Digestive Development in Kids

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When it comes to raising baby goats, we strive to give them every advantage possible. The goal is to have healthy kids that will grow up healthy and not struggle with health problems. Often this is a process that goes smoothly and is free of obstacles, but it can also be a little easier said than done at times. Since the main objective is to give goats the best beginning possible, there is a process all kids must go through so that they achieve maximum immunity and good gut bacteria from the start.

The first thing to remember with bringing up kids is that goats are ruminants. Though adults have a stomach with four chambers and chew cuds, kids are monogastric and only use one stomach chamber for the first portion of their lives. During this time, kids do not ingest the same roughage as adult goats. This is because their rumen, reticulum, and omasum are not fully developed, making kids instead dependent upon milk for survival.

As kids nurse, the rumino reticular groove, which is a flap of skin located at the entrance to the rumen, prevents milk from going into the rumen. This is important because otherwise milk would simply settle into this young, underdeveloped rumen and sour until toxic, but the rumino reticular groove allows milk to go straight in the abomasum from the esophageal groove where stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) takes care of digestion. This is a natural process activated by swallowing, but there is a catch: the location of the kid's head plays a major role in the success of this process. In order for the rumino reticular groove to properly function and close as it should to route milk into the stomach instead of the rumen, kids need to have their heads elevated. The location of a mother's teat provides the proper positioning so this is not a concern when nursing is an option. However, if you wind up with orphaned kids in need of bottle feeding, it is imperative that their heads be kept up while suckling as opposed to drinking from a pan on the ground which is a recipe for disaster.

Digestive Development in Kids - GPS1504 - wayward-spark-183.jpg
Photo: Wayward Spark

Speaking of nursing, this is of the utmost importance to a newborn goat. When a goat is born, his or her intestines are essentially a blank slate. This is something that changes quickly, and can either change in a positive or negative way depending on the type of bacteria to which a kid is exposed. The ideal scenario is one in which colostrum is consumed, providing the kid with good bacteria via the mother which will then go on to populate the intestines, giving him or her the necessary antibodies to jumpstart the digestive and immune system as well as preventing illness. If colostrum is not received, the intestines essentially become a free for all for environmental bacteria which possibly allows unwanted varieties to take hold. During the first 24 hours of a kid's life, colostrum should be received because after that closure occurs and the ability for intestinal walls to absorb good bacteria (serum immunoglobulin G or IgG) via a process known as pinocytosis ceases. However, colostrum can still be useful beyond that point as it does still deter growth of bad bacteria as it passes through the intestines; it is just that the opportunity for IgG to get a foothold is missed. Since colostrum is so important, having some on hand for emergencies is a good investment.

Over the course of the next six months, the kid's rumen will gradually develop, going from smaller than other chambers to being bigger. During this time, you may see kids nibble on roughage here and there which is part of a process that stimulates rumen growth and function. Until the rumen is fully developed, kids can be nursed or bottle fed but feed is not necessary. Feed can be difficult for a kid to digest (scours may occur) just as roughage is and for the same reason, that being that the rumen is simply not ready yet, so the best option really is to go the milk route wait it out. At 4-6 months of age, kids can be expected to make the transition from mother's milk to good quality hay as their digestive systems are able. As this occurs, the milk-utilizing abomasum grows smaller while the rumen grows larger and takes over its own role.

After six months of age when goats are fully weaned, the rumen will be working to ferment food that is consumed, providing the animal with nutrients and energy. As cud is chewed, it will advance to the reticulum and eventually to the omasum. More nutrients are absorbed and the contents of the omasum move on to the abomasum, which is also known as the true stomach. It is here that digestion completes as it would in our own stomachs thanks to stomach acid. When a kid has developed enough that their bodies are fully able to perform these tasks on their own, their digestive development is complete. At this point your efforts at bringing up healthy baby goats can be deemed a success as they go on to lead productive adult lives in your herd or go on to new homes. Regardless of the path you choose for them, congratulate yourself on a job well done!

Have you ever faced any challenges with developing digestive systems of baby goats? Did you have good luck in raising kids overall? Let us know how it went for you in the comments!

