Nursing is an important period during which baby goats (kids) not only receive vital nutrients and antibodies but also bond with their mothers (does) and start learning basic skills, like how to graze.
So how long does a kid need to nurse before being weaned?
Goat kids generally nurse on their mothers for approximately 6-8 weeks after birth. However, some does will continue to nurse their kids for up to several months. In a case like this, aim to wean the kids when they reach 2-2.5 times their birth weight.
If you are raising goats, it’s important to facilitate weaning based on the 6-8 week timeframe or the kid’s body weight.
Carefully managing the transition is key to avoiding health issues for the kid during its dietary transition and managing the stress of being separated from its mother.
The rest of this article gives an overview of the ins and outs of the weaning process to help new goat owners navigate this process successfully!
How Young Can You Wean A Goat?
When a kid is left with their mother after birth, the nursing process is very easy and natural for the pair.
The newborn goat kid will begin to nurse within an hour of birth.
Newborn goats will get all of the important nutrients and immunity-building compounds from the mother’s colostrum for the first few days, and the mother goat has an instinct for when to start weaning the kid at about 6-8 weeks of age.
This process partly depends on how healthy the kid is, how fast the kid is putting on weight, etc.
For kids nursing on their mothers, the doe’s milk production is the best source of nutrients to produce a healthy baby goat, and the doe will naturally start to transition the kid from milk to hay around the time their body weight is approximately twice its birth weight.
If, however, you wish to wean the kid earlier than it would naturally occur, the youngest possible age for weaning is technically about 30 days.
When kids nurse from their mother, they tend to imitate the doe’s behavior and will begin to eat hay or pasture on their own after about 2 weeks of age.
This then stimulates the production of the epithelial lining, which will allow the goat to digest hay and pasture throughout its life.
Starting from about 30 days, goats can wean off milk and eat more hay, pasture, and dry feed.
Although it is possible to start weaning from this very young age, it is better to wait at least 6 weeks before weaning off of milk.
If you plan to bottle-feed a kid, rather than let it nurse from its mother, remember to always let the newborn kid nurse for at least the first few days.
The first milk, or colostrum, is essential for the future health and immunity of the goat. It also enables the newborn goat to maintain its body temperature.
If the kid can’t nurse during the first hours of life, you will need to purchase a colostrum replacer to bottle feed the colostrum to the kid.
Kids should receive 2 ounces of colostrum replacement per 4 pounds of body weight.
Measure the colostrum powder carefully to avoid other health complications.
After colostrum feeding, the weaning time for bottle-fed babies follows the same guidelines as those discussed above for mother-raised goats.
When Can You Take A Baby Goat From Its Mother?
The answer to this question partly depends on how you intend to raise and feed your goat.
Regardless of how you are feeding the goat, remember first and foremost to leave the kid with the mother for at least the first few days, giving it time to consume colostrum.
Next, if you plan to bottle-feed the kid, it will be much easier if you take the baby goat away from its mother after these first few days of colostrum feeding.
The kid forms a maternal bond very quickly, and the sooner it can bond with you and/or other humans, the better.
On the other hand, the minimum recommended amount of time before separating nursing kids from their mothers is about 2 weeks.
Separating the kid and doe for slowly increasing increments of time will help reduce the stress on the animals in preparation for weaning. It also gives the kid an opportunity to bond with other goats in the herd or humans.
If you are raising dairy goats, developing a bond between kids and humans is very important.
It will make milking much easier and reduce stress on the goat.
This is especially true if the doe is skittish around humans, as the kid will naturally take on this tendency.
Speaking of baby goats, learn everything you need to know about a goat’s umbilical cord in our other post.
How Do I Wean a Bottle-Fed Goat?
When you are ready to begin weaning your bottle-fed goat, start by gradually decreasing the milk’s frequency and volume.
Start by reducing the bottle feeding from 2 times to 1 time per day.
Then, reduce the volume of milk by a few ounces every two days.
Meanwhile, provide the kid access to grain and hay starting from 1-2 weeks old.
Even though milk is still their primary source of nutrients, kids will generally start to consume a small amount of grain and hay starting from around 1 week old.
As their rumen develops further, they will slowly increase their consumption on their own.
As you reduce the amount of milk the kid receives, make sure the kid has adequate grain, hay, and pasture.
Suitable hay includes alfalfa, timothy grass, and bermudagrass.
Monitor the kid’s consumption of roughage to avoid potential bloating and illness from overeating.
Another key part of weaning is making sure the kid has access to plenty of water.
This is important to make sure they are still well hydrated as their milk consumption decreases and helps with dry feed digestion.