Is Your Mother Goat Rejecting Her Kid?
Good vs Bad Mama Goats
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Good parenting is important in raising happy, healthy and well-functioning kids. This is true whether we’re talking about human or goat kids! But in the goat world, the father’s only role is to help create the kid, so actual parenting is all up to mom. And some are better suited for the task than others.
So, just what does it mean to be a good goat mama? There are basically two main functions that go into good mothering: keeping baby safe and keeping baby fed. And in order to do both, moms need to know who their babies are, so recognition is paramount. Much of the ability for a goat to parent well is determined by her genetic temperament, but it has also been found that the doe’s nutritional intake may be a factor in how well she recognizes her own babies.
- Licking: The first thing a good goat mama will do is to lick her kids as soon as they’re born. This will help her begin to recognize her baby’s particular scent while also drying the baby off and stimulating it to try to stand up and root for food. A “bad” mama might not have much interest in cleaning her baby. This means if it is cold out and you’re not present at the birth, the baby may become hypothermic. It also means that the doe may not bond with her baby which could lead to feeding and protecting issues later on. So, the first indication of whether a goat mama is going to take her parenting role seriously may be whether or not she licks her babies clean and dry.
- Visual & acoustic recognition: A doe will begin to recognize the look and sound of her own kids within hours of being born. This will definitely help her to be a better mom to her kids. But it has been found that underfeeding during the second half of pregnancy can result in a reduction of the dam’s ability to recognize her own offspring. Therefore, it is important to be sure you are providing proper nutrition for your pregnant does throughout their pregnancy to ensure the best mothering instincts.
Keeping Baby Safe:
A good mama will be very protective of her newborns. This may mean she stays close to them, keeps them hidden from potential predators, and is careful about where she steps. All of these things may be hampered by lack of recognition. If she doesn’t recognize her own kids, she won’t know who to protect! If a mother seems to have little interest in staying near her babies, she will likely also have little interest in feeding them.
If you plan to bottle raise your newborn babies, having a doe with good mothering instincts may not be that important to you. But if you are planning to allow the dam to raise her own kids, even if just in the beginning, having a doe that can and will feed her own babies is crucial.
- Producing enough milk – The first factor is whether or not the doe is producing enough milk to adequately feed her own babies. First fresheners may not produce as much milk as they will in subsequent years or their milk may not come in as quickly, meaning that you may need to supplement. Dams that have more than two kids may also have trouble producing enough milk to feed them all, so again, be aware that supplementation may be necessary.
- Allowing them to nurse – No matter how much milk the doe is producing, though, if she won’t stand still for her babies to nurse, they won’t get what they need. If a mother seems to be rejecting her kids or is not producing enough milk, it is very important for you to intervene…and quickly. A newborn kid MUST have colostrum within the first hours of life so if mama won’t or can’t provide it for them, you will have to.
What to do if you mother goat is rejecting her kid:
If your mother goat is rejecting her kid, be sure that there isn’t some physical reason for the initial rejection like mastitis or some other discomfort that needs to be addressed separately. If the teat is very warm or swollen or the udder is hard, you may need to treat for mastitis. Or if the doe seems to be feeling poorly, either from the pain of labor and delivery or for some underlying issue, that should also be addressed. I usually suggest goat owners have a veterinarian check on any doe that seems to be rejecting her kids to rule out any physical problems with the dam. If the doe is otherwise healthy, you can try to hold her to allow babies to nurse or put her on a milk stand and allow babies to nurse there. You will also want to separate them from the rest of the herd and keep them penned together in a relatively small space to encourage bonding. Sometimes with new moms it can take a day or two for them to settle into motherhood and by helping them to connect this way, the nursing baby can get what it needs and will actually help to stimulate oxytocin, the hormone that helps in mothering.
- Teat size, shape and position – Even the best moms with adequate milk supply may have trouble feeding their newborn kids if their teats are too big, oddly shaped or in a position that makes it hard for babies to find. You may need to help babies latch on at first, or even squeeze out some of that excess milk that is making the teat too big to fit in a tiny, newborn mouth. I have one such doe in my herd. She is a fantastic mother and a huge producer, but her teats are relatively big and hang low, and her newborns often need a little help latching on in their first few days.
Once a bad mama, always a bad mama?
Not necessarily. Many first-time moms are a bit slow to warm up to motherhood and then by the second year they’ve got it down! If a doe has a particularly painful birth, she might reject a kid, or if a kid is deformed in some way, she may reject it, but then she may go on to be a perfectly good mom to future kids. While mothering is based in part on temperament, breed and genetics, there can also be circumstantial reasons causing a nanny goat to reject her kids, so I always give my does a second chance. And if a doe is a great producer or a good show goat or just has a sweet personality, I might decide it’s worth it just to bottle feed her babies in order to keep her in my herd even if she is a repeat bad-mama-offender. That decision may be based on your own personal needs and goals.
Originally published in March/April 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.