The two most stressful times in a kid's life are birth and weaning. Weaning may even be more stressful because it is the first time that the kid is without the antibodies in its dam's milk that protect from diseases, yet its immune system is far from fully developed.
Stress can cause illness and even lead to death, so you must work to minimize stress at all times. Intact bucklings must be weaned at three months of age to keep them from breeding their dams, sisters, or other females in the herd. Because of pasture limitations, I leave doelings with their dams and let the dams wean them. My experience is that doelings grow better if they are placed in their own herd no later than six months of age, giving dams time to re-gain body condition in anticipation of their next breeding.
At Onion Creek Ranch in Texas, this is my weaning protocol: All kids have been dewormed, inoculated with their initial and booster CD/T and pneumonia vaccinations, and have had eartags inserted before weaning. My article "Deworming and Vaccination Schedules" appears in MeatGoatMania archives and on www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. Weaned kids are moved to pastures far away from their dams. Kids and dams calling to each other for days is stressful to everyone. A common fenceline between males and females is not good management because it allows access of males to females, resulting in "party girls" who get bred too young through the fence and produce unwanted matings.
I wean kids early in the morning of a good-weather day (not rainy, very hot, or extremely cold). Morning is chosen so that kids have time to acquaint themselves with their new surroundings long before nightfall. Kids are separated from their dams at the central working pens. If the distance is great, goats are trailered to their new location. If the distance is short but the alleys are dusty from lack of rain, then the paths that the goats will travel on foot will be watered to avoid dust-induced pneumonia. The goal is always to avoid stress.
I never wean just one or two kids and put them into a herd of already-weaned kids. They will be harassed to the point of exhaustion as the pecking order is re-established. I establish a mini-herd of at least three to five weanlings, then wait five to seven days to introduce this small but bonded herd into the larger weaned group in the morning of a good-weather day.
Polled (and even horned) bucklings trying to establish their place in the pecking order in hot climates can collapse and die of heatstroke. Horns act as radiators to remove heat from the body. Polled goats are goats that have been born without horns. This is one more reason not to disbud kids. I check my fences and pastures morning, mid-day, and night to make sure that newly-weaned kids haven't gotten themselves caught in fences or into other life-threatening situations as the pecking order is re-set and as they try to find a way back to their dams who are calling to them. Doelings are not as aggressive as bucklings, but they too will chase and mount each other until everyone accepts their new position in the herd.
I feed the newly-weaned kids after they are in their new pastures. Eating together is a group activity that will help distract them from harassing each other and add some routine to the new herd. Kids tend to wander, getting lost from the main group and becoming targets for predators. Herding kid goats is like trying to herd chickens. No one is in the lead. I put one older goat of the same sex in with the weanlings for them to follow.
A skilled adult livestock guardian dog (difficult to find but invaluable - spend the time and money necessary to find the right one) was placed with the pregnant does and left there while they were kidding so that kids got used to its presence. This, of course, depends upon the availability of an adult livestock guardian dog who isn't aggressive to young kids. If not already done, introducing the livestock guardian dog (LGD) is another hurdle that you have to cross. See my article on Livestock Guardian Dogs on the Articles page of www.tennesseemeatgoats.com and in MeatGoatMania. Goats are prey animals. Livestock guardian dogs are essential in pastures of newly-weaned goats. A livestock guardian dog should not hurt kids but it can initially frighten them when the dog tries to move a straying kid back to the herd by nudging it or slobbering over its neck and face in its attempt to familiarize itself with its new charges.
Each livestock guardian dog is its own unique individual with challenges that you must either adapt to, resolve, or change out for one that works under your management conditions. The dog is not going to adapt to your needs. He/she is either a guarder or a patroller and is either a good LGD or not. Just because livestock guardian dogs are sold as "raised with goats" or "doesn't kill chickens" does not mean that they will work in your operation. Never put pups with goats. An LGD under 15-18 months old is still a pup behavior-wise. I do not use Great Pyrenees; my personal experience is that Pyrenees crosses in particular tend to be wanderers. I also do not use intact males or females. I want them guarding, not taking time off work to reproduce and raise pups. I neuter and spay all of my LGD's. My business is raising top-quality breeding stock goats, not dogs.
Weaning puts stress on the dams, too. I wean one kid per dam each week, starting the first week of weaning with the biggest buckling. This process allows the doe's body to lower milk output gradually. Weaning all kids at one time can send her udder into milk overload. This is especially true of dairy goats, including Boers and Kikos, both breeds of which have significant dairy genetics in them. Remove all kids at one time and the dam's udder is soon going to be uncomfortably tight. A too-full udder makes her miserable, the potential for congested udder or mastitis is increased, and you at least will have to milk the dam. Do not take the dam off water. Repeat: Do not EVER take the dam off water. Meat-goat breeds without dairy influence like I raise, Tennessee Meat Goats(tm) and TexMasters(tm) , seldom have this drying-up problem, but I choose to err on the safe side.
Around the beginning of the third month of the kids' lives, you may want to consider cutting back slightly on grain fed to the dam. Kids should be eating more solid feed and should be requiring less milk. This is, of course, subject to evaluation since a doe with multiple kids, i.e. triplets or quads, has different nutritional needs from a dam with a single kid or twins. At the time of first kid's weaning, you may need to cut back a bit more on grain-based feed to the dam. Recognize that growing kids require a higher level of nutrition than mature goats, so be prepared to provide quality nutrition to these weanlings as they transition to eating on their own. Do not ever creep-feed (free-choice) feed them grain products or you will run the risk of ruminal acidosis, bloat, or founder. Do not ever suddenly take any goat off one type of feed and change to another feed type. My article on how to feed newly-weaned kids is on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. This is a very vulnerable time because they no longer are receiving antibodies in their dams' milk that protect them from disease yet their own immune systems are far from mature. Just -weaned kids are very susceptible to Haemonchus contortus (barberpole worm) infestation, as well as coccidiosis. Barberpole worms suck blood, cause anemia, and can kill. Doing fecals randomly once a month is essential. Just because you dewormed doesn't mean it worked. The only way to know if your dewormer worked is to do fecal counts using a microscope. See my article "Doing Your Own Fecals."
If you will follow my motto of learning to "think like a goat," many problems can be avoided and the weaning process will be less stressful for all involved -- kids, dams, and you.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 6/1/18
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