Socializing Dam-raised Kids
Dam-raised kids know they are prey animals, so are wary of unfamiliar people and animals. They depend on dams and the herd for safety. When separated from the herd, they are fearful and seek security. Unlike a bottle baby that sees itself as a person, and sees people as the herd, a dam-raised kid recognizes no people as its herd until it forms an attachment.
The dam-raised kids need exactly what the bottle baby receives: frequent interaction with no demands on them, habituation. This requires LOTS OF TIME, with you meeting their needs.
We recommend a small enclosure for the first few weeks, without free access to food. Bring hay in small portions when you visit. Sit quietly next to the feeder, but don’t look at them or try to interact. The goal is to be non-threatening, perceived as a safe provider. Move slowly. Talk to them. Let them come to the feeder (or not) and approach you (or not). At first, they probably won’t eat until you leave. Ideally, they will clean up what you fed and want more the next time you come. Each time you visit, refresh the hay. Sit, look at your phone, read a book, or drink a beverage.
As the dam-raised kids get more comfortable, stand up, move to another spot, and sit down. This may cause panic at first. Again, make no interaction or demands. The kid is learning that it is safe with you, no matter what you do. If you can, lie down. In time they will get curious, nibble your clothes, your fingers, your book. Don’t rush contact; let them touch on their terms. Gradually, they will accept reciprocal touch, usually wanting their head touched or scratched. Always scratch under the chin or behind the horns. A goat pressing with its poll (front of the face) is posturing — don’t allow it. Remove your hand and offer to scratch under the chin.
When they are comfortable with you in their enclosure and moving around, the next step is low-lining: passive leash/limit training. Low-lining MUST be supervised, as they can get tangled in the leash.
Lowline training is key to leash training and pack strings. They fight the line and not you. Never train a goat by dragging.
To lowline a group of kids, stake a rope to the ground on both ends. Carabiners and rope knotted at intervals give the leash a pivot point that won’t interfere with the goat on the line. Attach the leash to the kid’s collar. Place food and water just within their reach. Let them battle the leash to learn their limits.
Once the kid has calmed down, you can end the practice session. Practice daily, even a couple of times a day. The goal is for the kid not to challenge the leash. At that point, sit at the pivot point, and begin to pull the leash toward you. The kid will pull back. As soon as they stop pulling, or take a step toward you, release the tension as a reward. Keep practicing until they respond by moving and not resisting. When they respect the leash limits, they are ready for leash walking off of the lowline.
When walking, if they plant, don’t pull. Walk into them to get them moving again, or in a circle to shift their balance, so they need to take steps. Do not be afraid to use food as a reward — that is exactly what the bottle was. Kids usually like alfalfa pellets as a healthy treat option.
If you have another socialized goat, introduce the kid to that goat. Bring it into the pen with you and the kid and let them interact. Let the kid watch the goat interact with you. Dam-raised kids will take cues from another goat. You will still need to invest your one-on-one time as the kid grows, with independent hikes and solo pen time, or the kid will bond to the other goat, not you. A group of kids kept together without individual attention will seek each other for safety and company. Instead of friendly kids, you will have a gang of goats whose credo is “us against the world” — which includes you.
When the goat moves freely in the pen with you and without fear, open the pen to a larger pen. Keep feed and water in the small pen, as the safe area for them to return to. This becomes your “catch” pen.
NEVER chase a goat to catch it. That is what predators do. Your goat should never run from you — only to you. When you need to catch them, crowd them to smaller enclosures or a corner. Then, when they are stuck, calmly catch them. Allow them to relax before moving them. Ideally, you train them to be “caught” with treats/rewards and a call. Your baby has experienced this with their dam, so it’s familiar, but they need to learn it with you. Practice catching, relaxing, and releasing frequently.
The first week is most important. The most important month is the first month. Dam-raised kids have left everything they know and are alone in the world; if they do not become dependent on you in this time frame, they will become independent. If you skip a session with a weanling, it starves for affection and connection. Babies are demanding; they have short attention spans and short memories when it comes to training, but long memories when it comes to fear or not having their needs met. Frequency, gentleness, and rewards are key. There is no need to punish goats.
Remember, you are raising a kid. Kids become teenagers — even more so if they are intact females. As they approach their first birthday, and for a while after, they may cop a wild, stubborn, independent streak. It is normal because of hormones. Be patient. Keep working with them. It does pass. All of your work is not lost; they don’t hate you — they are just all wound up. With wethers, you get to skip this stage, for the most part.
Just as with any relationship, you will have good and not-so-good days, moodiness, and misunderstandings. Keep your eyes on the prize. When the two of you begin your adventures together, every moment invested now will pay exponential dividends on the trail.
Originally published in the January/February 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.