The Secret Life of Goats- A dog who nursed a goat

The Secret Life of Goats- A dog who nursed a goat

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Melanie has been running Ol’ Mel’s Farm in Louisiana for 2 years. It started when she acquired a Scottish Highland hairy cow for her grandson and sheep to eat the grass when all her friends suddenly wanted to come to see. This led to more and more people coming to visit as Melanie also brought in goats, chickens, and horses. Her plethora of animals came in handy when suddenly one of her does rejected a kid. It wasn’t another goat who saved the day or the cow. The hero happened to be the dog, Patches. 

Oreo’s mom was not a first-time mother. This was her second parturition, so she should have done a fine job as a mother. She did, actually, but only for a couple of weeks. Then suddenly, the doe would no longer allow Oreo to nurse. Melanie checked for mastitis and udder trauma, but there was no apparent reason for the doe to reject her kid after caring for him. Melanie spent several days holding down the doe for Oreo to nurse, but that was not sustainable. Because Oreo had been dam-raised thus far, he refused to take a bottle of any sort. He was becoming famished. 

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Just as Melanie was beginning to honestly worry about the survival of this young kid, he started following the family dog, Patches, around. Patches is a Sheepadoodle: a poodle and Old English Sheepdog mix. She had recently given birth to her first litter of puppies just two weeks prior. When Oreo came beneath her and latched onto a nipple, Patches stood patiently, allowing him to nurse. This lasted for at least a week until Oreo could start transitioning to regular feed.  

Dog’s milk is more highly concentrated than goat’s milk. This was likely beneficial to get more calories into Oreo when Patches probably didn’t produce the same volume of milk as a nursing doe would. Dog milk is higher in fat and protein and lower in carbohydrates than goat’s milk. While these differences may have affected Oreo’s growth if he had been entirely raised on dog milk, nursing on Patches for a week or so likely didn’t give enough of a nutritional difference to affect Oreo’s health or growth. If anything, it might have helped him grow more by being more nutritionally dense. 

Patches and her puppies.

When a lactating animal nurses young who are not her own, it is termed allonursing whether the young are the same species or not. This is an uncommon but not rare practice among some mammalian species. Some species of water buffalo perform allonursing across most of a herd. This not only protects the calves of mothers who may not produce well, but it can also give a wider variety of antibodies to the calves as they feed from different mothers.

Studies have found that allonursing occurs more often in herd animals. A reason for it not occurring more is due to the strong maternal bond formed quickly after birth. It can be difficult to form that bond later, and lactating mothers typically do not want to nurse young that are not their own. Animals such as dogs whose young are born in a state in which they need constant care (as opposed to being able to stand and follow the mother within hours of birth) tend to form their maternal bond over time with the higher amount of care given. 

Because milk production is directly tied to the amount consumed, extra nursing will usually increase the mother’s milk supply naturally. Not all animals will allow this because milk production takes a large amount of energy and nutrients. Producing extra milk can cause stress to the lactating mother. Her nutrition must be well-managed to ensure that her body does not suffer. 

Patches and her new “puppy,” Oreo.

Melanie still has no explanation for why Oreo’s mother stopped allowing him to nurse. The doe had spent her first year with sheep and seemed to consider herself a sheep more than a goat. When housed in the same pasture, she would hang out with the sheep rather than her fellow goats. Perhaps this caused her to be a little off, but still gives no obvious reason for refusing a kid. Regardless, this may be a good reason not to breed this particular doe again. 

Oreo, named for his tri-color appearance, along with the other Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy goats, were selected to be less intimidating than larger animals. This is because, at Ol’ Mel’s Farm, Melanie offers a mobile petting zoo and birthday party bookings with the animals. The farm has become quite popular, averaging 2-5 parties booked per weekend. During the summer, Ol’ Mel’s Farm runs a summer camp for youth to learn about farm animals. There are also seasonal events and themed parties held regularly.  

Resources 

Mota-Rojas, Daniel, et al. “Allonursing in Wild and Farm Animals: Biological and Physiological Foundations and Explanatory Hypotheses.” Animals: an open access journal from MDPI vol. 11,11 3092. 29 Oct. 2021, doi:10.3390/ani11113092 

Oftedal, Olav T.. “Lactation in the dog: milk composition and intake by puppies.” The Journal of nutrition 114 5 (1984): 803-12. 

Prosser, Colin G.. “Compositional and functional characteristics of goat milk and relevance as a base for infant formula.” The Journal of Food Science 86 2 (2021): 257-265. 

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