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.
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!