Sometimes a doe (mother goat) has more kids (baby goats) than she can care for, other times the mother dies while giving birth or shortly there after; either way if you keep goats, you will probably find yourself caring for a bottle baby kid (also known as a bummer).
Bottle feeding kids is hard work, and can be costly, if you are not prepared to do this be sure to look around for some 4H children who would be interested in taking the kid.
Occasionally a doe will be overwhelmed with her kids, and after a few days, one or more of her young ones will start to look poorly, standing hunched up and generally not thriving. This is an indication that the kid needs additional feeding. If she is not being mean towards it you can leave it with her. This may be the case of a first time mother who is not producing enough milk. If she is being mean to the kid, you will need to treat it like an orphan and remove it altogether.
If the doe has died and the kid is newborn, dry it off and keep it warm. In most cases this may mean bringing it into your home or keeping it in a stall with a heat lamp (in winter). Goats, and especially baby goats, need to be kept warm, you can leave them in a small pen in your barn, but will be making several trips out so this may be inconvenient.
The first and most important thing is to ensure your kid gets Colostrum, this is the mothers first milk. Colostrum contains the first antibodies and it is very important that the kid gets some within the first 18 hours after birth. It does not have to be their first drink, but it is important that they get it fairly soon.
Colostrum can be obtained by milking the doe, by milking another doe who has also just given birth, or by purchase. If you have several does, you might want to purchase Colostrum before hand and store it. Colostrum may be purchased from a veterinarian, veterinarian supply store, or a livestock feed stores. It may come frozen or powdered. In an emergency powdered calf colostrum is acceptable. Colostrum can be fed by gently squirting it into the kids mouth with a syringe. Use caution, if you go too fast you risk it entering their lungs.
You will need to purchase proper kid/goat starter milk formula. This is a powder that comes in large bags, you can purchase it at your livestock feed store. Do not use cow milk for human consumption. If goat milk is unavailable look elsewhere, or get lamb or calf milk replacer. You can also buy bottles (or empty plastic pop bottles can work too as there are nipples that attach to them) and nipples from your livestock feed store. I like the kind of nipple that attaches to 750ml pop bottles. If you don’t have a bottle and nipple on hand, use a syringe or even a turkey baster at first. If you need emergency formula, as the case where it is late and stores are closed, you can use canned evaporated milk, adding a wee bit of molasses will give the lamb extra energy.
Bottle feeding is tricky at first because the kid will not understand the milk is coming from you. It is their nature to look for a nipple from their mother. Pick up the kid and hold it in one arm. Then use your hand to pry open its mouth and put the nipple in. When I use the plastic pop bottles as bottles, this enables me to gently squeeze some milk into the youngster if it is too weak or confused to suck. After a few days the kid will start to understand what is going on and will be able to drink normally from the bottle while standing. If you have multiple kids you will eventually want to get a system where you can put the bottle and the kid can drink on its own.
In a day bottle baby goat kids need about 5 oz of milk per pound of weight. You can figure this out and then break the feedings down to multiple times per day. In the first 24 hours you will want to feed around the clock, usually every 2 hours in the day, every 3 at night. Then to make your life easier, the kid will be okay over night if you feed as late as possible, and again as early as possible. With the other feedings 3-4 hours apart throughout the day for the first week. The water used to make the formula should be warm, you can test it on your wrist to make sure it is not too hot.
goat kid, photo by author
As your baby goat gets bigger it will eat bigger meals, but less often. After about 1 week your kid can be fed every 5-6 hours. You can reduce this so that at 4 weeks of age it only is feeding twice a day. Of course as you reduce the number of feedings you need to increase the feed per feeding.
General Information on Raising Orphaned Goat Kids
Your kid should also have hay (or grass) after a few days of age. They start to eat by watching their mother. You can teach your kid to eat by picking grass or hay with your hand, or by having it with other kids who are eating. Baby goats can also have kid ration feed, a crumbly product you can buy at a feed store. They wont understand that it is food so you may have to put their faces in it, or pinch some in your fingers and put it in their mouth. Of course, when introducing any new food it is best done slowly so you do not overwhelm their tummies.
If your bottle baby was kept in the house it is important to get it out with the other goats as soon as possible, especially if it is a single. If you have to, you can keep it in a pen with some of the more gentle goats and their kids. Goats raised by people will be friendly to people, and will make excellent pets, however they may have a hard time fitting into the herd if they are not going to be a “pet” as such.
Be careful with billies, if they are not wethers they can become “bullies” as they get older. Do not allow a billy bottle baby to think is is anything other than a goat. Resist the urge to pat or cuddle them.
Raising orphaned goats is hard work, but rewarding if you do it right. If you are not prepared for all the expense and time involved you are best to try to sell your kid or give it away to somebody who is better prepared.