Why Do Nannies Reject Some Newborn Kids?

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Prices for meat goats have been at or near record levels most of the year so far, and predictably the result has been an increase in the number of people starting commercial meat goat herds.

Many new producers do not know what to expect from their stock, and some are very unhappy when they discover that goats are not always the easiest animals to manage.

The majority of new producers receive a big reality check when their first kidding season arrives if they have not done their research and adjusted their expectations accordingly.

The first problem they encounter is with does that reject kids. There is nothing more maddening than a doe that delivers her kids than walks away never to look back, or decides that she likes this kid, but wants nothing to do with her other kid over there.

In my own operation 10-15% of the does that kid in a year decide to reject at least one of their kids, and the does that did so this year are not the same does that pulled that stunt last year.

There are a variety of reasons that a doe might reject one or more of her offspring.

Some does kid before they have colostrum, and the newborn kids cannot get any nourishment immediately. If it is very cold the kids quickly become chilled and either die or need to be rescued by the rancher. By the time you get the kid warmed up and tube or bottle feed it, the mother may or may not want anything to do with it when you bring it back to her.

If your does kid in a crowded area, some of the offspring wind up having a strange smell and the doe will reject them.

That has been a particularly bad problem for me this year since it has been very rainy, and many of my does kidded inside our shelters. The floors of the shelter are not exactly clean, especially if the goats have been standing in there to get out of the weather for 10 or 12 hours.

The kids come out and land in a big pile of nanny berries and urine soaked feed and dirt. I can't imagine why the doe decides that they don't smell right, but they do and then they don't want anything to do with that funny smelling kid.

Sometimes a doe knows something isn't right with a kid and will reject it. Despite your best efforts to keep it alive the kid will only live a few days, and the doe will laugh at you for wasting all that time and effort trying to save it.

Some first time fresheners seem to know that they can't produce enough milk for two kids, and they will reject one so that the other can get adequate milk by nursing both sides of the udder. The next year these does usually produce a lot more milk, and will readily accept all of their offspring.

Then there are the does that have developed mastitis in one or both sides of their udder. Nursing kids may be painful, so the doe rejects one or more of her kids.

One of my best and oldest does gave birth to twins a couple of weeks ago, and I noticed that one didn't seem to be getting fed even though the doe had a big full bag. I caught the doe, and when I checked her udder the right side was hard as a rock and had no milk.

I moved the doe and her kids to another pen where her daughter who had triplets but lost two was located so I could use the daughter to supplement her mother's twins.

Somehow the older doe convinced her daughter to take one of the kids or maybe the daughter just wanted to raise two kids, but when I came back later the daughter was nursing both her kid and one of her mother's kids. I wish everything was that easy.

I suppose a few does are just plain bad mothers, but that really seems to be very rare. If you do a little investigating you will probably find that there is a very good reason that a doe has rejected one or more of her kids, and if you correct the problem that same doe will raise all of her kids the next year.

Next year is a long time away when you are stuck with a bunch of hungry rejected kids, though, so what do you do with them?

Some people bottle feed them, but I don't recommend this. The milk replacer is too expensive, and you will make no money off a bottle baby raised on replacer even if you can bring yourself to sell it.

I have also had big problems with the milk replacer actually killing the kids. It causes a high percentage of the kids (over 50% in my experience) to develop ulcers which eventually rupture killing the kid. I have tried several different brands of milk replacer and had this problem.

Switching to real goat milk solved the ulcer problem, but if you have to buy it at the store it can be a very expensive way to raise a kid.

You could also allow nature to take its course, and let the rejects die or kill them. However, my favorite solution is to force the mother or another doe depending on the circumstances to take the kid.

If the doe isn't very aggressive about rejecting the kid it may be enough to pen the doe and her kids in a small (10' x 10') pen. She will not be able to get away from the kid she doesn't want, and if she tries to feed her favorite kid, she will also have to feed the kid she doesn't like.

In the beginning you may need to hold the doe or put a halter on her and tie her to the side of the pen to be sure both kids get fed, but eventually the doe will accept and feed both kids. A few days after she accepts both kids you can let her and the kids out of the pen.

Does that are intent on killing the rejected kid(s) require more drastic measures. I generally put a halter on them a couple of times a day and tie them to the fence so their kids can eat. Usually they will eventually accept the kids, but it may take a month or more before they do. You will have to decide whether the time involved is worth it.

Another source of dismay for producers are does that develop bad udders. A doe that had fine udders last year may give birth this year and have hard udders, mastitis, blown teats, etc. making it impossible for them to raise their kids. I have even seen a first time freshener who by the time she delivered her twins had developed a hard udder on both sides and had no milk.

In a case like that all you can do is cull the doe, and try to adopt out her kids to another doe that has lost her own kids following the procedures I outlined above.

Finally, when kidding season is over you will notice that several of your does failed to breed at all or aborted early in their pregnancies. In my own operation we seem to pretty consistently have about 10% of our does that fall into this category, and they are generally not the same does every year.

I didn't even need to wait until kidding season was over to tell you which does they would be this year. Last fall I put the bucks in with the does and a few weeks later we had our first freeze.

The low bottomed out at 19 degrees, and a few days later I noticed that some of the does had a little bloody discharge. I took the bucks out a few days later since I didn't want kids born in the late spring, and sure enough none of those does has had kids this year.

If your does are subjected to stressful conditions during breeding or early in their pregnancy it is very possible that they will fail to breed or will abort.

With all of these things that can and will go wrong, it is easy to see why most commercial producers consider a 150% kid crop to be outstanding. If you start out with 100 does and only 90 carry the kids to term, and they deliver 180 kids but reject 18 of them, and a few more kids are stillborn or die it would be very easy to wind up with fewer than 150 kids out of your 100 does.

The meat goat business is a great business to be in, but be aware before you jump in that there will be some days that make you wonder what possessed you to buy a big herd of goats. You will be much happier if you have realistic expectations.

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This page updated 04/21/04

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