By September, most of you are evaluating your spring kids for their growth and breeding potential. When evaluating your kids, it’s important to be able to determine if their growth is on track with where they should be. Most full-sized dairy breed kids (Saanen, Lamancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Toggenburg, and Alpine) should put on about 10 lbs of body weight per month in their first 8 months. If not gaining 10 lbs per month, they should at least be consistently gaining weight each month. Watch out if they stop gaining weight or if they lose weight. If your kids are not hitting their growth curve, then it’s time to look at them closely and determine why they are stunted.
1. Is it their genetics? I hesitate to blame genetics for poor growth unless the kid comes from a miniature breed or combination of full-sized and mini-breeds. It is true that some breeds grow slower and are generally smaller than others but blaming genetics can cause you to overlook obvious management and health issues. Be very cautious of buying "mini" goats from people if they can not directly point to the goat's ancestor who came from an actual miniature breed (Nigerian Dwarf or African Pygmy). These goats are probably just stunted and won't ever live up to their full production potential.
2. Do they have parasites? This is the number one reason why kids can be stunted. The digestive system of the kid goat is not mature enough to handle repeated onslaughts of damage done by internal parasites. The two main culprits of kid stunting are coccidiosis and tapeworms.
Coccidia are a single-celled parasite that naturally occurs in the soil. Most species have their own type of coccidia and it can’t spread between species. Most adult goats are immune to coccidia infestations and do not suffer from coccidiosis unless stressed or ill for other reasons. Kid goats, however, are EXTREMELY prone to damage by coccidia. The coccidia parasite has a three-week life cycle (21 days). It usually infects the kids at birth when they are exposed to the soil and bedding in the barn. It travels into their intestines and begins its reproduction and feeding cycle. Three weeks later the kid may have smelly, brown diarrhea due to the coccidia bursting from the cells of the intestinal lining in order to spread to other goats. This bursting and subsequent diarrhea is called “coccidiosis” because the kid is sick from coccidia infestation. Once the kid has diarrhea, the damage to the intestinal lining is already done and it is too late. The kid will always be prone to malnutrition and will be stunted. The symptoms of coccidiosis are brown, smelly diarrhea between 22 and 28 days old, followed by lethargy, anorexia and death. Coccidia show up very easily on a fecal sample so it is highly recommended to have a fecal sample done if you suspect coccidiosis.
It is very important to prevent coccidiosis by putting your kids on a preventative treatment plan. The best way to do this is to treat all of your kids at exactly 21 days old with a 5-day round of either Di-Methox, Sulmet, or Corid. All three of these broad-spectrum antibiotics will kill the adult forms of coccidia and stop the reproduction cycle. Repeat this treatment every 21 days until the kids are 4 months old or more in order to keep coccidiosis from stunting your kids. Be sure to start on exactly day 21 because the coccidia will be in the adult phase and waiting even until day 22 can cause intestinal damage.
Be very wary of relying on grain blends that contain Rumensin or Decoquinate for coccidiosis prevention. Most kids are not eating enough grain at 21 days old for this to have a preventative effect. Once the kids are older and consuming grain at a steady pace, then these preventative treatments are helpful.
The second parasite that causes stunting in kids is the tapeworm. Like coccidia, most adult goats are somewhat immune to tapeworm damage. Kids rarely die from tapeworm infection but they can be stunted by the worms robbing nutrients from them. Tapeworms not only cause damage to the goat’s growth, but they cause damage to your pocket-book. Why would you spend so much money on goat feed just to feed the worms and not the goats? The symptoms of tapeworm infection are slow growth, pot-bellies (not caused by bloat or fatness), rough hair, tapeworm segments found in feces, and tapeworm eggs found in fecal samples under a microscope.
Tapeworms should also be preventatively treated for in you kid goats. Starting at 28 days old, give each kid a dose of Valbazen dewormer or Safeguard dewormer. Both of these medicines are effective against tapeworms. Repeat the deworming every 28 days until the kids are 4 months old or older.
3. Do baby goats need minerals? YES! Baby goats should be put on the same mineral supplementation schedule as your adult goats. This should mean that they have loose minerals available at all times, and that they are supplemented with copper boluses and extra selenium at regular intervals. Weaned kids need a supplemental calcium source so they should be fed alfalfa hay, silage, or pellets with their grain ration. Alfalfa is high in calcium and essential for keeping goats healthy.
4. Are they getting enough milk? Kid goats are fast growing and need to have enough nutrients and calories in their daily diets to accommodate this. Kids are born on a pure milk diet. Their stomachs are designed to digest only milk for the first few weeks. Slowly, they change and are able to digest grain and hay. How do you know your kids are getting enough? If your kids are dam-raised, you should weigh them every week to make sure they are gaining weight consistently. Check mom’s udder daily to make sure that it is producing milk, that the teats are not blocked and the milk is coming out, and that the kids are evenly consuming milk from BOTH sides of the udder. A kid who is getting enough to drink will be energetic, bright-eyed, and gaining weight.
Day one- 6 oz. (per feeding) colostrum, every 4 hours.
Day two- 8 oz. (per feeding) colostrum/whole milk, 4 times a day
Day three- 10 oz. (per feeding) colostrum/whole milk, 4 times a day
Day four- 10-12 oz. (per feeding) colostrum/whole milk, 4 times a day.
For the next week- 12-16 oz. (per feeding) 4 times a day.
For the next 2 months- 20-32 oz. (per feeding) 3 times a day.
For the next 1 month- 24-32 oz. (per feeding) 2 times a day.
10-12 oz. (per feeding) once a day for two weeks.
Be extremely careful when increasing amounts of milk per feeding because baby goats can’t spit up, like human babies, when they drink too much so they will get screaming yellow diarrhea or bloat. It can be fatal to suddenly overfeed a baby goat too much milk.
5. When do I wean them? Most people recommend weaning between 8-12 weeks of age. Feeding a kid milk after 12 weeks will not generally increase their weight gain. Most people coincide weaning time with the time that their buck kids need to be separated from their doe kids. It is recommended that bucks and does be separated at 10 weeks old and definitely by 12 weeks old. Some bucks are precocious and can be fertile at a very young age. Doe kids can be fertile very young but they are not mature enough to be bred at this time.
Dam-raised kids will not normally self-wean so you should separate mom from kids for at least one month to get the kids to stop nursing.
6. How much grain do I feed them? Like I said, kids are fast growing and have high nutrient and calorie demands. Grain helps to give them a boost in both of those categories. Grain and hay should be introduced at 3 days old. Kids won’t be able to digest much of it at this age, but the exposure to it will help them “prime” their digestive tracts for future digestion. The amount of grain offered should be slowly increased to a maximum amount at weaning time. The maximum amount can vary, depending on the type and mix of grain, but most full-sized dairy kids should be eating about 4-8 cups of grain a day. Watch their consumption and lower the amount of grain offered if they are not eating it within 1 hour of feeding time. Be careful not to increase grain too much at once because this can cause sudden bloat and death.