WEANING is one of the two most stressful times in a kid's life, the other event being birth. Weaning may even be more stressful because it is the first time in the kid's life that it is without the antibodies in its dam's milk that protect it from diseases, yet the kid's immune system is far from fully developed.
Intact bucklings must be weaned at three months of age to keep them from breeding their dams, sisters, or other females in the herd. Doelings can stay with their dams longer. However, my experience is that doelings grow better if they are weaned and placed in their own herd away from their dams no later than six months of age, giving dams time to re-gain body condition before their next annual breeding.
At Onion Creek Ranch in Texas, this is my weaning protocol: All kids are dewormed, inoculated with their initial and then booster CD/T and pneumonia vaccinations, and have had all eartags inserted before weaning. My article titled Deworming and Vaccination Schedules appears on the Articles page of www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.
Weaned kids are moved to pens/pastures as far away from their dams as possible. Stress can cause illness and even result in the kid's death, so you must work to minimize stress at all times. 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 direct access of males to females, resulting in "party girls" who get bred too young through the fence and produce unwanted matings. Males and females need to be penned away from each other.
I wean kids early in the morning of a good-weather day. Extreme weather conditions such as rainy, very hot, or extremely cold are avoided. Morning is chosen so that kids have time to acquaint themselves with their new surroundings 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 route that the goats will travel on foot will be watered to avoid respiratory problems like inhalation pneumonia. The goal is always to avoid stress.
When weaning kids (bucklings in particular), 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 weanlings, then wait several days or a week to introduce this established small herd of at least three to five (3 to 5) kids into the larger weaned group in the morning of a good-weather day. Doelings are not as aggressive as bucklings, but they too will chase and mount each other until everyone accepts their new positions in the group. I follow the same mini-herd protocol for doelings as I do with bucklings.
Polled bucklings (goats born naturally without horns) trying to establish their place in the pecking order of mostly horned goats in hot climates can collapse and die of heatstroke. Horns act as radiators to remove heat from the body. This is another reason not to disbud kids.
Check your fencelines before nightfall and at daylight 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.
Feed the weaned kids after they are in their new pastures. Eating together is a familiar group activity that will add some routine to the new herd. Kids tend to wander, getting lost from the main group, and become targets for predators. Put an older goat of the same sex in with the bucklings to create a leader for them to follow. Herding kid goats is like trying to herd chickens, i.e. they go in all directions.
The weaning process puts stress on the dam, 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 and dairy-influenced 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 going to be uncomfortably tight by the next day. A too-full udder makes her miserable, the potential for congested udder or mastitis is increased, and you likely 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 seldom have this drying-up problem, but I choose to be careful when drying off dams.
A competent adult (preferably neutered or spayed) livestock guardian dog, although tough to find but invaluable to have, should have been with put in with the dams as they were kidding so that kids got used to its presence. This, of course,depends upon the availability of a livestock guardian dog who isn't aggressive towards kidding dams or 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 in its attempt to familiarize itself with its new charges. Remember that each livestock guardian dog is its own unique individual with challenges that you must either adapt to, resolve. or change out the dog for one that works under your management conditions.
Around the beginning of the third month of the kids' lives, 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 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. These worms suck blood, causing anemia, and can kill them. Doing fecals randomly monthly is essential. Just because you dewormed doesn't mean it worked.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 4.1.20
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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.
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