Know Kidding: How to Care for a Rejected Baby Goat

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In my local area, I have noted the number of people who have started gardens (one family even ripped out their entire front lawn) or have small, medium, or even large livestock.  While I do not know if they are doing it as a means to stretch their budget or as a concern of food security, they are making an investment.

I myself have invested in small, medium, and large livestock.  In the winter, I have to take them water and hay.  In the summer, just water.  For the most part, they take care of themselves. 

However, when it comes to breeding for the next generation, sometimes there is more action required.  I have had goats now for about ten years.  For the most part, the does (female goats) do their part, and I just stand out of the way.  But a few does have rejected their kids (baby goats).  It happens. 

While yes, they are little creatures I have a responsibility to care for, they are also investments, and I have a few lessons learned I wish to share with you to ensure your success if you so choose to invest in goats as I have. 

How to warm up a rejected baby goat

When the doe gives birth, she will lick it clean, then stand and allow the kid to take its first feeding from the doe.  

However, if the doe rejects the kid, she will just ignore it.  I have had, on two occasions, gone into the barn for morning feedings to find a cold and wet kid, and the mother more interested in breakfast than her kid.

The first thing is to get the kid into the house, cleaned off, and warm.  Kids cannot maintain their own body heat for the first 24 to 48 hours.  

A quick and easy way to check the temperature is to stick your finger or thumb into their mouth.

  • Warm = good.
  • Cool = bad.
  • Cold = really, really, bad!

The best method I have found for warming them up is to use hot water bottles to keep the kid warm.  Once, in a pinch (we could not find the water bottles), we used two 1.5L wine bottles.  Since then, I keep two water bottles handy as a “just in case.” 

Place the hot water bottles in the bottom of a large enough container like a large laundry basket, a large storage bin, or even a cardboard box.  Then put a thin blanket over the bottles to prevent the kid from burning himself.  I bring the water bottles to the just-too-hot-to-touch level of warmth.  Put the kid in and cover them with another heavier blanket.  An electric blanket is a good option, but use the hot water bottles in the meantime while the electric blanket heats up. 

What to feed a baby goat

Next, you will want to get colostrum into the kid as soon as possible.  Colostrum replacement can be found at most farm/feed stores.  Follow the directions on the back.  You will also need a bottle to feed the kid.  Usually, bottles can be found near the colostrum.  A 16oz bottle with one nipple costs less than five dollars. 

While you are there, look for a three-pack of additional nipples that will fit the bottle.  The nipple does not have an opening, and you are to cut the end off to the appropriate size for the kid.  Initially, only a small hole is needed as the kid is small.  As the kid grows and feeds at a faster rate, cut a larger hole in another nipple, and so on.  By the time the kid weans, you have a set of nipples for future use if need be.   

The bottle is not the kid’s mother, so you may have to open the kid’s mouth and insert the nipple.  The kid may not latch on to the nipple well at first.  Keep paper towels handy!  Try to get as much warm colostrum in the kid as soon as possible.  Like human babies, kids’ stomachs are small and may only take a few ounces at the first few feedings.  Note how much the kid takes in with each feeding. 

You can refrigerate the rest of the colostrum for up to eight hours.  To reheat, I use a hot water bath in a tempered glass four-cup measuring cup and nuked in the microwave to very hot, steaming water.  Put the bottle in the hot bath and wait a few minutes to get it up to about 100 degrees.  An instant-read thermometer works well here.  According to the package, do not microwave the colostrum-filled bottle itself.

One of the instincts a kid has is to do a head jab at the udder to induce the let-down reflex for the milk flow of the doe.  As they get used to the bottle, they still may do the head jab.  If you do not have a good grip on the bottle or, as I do, put your index finger over the bottom edge, it is a scaled-down kid version of the Summer Olympic shot put event, and the kid is going for gold!  I have had that bottle shoot a good three or four feet across the kitchen, with a stream of milk flowing across the floor. (The dogs loved it.) 

Another instinct is they may try to get down on their front knees as they would to get a better angle on the udder and may even try to back up doing so.  Keep the bottle at a high degree angle, 45 degrees or slightly more, and put your foot behind their posterior end to stop them from backing up.

