Baby goats are little bundles of fluffy joy – until you wean them, and they pass all hours of the day (and night) calling for their moms.
Whether you’re bottle-feeding or relying on the doe to raise her baby, there comes a point at which the kid must be separated from its primary source of milk, but when can a baby goat leave its mother?
There are a lot of differing opinions about when the best time is to wean a baby goat. Some say 6-8 weeks is ideal, while others recommend weaning by bodyweight rather than age.
So, when can a baby goat safely leave its mother, and what care does it require, before and after that event, to keep it happy and healthy?
When to Separate a Bottle-Fed Baby Goat
Many goat owners prefer to bottle feed their goat kids as this enables them to bond with the animals early on. Having become accustomed to humans at such a young age, a bottle-fed baby will, more often than not, grow into a friendly adult goat.
This is a crucial characteristic if you’re breeding dairy goats or raising goats for the pet trade.
A newborn goat does need to spend at least a few hours, if not a few days, with its mother to make sure it gets the colostrum it needs. The first milk is rich in nutrients and antibodies that are vital for the baby kid’s survival and can’t be found elsewhere.
After a couple of days, your babies should have had their fill of colostrum, at which point you can consider separating them from their mothers and transferring them to a bottle baby pen.
For the first 10 days of a newborn goat’s life, you’ll need to bottle feed it four times a day, starting at 150 ml per feed for the first three days, then increasing the milk quantity to 300 ml per feed.
You can start introducing small amounts of grain, pellets, and hay to the little one’s diet as early as one week. You can then increase this quantity incrementally as it grows.
Depending on the breed, by the time a kid is 2-3 weeks old, it should be consuming around a quart of milk twice a day.
At eight weeks old, you can start to reduce the quantity of milk and increase solid feed in the form of a goat kid milk replacer feed (like this excellent one at Tractor Supply).
The final transition from milk to solid goat feed can be a tricky one, however, so we’re going to explore it in more detail later on.
When Can a Mother-Raised Goat Baby Be Separated?
Allowing a mother goat to raise her own baby not only saves you a lot of time, but it’s also the most natural and healthy approach.
Our baby goats stay in a dedicated enclosure with their mothers for the first two weeks of their lives. Here, the kids can nurse whenever they want while developing a strong maternal bond.
Once they reach 2-3 weeks of age, we start allowing the mother goats out to forage for a few hours each day, keeping the babies safe in their enclosure. We gradually increase this period of separation until we’re ready to wean.
This can vary quite a bit, depending on several factors, including the kid’s birth weight, overall health, current weight, and the mother’s milk production.
Theoretically, a kid whose body weight is twice his original birth weight is ready to leave to his mother but, I recently had a robust baby pygmy goat who reached that at four weeks old!
That seemed a bit premature to me and, fearing that it might put too much stress on him (and all of us), I decided to give him a bit more time to develop.
He’s now almost lifting his mother of her feet when he nurses, so I think maybe I missed the ideal time to wean!
He is a little on the older side, being 12 weeks, so his day of reckoning is just around the corner – or possibly, tomorrow.
You would think the doe would have rejected his nursing efforts by now, but as I’ve found in the past, these long-suffering Boer goats will keep on nursing for up to six months or until they go into labor with their next round of babies!
How to Create a Stress-Free Weaning Experience
The most important aspect of weaning any baby animal is staying calm and trusting the process. Things may get a little heated and noisy out there, but be confident that you’re doing the right thing.
When it comes to weaning a bottle-fed or mother-raised goat baby, the process is much the same.
Babies like mine, who’ve been raised by their mothers, have an advantage in that they’ve been able to mimic their mother’s behavior so they already have a good idea of how to look after themselves when they’re thirsty or hungry.
On the downside, they’ve also developed strong bonds with their mothers so they tend to experience more acute separation anxiety, which makes weaning more stressful.
To make it easier, we try to separate the babies for a few hours a day, gradually increasing that period until they are completely weaned.
This approach also helps prevent common weaning problems in the does, like mastitis. See our article on treating goat mastitis naturally here!
We also try to keep the mothers and babies within sight of one another, although that does little to lower the volume!
Weaning bottle-fed babies is a lot easier, however, as they are not bonded to their mothers. For these little guys, it’s just a case of reducing the amount of milk they receive each day while increasing the solid foods.
You might want to wean your babies off the bottle at the same time as you let them out to graze as this can help reduce their complaining by giving them something else to focus on, as well as something else to eat.
As we wean, we also deworm and give them probiotics to boost their digestive and immune systems during this stressful period. This approach also helps reduce the likelihood of coccidiosis and other similar conditions.
As goats are sociable animals, keeping a weaned baby or mother goat alone will only increase stress.
Make sure you have a companion to keep each one company, even if it’s an older nanny goat, and you’ll find the process to be a lot calmer and quieter!
On the plus side, goats are remarkably hardy even at a young age, so cold weather shouldn’t be a problem for your little ones, assuming you’ve provided a clean stall and plenty of bedding.
The More Gradual, the Less Stressful
When it comes down to “What age can a baby goat leave its mom?” there are no hard and fast rules. Most breeders and owners agree that four weeks is too young and 12 weeks too old, so aiming for somewhere between 6-8 weeks is ideal.
The more gradual the weaning process is, the less stressful it is for everyone involved. It also gives your baby goat’s digestive system more time to adjust from a milk-only diet to one that includes everything in your vegetable garden!
While this approach won’t do much to reduce the constant bleating, it will ensure the future health of your little ones.
Although weaning a bottle-fed baby is, in some ways, easier and almost always quieter, it comes with its own challenges.
These babies have never seen their mothers drink or forage, so learning these basics will be more challenging for them. Your best bet is to let them out with the herd or put them with an older goat who can show them the ropes.
Listening to newly weaned baby animals cry for their mothers can be heart-breaking but, knowing what I do now, I’m going to be strong this time and hopefully create the most stress-free weaning experience our homestead has seen to date.
What’s your weaning process or will you be weaning for the first time? Let us know your experiences below in the comments!