When Can a Baby Goat Leave Its Mother?

How Long Do Baby Goats Nurse and Stay with Their Mother Naturally?

When Can a Baby Goat Leave Its Mother?

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Weaning is a stressful time, mainly due to separation from the dam and sometimes other companions. A change of environment would make matters worse, while an abrupt change of diet would add digestive issues. So, when can a baby goat leave its mother without negative long-term effects? We can mitigate or even eliminate the stress by considering natural behavior and adopting techniques that allow gradual habituation to changes and maintenance of family bonds.

We can do this by:

  • Raising kids on the dam at least until weaning;
  • Allowing kids to form a nursery group;
  • Allowing pregnant does to withdraw to kid, then rejoin the herd together once kids are active;
  • Providing kids with hiding places to rest;
  • If separation is necessary, making it gradual, with compatible companions, in a familiar environment;
  • Keeping bonded individuals together;
  • Keeping a stable herd membership;
  • Rehoming goats with bonded companions.

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Raising Baby Goats Naturally

In the wild, goats form a matrilineal society consisting of mothers, daughters, and sisters in a stable herd. Kids are weaned gradually when they are 3–6 months old, whereupon young males disperse in bachelor groups.

Does leave the group close to kidding to give birth in isolation. As the dam cleans her newborn, she quickly forms a strong bond and memorizes the scent of her young. She then hides her kids under a bush or overhang, or in a tussock, while she moves away to forage. Kids remain hidden until her return. As kids soon become mobile, the young family needs ways to find each other. Mothers recognize their kids’ calls from 48 hours after birth and kids can pick out the bleat of their own mothers by at least five days old.

After a few days, as kids become stronger, they accompany their mother on foraging trips and sample vegetation at her side. From two weeks onward, the dam starts to reduce suckling time, while kids begin consuming vegetation. Their rumens are developing, although they remain dependent on milk.

Kids learn from foraging with mother.

Similarly-aged kids begin to form groups that remain together independently of mothers, although frequently accompanied by one or more adult females. From five weeks, kids gain a little independence from their mother, suckling less and spending more time with other kids. Females remain together at least until they next give birth, then often resume their relationship after kidding. The nursery group also forms long-lasting friendship bonds.

How and When to Wean Baby Goats

Natural herd behavior does not always suit production techniques, if we wish to milk does and sell offspring. However, considering its principles can help us to maintain harmony within the herd and reduce stress. Behavior scientists recommend that dams and kids remain together for at least 6–7 weeks, which corresponds to the earliest time for weaning and kids’ growing independence from mother. However, there is still a strong bond at this time, and separation causes emotional distress. This can be mitigated by keeping kids in their nursery group, so that they have the social support of familiar companions.

Mother and kid quickly develop a strong bond.

If kept together, the dam will wean her kids herself when she feels they are ready. However, very milky does may have trouble preventing kids from continuing to suckle beyond necessity. If kids are still suckling at 3–4 months, you may need to enforce weaning. Fence-line weaning helps to reduce the shock of separation and encourages independence. Grouping kids in a pen or paddock adjacent to the dam herd enables them to maintain contact, while preventing suckling. An alternative weaning method allows kids to accompany their dams: kids wear a wooden bit that prevents suckling until the udder has been milked, although the wearer can still browse.

Benefits of Motherly Care

Studies have shown that kids benefit from mother’s presence, both to mitigate stress and to learn foraging skills. Kids also learn how to negotiate the social hierarchy of the herd by growing up with adult goats.

When confronted with novelty or danger, kids look to their mother to decide on the appropriate reaction. Her experience should guide them as to the correct action to avoid mistakes. In experiments, mother’s presence emboldened kids to inspect unfamiliar objects and people.

Mother’s guidance is also invaluable for learning browsing skills. Before weaning and shortly afterwards, kids learn where to find suitable browse, what to eat and how to combine different plants, when to browse each area, and how to access certain difficult plants.

Kids learn from browsing with the adult herd.

Studies show that pastoral goats develop safe browsing techniques to deal with plants containing substances to deter herbivores. Goats learn how to mitigate toxic effects while enhancing nutritive and therapeutic qualities, including the treatment of parasitic infection. These techniques are passed from mother to kids and then spread within the herd down through the generations. The mothers’ role is therefore crucial to herds managed in a pastoral or range system.

Kids raised in an adult herd learn to respect the hierarchy. As youngsters they are subordinate and quickly learn to yield to older and stronger individuals. However, they still learn strategies to gain access to resources while avoiding aggression. As they grow, they renegotiate their hierarchy first through play, then through challenges. Overall, stable groups are less likely to suffer the stress of hierarchy changes and bullying.

Emulating Natural Behavior

In my opinion, the key for a harmonious herd of well-balanced individuals with good browsing skills is to keep families together in a stable herd, avoiding separation of bonded individuals. Long-term companions are mutually supportive and less competitive at the feed rack. Social stress can be reduced by allowing does to withdraw to privacy to kid and providing places for young kids to hide. Development is enhanced by allowing kids to remain with their dams at least until sexual maturity, while giving them the opportunity to form social groups with other kids. Then, if you need to sell excess animals, they can be rehomed in groups of bonded individuals, after a gradual weaning process.

A dam with her yearling (left) and kid (right).

Farmers’ Experiences of Raising Kids on the Dam

In practice, there are several productive techniques for raising dairy goats on the dam. Forty organic farmers surveyed in France used the following methods: (1) kids kept full-time on the dam, separated only for milking, then weaned from six weeks to allow milking full-time; (2) kids kept with the dam full-time, but one udder shielded from suckling; (3) kids separated at night into a nursery group, rejoining dams at pasture after milking. Some of the farms kept dams with the kids post-weaning, using a wooden bit to prevent suckling.

The farmers surveyed were mostly satisfied with the system. Only a few had issues of yield reduction or contagion. The most common problem was that kids were not tame due to lack of human contact. I have found that this can be resolved by petting the kids daily from birth. This obviously depends on whether the mother herself is tame, as she will warn the kids away if she is wary of you. However, even then, she may become more accepting of your presence just after birth, as long as you are careful and gentle in your approach. Taming kids later is also possible with time and effort.

Kids become friendly with humans if petted from very young.

There is normally a drop in production if the dam suckles more than one kid. However, research into milk quality indicated that fat and protein content are higher when milking follows suckling and when kids and dams are together for a longer time (sixteen versus eight hours).


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