One of the most commonly asked questions during kidding season is, “Are my kids getting enough to eat?” While it may seem as though they aren’t getting enough time nursing, the odds that they’re underfed if mom is nursing at all are very slim. Goat kids nurse frequently and sometimes for mere seconds. It is common to think that mom is “weaning” or “rejecting” kids because she walks away so quickly after they latch. In actuality, mom is very wise and knows exactly how much to let her kids eat. You’ll notice at certain times she will stand longer and let them have their fill, but most feedings are tightly measured. Walking away from nursing kids is absolutely normal and correct.
Let’s look at common behaviors of nursing kids and how to know if your kid is getting enough to eat.
Observe Kid Behavior
Fed kids are active, alert and quiet. In the first 24 hours, it is very common for kids to stand around. It can almost seem like they’re in a daze sometimes and I think that’s just what it is – “What the heck just happened to me?”
A fed kid will be quiet, while a hungry kid will call loudly and persistently. If it doesn’t get fed, it will progress to lying down, giving up, getting cold and finally, dying. But it doesn’t go quietly at first and those last stages are end game. You’ll have noticed by then if you’re out there at all observing.
Hungry kids might also stand around hunched over their bellies. Cold kids do this, too. I always start by putting a finger in the mouth of a kid acting off. If its mouth is cold, it’s cold. See Caring for Chilled or Rejected Kids for more info on that.
As long as your kid is active, alert and quiet, it is most likely getting fed. Getting fed is pretty fundamental to life and nature doesn’t often mess this part up, so unfed kids are not nearly as common as you might fear.
Take Daily Weights
If you’re really worried about it, you can weigh your kids daily. Kids who are eating will gain, while kids who are not eating will…YELL REALLY LOUDLY. Honestly, behavior is the easiest and most direct way to measure this. But they’ll also not gain weight.
Be Careful with Supplementing
Both FKS and entero are caused by too much and it’s difficult to know how much they’re eating if they’re dam raised. It’s better to go by behavior and intervene only if it’s actually necessary. Supplementation without a clear need can make things much, much worse.
This advice also applies to force feeding. Another frequent suggestion is to hold mom down and force her to let the kids nurse. This is terrible advice for a doe who is nursing her kids. It is traumatic, unnecessary and can lead to the same issues as supplementing with a bottle. Resist the urge to believe you know better than she does what her kids should eat. Instead, go by the behavior and weight of your kids and trust that Nature is doing what Nature does best.
Signs a Doe is Rejecting Her Kid(s)
Though rare, it does occasionally happen that a doe will reject her kids. A doe who is rejecting a kid will not let that kid near her at all. She will usually butt it away as if it is not her own. In more extreme cases, she will aggressively chase it down, butting and stomping at it. (Aggression is a disqualifying trait in my herd, particularly in the maternal line because it passes down to the next generation.). Other does may be completely indifferent to their kids or not even realize that they are their kids. This is particularly true in first fresheners, especially those who had trauma during labor/delivery.
It has never been my experience that a doe will simultaneously reject a kid while sometimes allowing it to nurse. It’s an all or nothing kind of deal. I did have a doe a couple of years ago who, during a year where we had really awful hay, nurtured one of her three kids but wouldn’t let it nurse at all. I was supplementing with other feeds, but she just couldn’t produce enough to care for them all. I bottle fed the kid for weeks, but three days after I began supplementing the does with Chaffhaye, that doe began allowing her third kid to nurse again. It goes to show how important quality nutrition is.
To sum it up, a doe who is allowing kids to nurse is almost certainly feeding them enough as long as she has adequate nutrition and if she’s not, you’ll hear about it. So go out and enjoy those kids with the confidence of knowing that goats have been doing this for thousands of years and the vast majority of moms and kids thrive.
Continue the discussion in Kidding and Newborn Kid Care.