The best start
PUBLISHED: 08:11 28 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:51 28 March 2014
Jenny White gives a guide to caring for newborn kids
The fittest and most vigorous new born kids can succumb to life threatening infections if they’re not protected right from the beginning of their lives from organisms in the environment capable of causing disease. To minimise the risk of infection at birth, kids should be born into the cleanest possible place. Left to nature, the expectant doe instinctively does things to ensure disease exposure is limited. A domesticated goat may have lost these instincts, and in any case, she doesn’t usually have the freedom to wander about the land in search of a suitably sheltered and uncontaminated spot. The domesticated goat has to rely on its owner to provide the best kidding environment.
A kid is at its most vulnerable from environmental pathogens at the moment of birth. Disease can enter via its mouth, nose and navel cord, so it follows that kids should be delivered onto clean straw in a disinfected pen. Occasionally, I’ve had summer kidding goats that have taken me by surprise with a speedy labour and have kidded out in the field. Perfectly healthy and natural on a mild dry day, but I wouldn’t recommend it on a cold drizzly day in early spring.
As soon as possible after birth, the kid should have the whole length of its navel cord dipped in a tincture of iodine. A small container like a baby food jar or a disposable cup is ideal for this, as it will allow greater penetration by the iodine and it’s less messy and wasteful than trying to pour it on. Purple spray is a convenient alternative to iodine. If the cord is longer than six inches and there’s a danger of it being trodden on, use a pair of sharp, sterile scissors to cut off the excess.
In the 24 hours or so before the birth, changes in the doe’s mammary glands enable her to pass on her immunity to diseases, including the benefits of any current vaccination she may have had to prevent clostridial disease. These antibodies are then transferred to the kid via the first milk it takes from the udder.
As well as being full of antibodies, this milk, known as colostrum, is richer in vitamin A, and contains higher levels of total protein, milk solids, lactose, globulins and fat than normal milk. It also looks different – it’s thicker, more yellow than milk, and is very sticky. Work done in the US some years ago proved how vitally important colostrum was in protecting kids against harmful E coli bacteria. Those kids that ingested E coli bacteria before they received any colostrum died of E coli septicaemia within 72 hours of birth. Kids that had received colostrum usually showed no evidence of the disease (Samuel Guss Management and Diseases of Dairy Goats).
For maximum protection, the kid should receive colostrum within 15 minutes of birth. At the latest, within six hours because by the time the kid is 12 hours old, its intestines will no longer absorb the antibodies so efficiently, and by the time it’s two to three days old, it will have lost the ability to absorb colostral antibodies entirely. If, for any reason, the kid can’t suckle from its dam, colostrum needs be drawn from the doe and fed to the kid via a bottle and teat. If the doe has no colostrum, perhaps after a traumatic kidding, another source of colostrum must be found.
Most experienced goat keepers will have retained surplus colostrum from another goat and stored it in the freezer for such an eventuality. It keeps very well for a year but needs to be thawed carefully and slowly or it will separate. A water bath is ideal but a microwave isn’t suitable. The colostrum must also be from a reliable source and from a proven CAE negative goat or maedi visna- free ewe. I believe cow colostrum is ok in an emergency and better than doing nothing. There is also a formula colostrum that may be available via your veterinary surgery.
The kid is programmed to suck and, just as importantly, if a bottle feed is required, it’s programmed to receive its milk at its mother’s body temperature. This is 39°C to 40°C (102.2°F to 104°F). Getting a kid, especially a newborn one, to suck from a bottle is far easier to achieve when the milk is offered at the correct temperature. It can cool very quickly between the kitchen and the goat shed, or even between drawing it from the dam and offering it to the kid. Some provision for keeping it warm is therefore necessary. A baby bottle warmer, a jug of hot water to stand the bottle in or even some insulating material wrapped around the bottle will help.