The scoop on baby goat poop

Just like human babies, kids will have their first bowl movement, either black or green and tarry one, called meconium, within a few hours of birth.  It is gross.  Keep wet wipes, paper towels, or a washcloth that you may be willing to part with close at han.

After that, if the kid is going to have to be kept indoors (i.e., in your home), you’re going to want diapers.  Yep.  Human diapers.  Start with the age two size.  Then depending on the growth rate, you may have to go up in size in even increments.  Just like human babies, they will need to change a few to several times a day. 

Just like human babies, pre-prepping is the key to a quick, easy, and reasonably clean diaper changing.  One issue about a diaper on a kid is the tail.  You will have to cut a hole out in the diaper for the tail.  First, what has worked best for us to keep the diaper on, is the tabs side is the side that goes under and between the legs of the kid.  Then up in front of the kid’s rear legs and attach to the other side that is on top, across the back.  For the tail hole, from the top edge of the diaper, come down about three inches for a newborn and four inches for a month old.  Pinch the diaper in half along the center line, and then cut an inch out of the diaper. 

Place a large (old) bath towel on the floor.  Get wet wipes (more expensive, but they work best), paper towels, or that washcloth at the ready.  Put the diaper next to them, unfolded, and oriented to fit the kid.  I place the kid between my legs to prevent it from moving with the posterior end directly below me and the anterior end behind me.  Remove the old diaper, and place it on a towel if it is really dirty or if there is poop coming out/attached to the posterior end.  Clean with wet wipes/paper towels.  Clean thoroughly.  It may require a few to several wipes/towels.  Once the baby goat is clean, then feed the tail through the hole, and pull the top of the back part of the diaper as high as it will go on the back.  Then, run the other side under the legs on both sides and then undo the tabs and stick to the top (which would be the waist) of the diaper snugly.  Do not over-tighten it because when the kid walks the tab may come undone.  If it is dirty when it does, it is a mess you do not want to have to deal with.

While on colostrum or milk replacement, their bowel movements will be yellow to yellowish-orange in color.  And it will smell awful.  If you can smell it, the diaper needs to be changed. 

Keeping a kid in the house can be an . . . interesting endeavor.

Once they get big enough to get out of the laundry basket, bin, or box, then you have to adjust accordingly. 

We kept a set of twins the mother rejected in a small, warm space in the mud room with a baby gate. Then they got big enough to jump the gate at will.  So, we gave them free rein of downstairs.  All was well and good till they learned how to climb stairs and could jump in bed.  Thankfully by that time, the weather had turned warm enough that we could kick them outside into the barn. 

Note:  the twins were separated off from the other goats to include the mother.  If the other goats could get to them, the twins could be bullied and even killed by the larger adults.  And the mother would do nothing to stop it.

Weaning your bottle baby and moving them to the barn

At about a month and a half, we started leaving Timothy hay in a bowl for the kid to free feed from.  The kid will eat more and more from the hay, and you will see a more solid and darker-colored stool.  (If you have houseplants you want to keep, put them up out of reach.) 

By the time they reach two months, they can be moved out to the barn in their own section.  Or, if all the livestock are out, they can stay in the barn until they are large enough to be put in with the rest of the herd. 

Like most animals, goats will fight or bully to assert dominance in the herd.  Be mindful and watch carefully if the smaller, younger goats are getting bullied too much.  If that is the case, you may have to provide them with a separate pen or paddock.  

One upside with a bottle-fed goat is they will follow you anywhere.  I use management-intensive grazing or mob grazing.  When I go to move them to a new paddock, I can let them out of the fencing and even go for a walk, and they will follow me.  Work dogs are not required.

Have you ever raised an abandoned baby goat?

I hope this article was of value to you.

If you have your own experiences or lessons learned from raising kids or even lambs, as they are very similar, let’s share them in the comments section.

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.

