James and I talked about getting goats for over a year but whenever we talked about it, I never imagined them being young. I definitely didn't imagine that I would be bottle-feeding two baby goats three times a day for over a month!
Now that Grover and Sonny have been with us awhile and I've recovered from the shock, I can say that I wouldn't have done it any other way. It has been so fun to bond with them and let the kids be involved with handling them at such a young age. I wanted to share a bit about our experience of learning how to bottle feed baby goats... you know, in case you find yourself the proud owner of baby-baby goats after just "going to look" at some. It happens. (Go read this post: What to Know BEFORE You Buy Goats just for good measure.)
How to Handle Frozen Goat Milk
When I introduced Grover and Sonny last week I shared more about how I ended up driving home from picking them up with two frozen bags of raw goat milk in my lap. Once we got home, we defrosted one of the bags of milk (by running the bag under cool/room temperature water) and put the liquid milk into a large mason jar in the refrigerator. You could also defrost it by placing the bag in the refrigerator overnight. Like breast milk, it needs to be frozen quickly, thawed safely, heated in small batches, and discarded after being heated.
How to Heat Frozen Goat Milk
You don't want to reheat goat milk in the microwave because doing so will destroy some of the important vitamins and nutrients in the milk, thus heating on the stove is recommended. It's important that the goat's milk is warm just like it comes from their mama. We tested the temperature on our wrists, it should be just a touch warmer than or as warm as what you would offer a human baby. (A goat's normal body temp is 102-103 degrees F.)
How to Feed Baby Goats
Our breeder gave this recommended feeding schedule for baby goats:
- Week 1: Four times every 24hrs
- Week 2-8: Three times a day
The amount will vary by goat, but they will typically start off taking 2-3 ounces per feeding and work up to 9 oz per feeding. She warned us about overfeeding and to not offer a bottle between the scheduled feeding times. You want them to be hungry when you offer the bottle! She did say that we could offer ONLY 4 oz of warm water between feedings to fill their tummies up, but no more than that as too much water is bad for their kidneys.
If you feed them too much it can cause... unpleasant gastrointestinal issues (Google "scours"). If this happens, give them warm water the next feeding to help straighten out their stomachs and then resume feeding them milk again after the one water feeding.
I grabbed a couple of cheap plastic baby bottles from our local dollar store to feed our baby goats. You really don't need anything fancy- no special nipples or bottles. You will need to make sure you cut the nipple so the opening is wider (especially if using a kid replacement milk) because it is much thicker than human breast milk.
When I need to heat up the milk, I just pour the amount that I want directly into the baby bottle. I boil a medium pot half full of water (not too full or it will overflow when you put the bottles inside). After the water starts boiling, I turn off the heat and move the pot off of the hot burner. I wait about a minute or so for the water to cool slightly and then place both bottles into the hot water. Depending on the amount of milk in the bottle, it generally takes about 4-6 minutes for it to be warmed through. Be sure to give it a shake to avoid any hot spots.
The biggest thing about bottle feeding goats is to not stress out. Trust me, this was hard to remember when one of ours was refusing the bottle. He would let me get it in his mouth but refused to suck! It's different for them and there is a learning curve when they've not had anything but mom to feed them. Use your thumb at the back corner of their mouth to gently open up their mouth and insert the bottle. We noticed it also helps to tilt the bottle up vertically so they are positioned more naturally like they would to nurse.
When the Goat Won't Take the Bottle
If you have one that is stubborn to take to the bottle like we did, don't give up. It sounds silly, but try covering their eyes the next time you go to offer the bottle. Ours wouldn't take for two days but finally did when James and I both tried together. James held him across his chest, with the kid's head up towards his shoulder, and I put one hand under his chin for support while holding the bottle in the other. He finally figured it all out (or just accepted this is how it's going to be from now on) and sucked the entire bottle down in less than a minute. Now when we feed them we don't even have to hold them, we stick the bottle in their general direction and they go to town!
Video of How to Feed Baby Goats
Remember, don't increase the feedings too quickly or it will cause them to have an upset tummy (tummies? haha). Our other baby, that took to the bottle on day one, roots around and asks for more after every feeding. If you feed them to where they are full and lack interest in their bottle, then you’ve fed them too much.
My final tips for bottle feeding baby goats are:
- Clean the bottles/ equipment after each use. Mostly because you don't want any bacteria to grow, but equally because old milk can quickly turn stinky.
- Use an old towel while feeding in the first few days. I would sit in a chair, lay the towel across my lap, and hold the baby against my torso. They will dribble and it will get all over your hands so it's best to be prepared.
While it wasn't what I had originally planned, it was surprisingly fun learning how to bottle feed baby goats. The girls were able to help after day 4 or 5, and were always so concerned when our little one wasn't taking his bottle the first few feedings. It was a great bonding experience for all of us and definitely helped the goats warm up to our presence (i.e. associate us with food and comfort) quickly.