mamas - we don't recommend bringing goats in the house. I know a lot of people - even large dairy farming operations - do this. And when we were perplexed at how to separate a single baby (goats can't be alone, remember - they will literally die of loneliness) my sister (also a goat farmer) told us to simply bring the babe inside in a toddler pack-and-play situation. Some people diaper their goats and let them roam around the house. We did not have a fun goat-in-the-house experience, for whatever reason. Our kid goats cried and cried for weeks while being separated from their moms at night - even the slightest movement during the night would send them into fits of screaming and whining. From what I gather not all goats are like this, so possibly ours are just complainers - but in the scenario yours are also complainers, I would rethink the goat-in-the-house situation. When we built our new goat shed, we made sure to put in an area that we could fence off so the babies could be separate (but close by, and outside) from their moms during the night - much more ideal.
If you're going to milk a goat, you have to be consistent. Same time, every day, no days skipped. If you do this, goats can be milked for two years (or more!!) straight without needing to be bred again. Our oldest goat, Pearl, likely won't be able to breed again and so we've kept her milking now for six months with no end in sight. If you miss a day or two, goats will start to down their production accordingly.
Bottle-feeding baby goats is somewhat of an art - finding the right bottle/feeder situation that works for you, warming the milk, and giving 4-6 ounces three times per day - gradually transitioning to give 12 ounces 2x per day. There isn't a reason to bottle-feed goats, unless 1. you're keeping them always separate from the moms or 2. one of your mama goats won't feed her baby (this happened with our baby goat Ruby, who's mama rejected her in a way, and had to be bottle fed from birth. This is one reason why it's important to observe goats after kidding, to make sure the babies are feeding and being attended to by the mamas). We bottle-feed the babies milk that we get from their moms, so we can't really speak to experience with formula or milk substitutions. After a few weeks, it's good to start to encourage goat kids to start eating hay and drinking water to properly feed their ruminant. Up til then, they are completely and happily sustained by milk.
There are lots of annoying (but not life-threatening) issues that might befall goats, especially in cold, wet climates ... such as worms and parasites, mites or flies, or mineral deficiencies - and any issues that affects mamas will likely affect babies as well. We won't get in to all of them here, but stay tuned as we may cover them in the future. Google, local farmers, or a large-animal vet can be three of your best resources here. This is also why deworming moms and babies naturally after a few weeks or months is important if you aren't going to be vaccinating or giving chemical dewormers (which we don't), and adding diatomaceous earth to their mineral every month (preventatively) can also be a good idea.
If you're going to 'disbud' goats (which means, essentially, to burn the glands on the top of their heads that eventually turn into horns), you have to do it in the first few weeks of life. If you don't have the stomach for it (and it hurts them, to be sure) most large animal vets will do it for a small fee. We highly recommend this - having both disbudded and horned goats. We left our kids' horns in tact, and there's nothing worse now than having to dodge a playful buck coming at you for a nice head-butt with a huge rack of horns.
By no means comprehensive, here's our first considerations if you're envisioning breeding your own goats. We hope it gets you thinking and dreaming!
Would you be interested in learning more about how to milk and produce your own raw goat milk products safely? Let us know in the comments.