I have not seen very many baby animals that weren’t cute, but goats are right up there with puppies and kittens. As I write, I’m watching over two newborn doelings in a tote in the house. These little girls were born out in the summer pasture, where their mother secreted herself in a copse of trees. It took me nearly 30 minutes to find her spot and the babies. I might have left them with her, but the rain was imminent, and the babies had not yet nursed. So I milked some colostrum from the mother and carried the babies back to the house.
Every newborn spends at least an hour or two inside the house getting warmed, dried, and fed colostrum milked fresh from their mother. In this way, we can be sure all the newborns’ needs have been met. After that, most of them go back to their mothers, who happily lick them all over, sniff them from nose to tail, then get on with the business of raising them.
Sometimes, however, I choose to bottle raise kids for various reasons. I decided to take on these two, mostly because the weather is rainy and cool, and there is limited shelter in the field. I could have brought the mother up to the barn, where she and her babies could stay warm and dry. But then she would need a companion, and that would split up my milkers, with most being in the field along with my milking setup. The other consideration with these is that they are does I plan to keep, and bottle raised babies bond with the humans who feed and care for them. It makes for a much smoother transition to a milker down the road.
This spring, we had 14 bottle babies, and it was a lot of work caring for all of them. The first group was 7 kids born on one day – a set of quads and another of triplets. The quads were small, with the smallest weighing only 4 pounds after drinking her first few ounces of colostrum! The triplets were large, robust kids, with one weighing over 8 pounds. It was bizarre seeing the size difference between these two sibling groups. However, all had very good appetites, and the little ones began catching up with the others. That’s where bottle feeding works very well. I’m able to give each kid the maximum amount of milk they want, and they do not have to compete for their mother’s two teats, which allows each kid to thrive.
Having an adorable bunch of babies in the house makes it tough to get anything done. Every time I looked over at them, they were either looking back at me or simply sleeping in their pile begging to be photographed. They got plenty of snuggles from this willing human!
When the littles begin to climb out of the totes, it’s time to move outdoors. We have a small dog run that provides a perfect place for them to experience the great outdoors without being overwhelmed by a huge expanse of space. They spent a lot of time galloping from one end to the other, long ears flying and little hooves beating the ground. They climbed on and jumped or fell off the pieces of wood I put in there for their entertainment. And when it came time for milk, I could hardly get through the gate for the 7 eager bodies trying to get to me. I have learned to shuffle through the throng to avoid stepping on little hooves or legs.
While the babies are in the house, I feed them one at a time with individual bottles. But when they move outdoors, they learn to use a bucket feeder. There are many different styles, but they all work pretty much the same. Holes are drilled into the bucket to hold several nipples, and tubes run from the nipples into the milk. My bucket has 10 nipples, so it really streamlines feeding time!
As soon as I drop the bucket into the holder, they frantically scramble for a nipple and begin sucking down milk as though the last feeding were two days ago. (It wasn’t – they get fed three to four times a day.) As their mouths work on one end, their tails whip wildly on the other end. Goat babies have the cutest fluffy tails, and seeing them wagging like crazy is pretty adorable. It never fails to make me giggle!
One tip I received from a longtime breeder is to feed baby goats a cultured milk product to help keep good gut flora going and to help optimize growth. So I make kefir for them (and us). Kefir is a fermented milk beverage made with a symbiotic culture of yeasts, milk proteins, and bacteria. Kefir provides probiotics similar to yogurt, but it is thinner in its consistency than yogurt. It’s super easy! Just pour milk over kefir grains, cover the jar opening with a paper towel or cloth, and set it out of the way in a warm spot for 12-24 hours. When the kefir is cultured to your liking, use a nylon strainer to filter out the kefir grains for your next batch. The longer the culturing time, the more tart the kefir will taste.
The baby goats drink their kefir plain, of course, but we humans enjoy it mixed with fruit and honey. Here’s my recipe for cherry vanilla kefir.
Cherry Vanilla Kefir
1 quart fresh kefir
1-2 cups frozen cherries
1 teaspoon vanilla powder
1 large spoonful honey
Put all the ingredients into a blender, and blend until all the fruit and honey are well mixed into the kefir. Chill and enjoy.
You can use any fruit, fresh or frozen. Adjust the honey to your personal preference. I only add vanilla powder to the cherry kefir. The amount of fruit is also based on preference. Usually, I just dump in fruit until it looks good to me. I tried to actually measure how much I was using for this blog post.
If you don’t have your own herd of goats (or cows, or donkeys, or water buffalo, or whatever), you can make kefir with milk from the grocery store. You’ll need to get some kefir grains. Sometimes you can find someone local to you who already makes kefir, and they will have extra grains to share. (The grains never stop growing, so there are always more to share.) Or you can purchase them online and have them shipped to you. I’ve had very good experience with fresh kefir grains purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Kefir or dehydrated kefir grains from Cultures for Health when I could not find any locally.
The trick is to never kill your grains, so you pretty much have to make kefir daily. That’s no problem for us, as we easily use what we make. If you don’t think you’re ready to commit to making kefir every day, you can purchase it at most grocery stores. My favorite purchased brand is Redwood Hill Farm. You can search for a local-to-you source here: https://redwoodhill.com/store-finder/.