There are occasions when farmers and livestock owners have to make painful decisions. Nothing is worse than having to have a newborn kid euthanized. It’s bad enough when there’s a recognised and life-limiting abnormality such as a cleft palate or a heritable teat fault that would cause problems at maturity, but far worse when it’s for no other reason than the kid is the wrong sex!
It can be very tempting to rear every kid that’s born, but please rear only those kids that have a pre-determined future, either in your own herd, for sale to a knowledgeable home or with after sales advice to a less knowledgeable home. Rearing kids, especially male kids, simply because you can’t bear to see them put down, may be condemning them to a life of misery.
There may be opportunities to sell or keep castrated males as pets. If your aim is to lead a more self-sufficient lifestyle, you may wish to fatten them for the freezer. Whatever decision you make should have been carefully considered before the birth of the kids. Never pass on unwanted kids unless you’re satisfied that the new owner understands how much time and money is required to care for them.
A kid will need milk feeds via a bottle or lamb bar for at least four months and should always have the company of another kid or goat. It’s notoriously difficult to provide goat-proof fencing. Tethering a lively kid is cruel and often the cause of fatal accidents. Nearly 30 years after buying my first goat, I’m still amazed that so many prospective goat owners think a warm shed and a field full of brambles is all that a six-week-old kid needs.
I know owners of pygmy goats often prefer to leave their goats with horns but my preference with dairy goats and all goats that are likely to be handled regularly by small children, is to have them disbudded. Horns grow quite quickly once the kid is born and within a couple of days, the tips can be felt on top of the skull. It’s possible, if one or other of the parents has the gene for hornlessness, that the kids could be polled.
The head of a naturally hornless kid is slightly rounded across the forehead, whereas the head of a horned kid is flat, and the hair is curled on each side where the horn buds are. The gene for hornlessness is also associated with infertility, and polled kids with two polled parents should be examined carefully for signs of intersex. The most obvious sign is a swollen fleshy growth on the vulva, the classic sign of an hermaphrodite goat – one that has some male as well as female organs. Other signs may not become apparent until it proves impossible to breed from the goat in future years.
Disbudding is a minor procedure performed under anaesthetic by a veterinary surgeon. I’ve had female kids successfully disbudded as late as four weeks of age, but unless the vet is skilled and experienced, re-growth is inevitable and the scurs produced can be the source of problems later on.
Disbudding is best done when the kid is four days old, and if you’ve planned in advance, provides an opportunity to have the kid’s legally required ear-tag inserted. In the case of the novice goat keeper, it’s also worth asking the vet to check the kid for abnormalities such as teat and jaw defects that could affect your decision regarding its future. If you’re intending to bottle-rear the kids, this is also a convenient time to separate the kid from its dam. Some kids come round from the anaesthetic within a few minutes, others take a little longer and, depending upon the anaesthetic used, may still be wobbly on their feet for some time after they’ve returned from the vet. Even if you intend to keep them with their dam for suckling, it’s sensible to wait until they’re fully in control of their legs, less likely to fall over and get beneath mum’s feet.
During the early confusion of a kidding, it can be alarming to witness a kid being trampled on by its dam or siblings, but invariably, no harm is done because the bones are still soft and gristly. Short fluffy barley straw makes the best bedding for newly born kids. It’s absorbent and bouncy, and also helps keep kids on their feet, unlike long, coarse wheat straw which tends to trip them up.
When lifting and carrying a goat kid, it’s important to support it under the hocks as well as at the chest. Carrying a kid gripped under your arm with its legs dangling is uncomfortable for the kid, and when it becomes larger and heavier, there’s a danger of cracking one of its slender ribs.
By the time a kid is six weeks old, the resistance to disease inherited from its mother via the colostrum will have worn off, and its own immune system will be kicking in. The kid has now lived through the most vulnerable weeks of its first year, and if it’s reared in hygienic conditions and exposure to the various disease agents in its environment continues to be gradual, it should thrive and develop good resistance to disease.
This article is from the April 2006 issue of Country Smallholding magazine.
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