Notes from Windward: #70


Goat Thoughts

Celeste's notes on the happenings in the goat pen


     For the last week, I've been learning a lot about goats. I have joined the forces, i.e. Andrew, in trying to get all the kids fed, and beginning the milking process. So far there has been a lot of frustration due to both mothers having rejected some of their kids. Becca rejected two of her boys, Rocky Road ("Rocky") and Vanilla Bean ("Beaner"), and Alison has rejected Rusty, her only son. Raffi, Becca's third son, and Aria, Alison's only daughter, are the choosen ones for this kidding.

[Walt: When we can, we try to help the rejected lambs and kids survive as a way to provide meat for the kitchen and as a way to hone our husbandry skills, but our practice is to respect the mother's judgement, and keep only the babies they choose for breeding purposes.]

Becca's boys playing on the tire

     Alison gave birth to her kids on June 5th. I went down that morning to the goat pen at 7:00am for my first try at milking Becca, and found that Alison was skinny again and had given birth to two tiny, wet, and pathetic looking kids. She had only started giving birth to the placentas, so we watched her throughout the morning to see that she made good progress. By lunch she had passed both placentas, and we were all relieved that she'd made it through alive since her mother had died giving birth last spring.

     Meanwhile, the new kids on the block were wet and they had been born into a rainy cold world. To make sure they didn't die from hypothermia, I started wiping them down but before I could get to the little black one, (Aria) Alison started licking her and she was dry within a few minutes. Later, when Alison rejected Rusty ( the one I had wiped down) and not Aria, my mind went back to that differential.

Alison keeping watch over Aria

     When I did some research I found out that the process of a mother licking her kids dry is indeed an important bonding ritual. For the next batch of kids, it would be good to observe if leaving the kids for their mother to dry off, as well as waiting to put little jackets on them until after they've had a chance to bond will make a difference. The fact that our two milking goats have rejecting some of their kids has made a lot more work for us. It's also caused the does to experience a lot more stress as well as putting the health of all the kids at risk.

Squirt nestled behind Aria

     Here are the problems we are facing:

  • Both mothers have only accepted one of their kids as their own.

  • Both mothers currently have a very negative association with the milking stand.

  • Both mothers are experiencing stress when they are forced to stand still and let the kids they don't see as their own nurse on them.

  • Everyone handling the goats are experiencing stress due to the uncertainty about the health of the rejected kids, and the daily struggles necessary to ensure they don't starve.

  • If the rejected kid(s) are visible to the goat on the milking stand, they go on a kicking spree, especially Becca who has also learned how to just lay down, neck secured in the milking stand, and hind feet tied down. She knows this is the most effective way to get the kids to stop nursing and she uses it.

  • Alison is only feeding one tiny baby, and is a phenomenal milk producer. I want to make sure to maintain this, but Aria can hardly drink all the milk she's producing. This means I need to make sure her teets don't get too full while ensuring there is enough left over for Aria to have a full meal whenever she wants one.


     Ideas for solving these problems:

  • Start bottle feeding the rejected kids.

  • Fix up the milking stand that was moved into Alison's pen.

  • Make sure to remove the rejected kids from the location of the milking.

  • Establish in Becca and Alison a positive association with their milking stands by only feeding them grain in the troughs nailed to the stands, and milking them during their breakfast at 7:00am.


     For the future:

  • We know now to let and if needed, encourage the mother to lick all her babies clean right after they are born. It turns out this is just as important as getting them to nurse in the first hour to get colostrum.

  • It might be good to start getting the goats up on the milking stand to eat their grain before they even give birth. This would make the process of getting the milking goats on the milking stand a lot easier while allowing them to have good feelings about the time you spend milking them.

  • It is important to make sure to get the rejected kids out of the mother's area while going through the morning milking routine, even out of their range of visibility. This allows them to relax and feel comfortable enough to stand still.


     Learning from our problems we have come up with solutions that have produced wonderful results. Yesterday morning Andrew and I went out to the Goat pen and following these steps saw a dramatic change in both Becca and Alison:

  1. Put the all the abandoned kids in a pen out of eyesight from the milking stand.

  2. Put the grain in the milking stand trough.

  3. Show goat a handful of grain, and lead her over to the milking stand, making sure she knows where the grain is.

     Both Becca and Alison put their own heads into the stand, and had their front feet on the platform. Only lifting their back feet was required and the milking done while they were eating was nearly kick free.

IMPORTANT: The person milking must never let go of the goat's udder if she's kicking. It is crucial to let the goat know that she CANNOT kick you off.

Because forcing the mothers to feed their rejected kids put a lot of stress on them, we have decided to try bottle feeding the kids.

     Just being in the same pen as their mothers makes it harder for the accepted kids to get something to eat, (because any time they are nursing, the hungry abandoned kids try to get a snack‒prompting the mother to run away) so we decided it would be better to have all the abandoned kids in one pen, and the mothers with their acknowledged kids in the other pen.

     This morning, the day after trying the steps above‒Becca actually hopped up onto the stand all by herself! I then promptly learned that everything must be ready before she's on the milking stand, because as soon as she gets done eating her grain, milking gets much harder.

     We have decided to rearrange the goats, putting the mothers and their accepted kids in one pen (the one nearer to the milking stand) and the abandoned kids in the remaining pen together. Becca and Alison had to butt heads for a while and then once Becca asserted her place as alpha female they have both settled down and seem happy and relaxed.

     The abandoned kids have formed their own mismatched family unit of three, but Squirt (one of the two kids Alison gave birth to a week ago) is very resistant to bottle feeding. I will keep trying, but not for long. Squirt is inbred, and a male and this means his future career involves being invited to dinner. Since raising one goat for meat isn't worth putting in 4 hours every day trying to get him to nurse, we have to realisticly look at the option of putting him down.

     Since the last time I sat down to work on writing this article, I've spent a large number of hours trying to get Squirt to learn how to bottle feed. The consensus of those who have also been involved in this process is that his mouth might be too small for the nipple we're using due to the fact that it was originally meant for bottle feeding lambs. This means that we're going to give him a grace period of a week (starting yesterday, the 14th of June) to grow, and learn to bottle feed. If at that point he hasn't made progress, he will have determined his own date of death.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70