Goat keepers know goat kids have delicate, complex digestive systems requiring some care in getting started on solid foods.
Goats are herbivores (which means they eat plants and foods made from plants) and ruminant animals.
Adult goats’ complex, four-chambered digestive system can handle different kinds of fiber and roughage.
The rumen of a baby goat, or kid, needs to develop so it can partially digest food before it gets regurgitated and chewed again to make the most of the nutrition, so when it comes to feeding baby goats grain, you need to do so at the right time.
Baby goats can start eating grain in small amounts at one week. Grain is also fed to goats in measured amounts to increase their energy and maintain weight. Start with small amounts to get their digestive systems used to it. By 4 weeks, they should start being weaned off their mother’s milk.
Feeding a small amount of grain at feeding time will allow the rumen to develop the bacteria it needs to fully get at the nutrition of the food.
Too much grain or too soon can lead to ruminal acidosis, a serious illness.
To find out more about feeding baby goats, keep reading!
What Do Baby Goats Eat?
By 4-8 weeks of age, kids are weaned from their mothers and will be exclusively eating solid foods such as:
- Good quality hay
- Hay pellets
- Goat feed
Providing quality goat starter grain with a minimum of 16-18% crude protein will start the bacteria developing in the kids’ rumen.
Baby goat pellets are another feed option.
It is important to monitor your kid’s body weight, growth, and digestion during this crucial developmental period.
By 12 weeks of age, the rumen should be fully developed, having gotten a good start on its microbiota from the colostrum of the mother goat and a good diet.
Loose minerals also need to be offered; goats do not make enough saliva to get what they need from a mineral block.
And as always, fresh water needs to be available at all times.
Bottle-Feeding Your Baby Goat
There are times when the doe has nursing issues, and goat owners need to bottle feed with alternative milk replacer several times per day.
Supplementing with bottle feeding can help in cases of low birth weight.
If you start bottle feeding right away, colostrum replacement is crucial as colostrum provides a nutrient-dense jump start with antibodies and is important to your goat’s future health.
This antibody-rich milk must be given during the first 18 hours after birth to be absorbed properly.
A baby goat kid needs to be taught how to drink from a bottle, usually by squirting some milk into its mouth.
A good baby goat feeding schedule is four times a day for the first month, then three times a day.
As your kid gets older, it will drink 16-17 ounces of milk a day and eventually will be able to drink it out of a milk bucket.
At 10 pounds, a kid is ready to reduce milk feedings to 2 times a day but needs 20-22 ounces daily.
A kid will bottle feed the same amount it would have nursed, about 6-8 weeks.
If your kid develops diarrhea or scours, provide electrolyte supplements and notify your vet if the problem persists.
An advantage of bottle feeding your kids is they will be more used to humans and tamer than more skittish animals who did not have as much contact and bonding.
Many goat keepers find bottle feeding satisfying and worth the hard work.
Related Reading: Can baby goats safely drink cow’s milk?
Development of the Rumen in Goats
The four compartments of a ruminant’s stomach are the reticulum, the rumen, the omasum, and the abomasum.
When goats are first born, they only use 3 stomach compartments to get the most benefit from their mother’s colostrum and develop the microbes and bacteria they need for digestion.
They develop the rumen when they transition to fibrous foods such as hay.
The microbial digestion makes it possible for goats to eat high-fiber foods other animals cannot.
The rumen even detoxifies some poisons, enabling goats to eat small amounts of poisonous plants.
The bacteria in their stomach synthesize B vitamins and convert nitrogen into protein.
Microorganisms in the rumen make enzymes to break down what they eat and make nutrients available for fermentation, which gives the goat energy and warmth.
A forage-based diet is crucial to keeping the rumen and the animal healthy.
What is Ruminal Acidosis?
Ruminal acidosis is a common goat digestive illness caused by eating too many carbohydrate-rich, fermentable foods for the system, which leads to acid buildup in the rumen.
Signs of ruminal acidosis are:
- Elevated breathing and heart rate
- Elevated temperature
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite
Treatment for ruminal acidosis includes:
- Giving the goat dry, fibrous hay
- Force-feeding sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- Giving rumen probiotics
This provides the microbiota the rumen needs to balance the digestive process.
Milk of Magnesia or magnesium oxide is also used to neutralize acute acidosis.
Providing your goat with a high fiber diet rather than finely ground grains can help prevent acidosis.
Giving your goat’s rumen time to adjust to new foods, especially high carbohydrate foods, is also important.
Commonly Asked Questions
When Can Baby Goats Go Outside?
If their enclosure is safe and secure, the babies can explore outside after a day of life.
Regarding leaving a kid outside, a healthy two-week-old kid can survive in an unheated, draft-free shelter with good nutrition and fresh water but will be stressed by the weather.
Kids should stay with their mother, family, or herd to keep warm and have company.
When Do Baby Goats Start Eating Grass?
A kid will start picking grass and other vegetation at about two to three weeks old.
They might lip at it then spit it out, or they may eat it.
Hay is a better choice for feeding your baby goat than grass; it is easier for them to digest.
Further reading: Do goats eat grass?
What Do You Feed Baby Goats When Weaning?
To get baby goats off their mother’s teat, supplement and replace their milk diet with grain and quality hay.
Add more of this to their diet and give them less time to feed from mom.
Over time, they’ll choose to eat more real food.