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  • we didn’t cut our nipples but used a needle we heated and seared the hole in the nipple. this prevents the nipple from splitting because a feeding kid can get aggressive. any cut will expand causing too much food to come out. as the kid grows to add more holes as needed using the same method will make the nipples last longer. also, it is easier to clean a round hole. a slot will have areas where things can grow.. This was what we did seventy years ago. hope it works for you. ——- i, Grampa

    • I have not had any issues, but could be the material the nipple is made out of.
      We rinse the bottle out with hot water, then clean it and the nipple. I find doing it as soon as the bottle is empty keeps things clean and sanitary.
      Thank you for your input!

  • Good information!

    One thing to note: NEVER feed a kid until its body temp is up to at least 101*. If their core temp is low, they can’t digest the colostrum/milk, and will go downhill fast.

    We used to use the Pritchard nipples you mentioned, but frequently struggled with getting the hole to be the correct size. Switching to the grey lambar nipples worked lots better, and that’s what we continue to use.

    In my experience, getting the kid back to the herd ASAP is beneficial, both to the kid and to the humans. They socialize with the herd, learn to be a goat, and just seem to do better. Once the kid is back on its hooves, take it outside to feed, and hang out with the goats to make sure it integrates into the kid group.

    There’s a heckuva learning curve with goats, but they are well worth the effort!

  • One thing that wasn’t mentioned when dealing with baby poo is gloves. If it’s that gross, I assume gloves would be mandatory for cleanliness. If goats are like human babies, there’s a ton of awful in that poo! Handling it directly can make you sick.

    • I left that out in the final draft.
      I suggested gloves in the first draft and also made a comment about washing thoroughly with hot water and soap.
      I must of left that out in one of the re-writes/final draft.
      Thank you for pointing that out.

  • I am expecting my first bred goat to deliver sometime soon. I really hope not to have to deal with this, but its good to know just in case. She was a triplet and her mother rejected her, but not her brothers. Do goats that were rejected have a higher likelihood of rejecting their own or is it just random?
    Now, about those hooves…

    • One of the rejected kids, was the third in a set of triplets.
      Some does are good mothers, some not so much.
      It is generally best to not breed does that are not good mothers, but sometimes nature gets in the way. I once had two bucks ram down the partition between them and the does. 5 months later, I had a surprise! Thankfully it was late May the goats were out in the fields and the doe was a good mother.
      I sold the bucks shortly after that.

    • Oh! Hooves!
      Get the biggest set of hooving shears you can get.
      I have these:
      Some people will put the goat in a milking stand that has a mechanism to lock in the head, and with a bowl of treats while trimming.
      Some goats will just stand for you while trimming. Others, it can be a wrestling match. That requires two people, one doing the holding, while the other trims.
      I had one that was such a pain in the arse, I just flipped her over and sat on her while trimming. Good times!

  • I’ve been raising dairy goats for 40 years and would like to expand on a few of your points.

    Since these are dairy animals, I try to be present when the kids are born so I can remove them before they have a chance to suckle. This is beneficial for several reasons.

    1. A doe learns to recognize her kids through the sound of their voices. If the kids are removed before she can do so she won’t spend as much time calling for them, and so it will be less stressful on her.

    2. It is easier to teach a kid to drink from a bottle if it has never suckled on a teat.

    3. Goats can carry a virus called Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Virus (CAE), which you can read about here…

    Although it can be spread through exposure to infected feces or by sexual transmission, CAE is primarily spread from an infected dam to the kid through the colostrum and milk. (If your herd is CAE free, you test all new does at the time of purchase and six months later, and you only use a buck that never breeds outside of your herd, then you probably don’t have to worry about this virus.) This is another reason for both removing the kids at birth, and for pasteurizing the colostrum and milk before feeding it to the kids.

    Don’t waste your money buying a plastic bottle from your local farm store. A beer bottle and a lambs nipple does the trick. The beer bottle is also the perfect size for one feeding.

    Of course, there will be times that you just can’t be there when a doe kids. If you do find a kid who has been rejected, the best way to warm it is to wrap it in a towel, hold it close to your body and stimulate it by rubbing as you carry it into the house. I’ve also found that most dogs will help by licking the kid until it’s dry.

    Also, since I do remove the kids at birth, I usually keep them in the house for a few days before putting them in a kid pen. Large dog kennels are a good way to keep the kids contained while they are in the house. Just let them out every two or three hours so they can move about.