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June 29, 2016  •  09:32 AM
Wow! This is an excellent article! I have had to hand raise kids from time to time and I have had a few success stories and I've had my share of heartbreakers - however this article answers many of the questions I had after the heartbreaks and explains some of the successes as well! Thanks.
July 5, 2016  •  02:47 PM
Double on the "Wow" and "Excellent article" ! My kids and I thank you!
I'm one year "into" milk goats (bought 3 yearlings - 2 does & buck) "for milk for me" - this year one doe's kid died in utero and the other one had two bucks! Oh well. The first was smaller - @ 5 lb to other @ 7 lb, and we were/are not sure if it is inherent weakness, selenium deficiency, etc. Tried bottle feeding her milk we acquired from milking her, especially first day colostrum, to augment his nursing since he was weak and did not stand well or for long at first. He has refused the bottle since about day 4! Have boosted mom's diet of equal amts. "goat chow" & Noble Goat pellets, BOSS and loose min./salt with alfalfa pellets and crimped oats. I'm receiving Icelandic Kelp this Thurs.,to feed them, to add iodine and selenium, etc. Kids are 5 weeks old, and her udder looks like a dried up prune! I don't see her nursing, but do see her pushing them away, so when they eat I make sure the smaller one gets to nurse, if there is anything, the larger one seems to be holding his own. My very helpful "mentor" says they are keeping mom drained out - and they are not following her crying, etc. so must be getting "enough" milk. As they grow, the smaller one, white, light tan streak down back, more like mother's - LaMancha build, and the larger one, white, looks more like dad's - Saanen build. At 3 weeks they weighed 18 and 24 pounds; I need to weigh them again.
Anyway your article is MOST helpful since I was concerned about them eating solids - how much and how soon, etc. Since their third week, they have been in a 1/4 to 1/2 acre lot with mom and the other doe, "tasting/eating" weeds, some bermuda and other grass, and leaves when I cut limbs off the hackberries .
I have been giving them handfulls of the grain mix I am feeding her, and am offering them small amounts of alfalfa hay in a low/their head level feeding pan (does and babies eat the leaves that fall off easily and leave most of the stems -that the buck seems to eat willingly). They are eating a little each of the three meal times I feed mom and she "cleans up" what they don't eat, but I do not want it to be too hard for them to digest and DO NOT want to cause problems, even if they will end up being "chops, etc." --
If you can't tell - I'm a "GRAN-MA" and now retired. I'm back "home" every day, since the kids were born, from six months of daily caring for my new grandson - (6 weeks to 8 months) while his mother worked and his father recovered from fairly serious surgery which kept him from being able to pick up or hold the baby.
I lived with and raised animals (dogs forever & registered for 30 yrs., cats, horses, hamsters, parakeets, etc.) all my life. My philosophy, basically, is - "If you can't/won't take care of your (whatever - pet, working animal, livestock) like your own child/family member why do you have it ? Shalom!
July 23, 2016  •  03:02 PM
Buddy is my first goat and today I am so sad cause he is sick, cries when he urinates, pretty sure he has stones. Was giving him All Stock Feed with some scratch, which I was told was good, NOT. I have gotten him today Purina Noble Goat Feed that is medicated with ammonium chloride, also gave him 1/2 oz of vinegar. Was told to give that was like a week twice a day. I feel so bad that I made him sick. He means so much to me, my joy everyday. Any help is so welcome.
August 11, 2016  •  02:24 AM
@katherineann56 does Buddy have access to pasture/browse? Goats prefer tall weeds to short grass in an enclosure, and try to keep some second cut hay on hand at all times for him to eat. They will eat from the hay feeder, then go out to browse, then come back for more hay, and in between sometimes lay down to digest their food and chew their cud. Depending on the goat's age and condition, they really don't need a lot of grain, maybe a handful each morning, but follow the recommendations of your vet. I would look into getting your friend some loose minerals made specifically for goats, (I personally use Manna Pro goat minreal, it contains that ammonium chloride you need for him ) and get him a mineral feeder for the wall, hung at nose height (so he can't defacate into it). Mine has two compartments, the other compartment I place baking soda in to help the goat self-regulate his stomach acid. Large quantities of grain at once can cause acidosis, never let anyone feed him large quantities of grain at once, their stomachs can get out of balance very quickly and you will be thankful for that free access to baking soda if that happens (MY first mistake, years ago). Hay and browse, access to clean fresh water whenever they want, a little grain and loose minerals to top off the nutrition they need, and maybe a buddy down the line for Buddy, makes for a happy goat! Goats are herd animals, he would do even better with another of his kind. Good luck with your new friend, they are a blast to have around, aren't they? Lastly, try to read up on goat health, it's always easier to treat an issue that comes up if you've read about it BEFORE it happens, instead of scrambling at the last minute as you wait for the vet to arrive.
April 17, 2017  •  06:55 AM
I have two Boer X doelings 6 weeks old. They are bottle babies, getting cow's milk (what they were on the first 4 weeks, so we are keeping them on it). They got colostrum from their mother the first 24 hours. They were already eating hay and browse and chewing cud at only 4 weeks old when we brought them home. Based on your article, I'm wondering is this too early? Does it mean they aren't getting enough nutrition from the milk? (They always seem famished, but I was told by the breeder this is normal.)

They are about 20 lbs each and we are feeding 16-20 ounces of whole milk 3x/day. We tried 4x/day for a little while and they ate much less roughage. At 6 weeks isn't 3x/day enough?

Thanks for your help.