  • As always, I loved this article! I chuckled through it, thinking that you had peeped into our home. We have had many baby goats in our house and have learned a lot. We have Nigerian Dwarf goats and have to start with a premie diapers, bigger diapers just fall off. As they grow, we do migrate to a larger ones. Doelings make better house goats, bucklings develop an odor as they get older. We have loved our house goats and even our Cocker Spaniel goes into maternal mode (even though he is male). But the thing I most love about our house goats, is putting them back with the herd!

  • I’ve raised 7 bottle babies so far. Some because they were purchased from farms at 2 or 3 days old, some because they were rejected. One of my does (a bottle baby herself) started refusing one of her triplets (the only girl) at about ten days old. No idea why but I made a deal with her. I would feed the kid, if she would take care of everything else. (I’m not kidding, lol, I really did this). I was surprised that the kid took the bottle almost immediately. I didn’t have to fight with her at all. She was on the bottle for six months and otherwise, her mom cared for her.

    I had to fight with a little buckling who had been on mom for a few days when we had to pull him. He was going to starve himself rather than take that pritchard nipple but he came around after a couple days.

    I’ve never seen a kid successfully diapered so I’m impressed. I just use a little portable puppy pen and a lot of towels. Better than cleaning the kid every time they mess. Plus I don’t know how that would work with a boy.

    If I had the time and energy, I would bottle raise every kid. It turns them into lapdogs. There is a homeopathic remedy to help with kid rejection. I used it with a doe (the same one) that had a runt it looked like she was getting ready to reject (not letting him nurse). It’s a guess whether it worked or she just came around but she’s taking care of him and his 2 siblings just fine now.

    I grew up as a horse crazy kid and didn’t get into goats seriously until 2016 and now I’m just as obsessed with goats. They are the most remarkable hilarious critters with personalities to rival any dog. Goats are the best!

  • Good article 1st Marine.
    I’ve never tried a goat, but we live in cattle country.
    We actually got to know several ranchers that would call us to come pick up orphaned/rejected calves. They ran big enough herds that they didn’t have the time to handnurse the calves, and as it’s sad to say, many would just pass or be put down. Most were happy to let us try to save them.
    We ended up with a herd of 18 cows, that were all rescues. It was hard to send then off for auction, but the whole point was that we had the time and the ability to do what large ranches don’t and that most were willing to give the calf to us.
    All you need are some Big Baby Bottles and sacks of dried formulae.

    Appreciate you sharing your story and experience.

  • Great article, 1st Marine! We have bred goats and as our Nubians have an approximately 5 month gestation, we try to keep the male away from them until Nov/Dec so their kids arrive in April. We’ve had to bottle feed several — if you have more than one to feed, I would recommend a DIY bottle holder.

  • Great article 1stMarineJarhead.. we’re considering homesteading, since we seem to have the gardening part down pretty well & now want to include small livestock like rabbits, geese & looking into goats. We even bought a book ‘Backyard Dairy Goats.. in any yard”. Another my spouse found is an old book (1974) ‘White Goats & Black Bees’ about an American family that moved to Ireland to homestead thus the title. So this article along w/ reader commentary is helpful as we get ready to jump in by absorbing info, as we have never done anything willy nilly & definitely not now that we’re retired.

  • Homesteaders keep your head on a swivel:

    Great article. Every spiked bottle baby we have, we use jersey dairy cow milk (preferably A2A2). It is closer to doe or ewe milk than bagged milk replacer. It’s also way cheaper by the cwt.

    Thanks for bringing up the info (especially about keeping their bottoms clean) can alway tell experienced writing vs. fanciful wiki researched bad advice.

  • This was a helpful article! We have a 4 week old buckling that we bought because he was rejected and the owner didn’t want to bottle feed him. He has been raised in our house but I’m concerned about transitioning him out to the pen with our other 5 month old pair. One of the older goats tries to head-but him through the fence. It would almost be easier if we had 2 babies, that way I could at lease keep them together in a separate pen outside. Even though he’s so sweet, he NEEDS to go outside ASAP 🙂 Not totally sure how to do that safely.

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