Raising your own goats is often a rewarding, yet challenging adventure. Weaning baby goats, also called kids, off milk can be a difficult and stressful task. Knowing when to wean and understanding the weaning process are the key elements to successfully transitioning a young goat off milk and onto solid foods.
Goat kids should be weaned when their birth weight increases to a specific amount, usually sometime between 2 and 3 months old. The process of weaning, along with the kid’s weight and age, will play significant roles in its ability to fight off illnesses and thrive well into adulthood
The weaning process is a major milestone in a goat kid’s life. The following information will help you recognize when your baby goat is ready to be weaned and prepare for the journey ahead. Weaning a goat kid too early or too late can be detrimental to their health and future lives.
What Is Weaning and Why Is It Important?
Weaning is the vital and necessary process of switching a young mammal from a liquid to a solid food diet. Up until this process begins, the baby animal has, for the most part, only consumed milk from their mother or milk replacer fed to him or her from a bottle. The weaning process is meant to be gradual, not a sudden switch overnight, if possible. (source)
Things to Do Before Weaning a Goat Kid
Before you wean any goat kid, you should take a few precautionary steps first. Providing a solid foundation during the first months of life can go a long way in preventing disease and weight loss in young goats once the weaning process has begun.
Make Sure They Get Colostrum
It is important that you are sure that your goat kid has received colostrum, the antibody-filled first milk provided by their mother. They will need this vital milk within the initial 18 hours after they are born.
Colostrum provides baby goats with the immunity they will need to survive during the first months of their lives.
If their mother is unable to provide the colostrum, you can purchase replacement liquid colostrum from another farm or you can find powdered colostrum replacer at a local feed store. (source)
Record Birth Weight
Be sure to write down their birth weight to establish the baseline that you will use to monitor their growth going forward. Multiply that weight by 2.5. This is the weight they will need to reach before you begin weaning them off of milk.
Introduce Them to the Weaning Pen
Prepare your weaning pen at least a couple of weeks before you wean the goat kid. You will want to introduce them to the pen and possibly let them live there with their mother or other goats they are comfortable with, for a few weeks. Then, when you wean, you will remove the mother or other goats from the pen instead of moving the baby. (source)
Vaccinate and Deworm
All baby goats should be vaccinated and dewormed before you wean them. It is important that all goat kids have their CD-T vaccination to keep them from getting tetanus and enterotoxemia, a bacterial disease that wreaks havoc on a goat’s gastrointestinal system.
Goat kids should also be dewormed at least 2 times before they are weaned to help prevent the spread of parasites going forward. (source)
Begin Introducing Them to Solid Foods
When a goat kid begins to reach the two-month mark, make sure that you are offering them a goat kid starter food. They may not eat much, or any, at first, but over time, they will begin to eat some of it along with their milk. This will help ready them for the weaning stage.
Knowing When to Wean
Regardless of whether you bottle-feed your baby goats or let your momma goats raise their babies on their own, the time to wean is the same. Many goat owners recommend weaning goat kids between 2 and 3 months old.
Research suggests that the ideal weaning time is not a date but actually a weight.
To combat the stress that your goat kid will inevitably face during weaning, studies show that you should wait to wean until their weight increases to at least 2.5 times their initial weight at birth.
The same studies also suggest that kids that are already eating at least 1 ounce of solid food each day in the days leading up to weaning will have a higher growth rate afterward.
There really is no exact number of days that will determine when you should wean your goat kid. The best plan is to watch the calendar while also monitoring the kid’s growth and food consumption. (source)
The Weaning Process
As your kid inches closer their weaning weight, you should be offering them a goat starter feed. Once they reach the ideal weaning weight, age, and solid food consumption levels mentioned previously, you have two options.
- You can gradually reduce the milk access until they are completely off it.
- You can stop the milk access immediately.
Neither method is wrong but the goal to transition them completely from milk to solid food is the same.
Regardless of which method you choose, your goat kid should be living in a weaning pen, away from their moms or the bottle, within a short period of time.
As time goes on, they will no longer want milk and they will consume only solid foods and water. At that time, they are considered completely weaned. (source)
Be sure not to reintroduce them to their mothers too soon after weaning. If their mother is still producing milk, there is a chance they will regress and start drinking the milk again.
What to Expect During Weaning
Goat kids are known to cry and search for their moms or for the bottle once you separate them from their milk source. This is normal and will fade with time.
Some goat owners suggest separating the mothers from their babies completely during weaning. Others recommend keeping them within eye distance to they can still see their mothers but are unable to drink any milk from them.
This will either keep them calm or cause them more stress. Neither strategy is wrong, and you should do what works best for your situation.
Goat kids that are being weaned may lose weight in the days immediately following separation from their milk. This is completely normal due to the initial shock of all the changes they are facing. Just keep an eye on them and make sure they are eating their solid food and not losing too much weight. Their weight should pick up over time.
Although weaning goats can be stressful for all involved, mama goat, kid, and goat owner alike, there are some tips that you can follow to help keep your goat kids happy and healthy after weaning.
Make Sure That Newly Weaned Goat Kids Have Access to Plenty of Water
Also, the water trough should be short enough for the young goats to reach, but not so short that they can trip into the trough. Usually about 6-12 inches tall is ideal. Goat kids can fall prey to dehydration quickly if they run out of water. (source)
Give Them Plenty of Forage
Goat kids need to have plenty of forage, or roughage, in their diets. Pellet feeds are not enough, goats need grass or hay to balance their diets and keep their digestive systems working properly. (source)
Watch out for Coccidia and Other Illnesses
It is important to keep an eye out for any changes in your goat kid’s behavior after weaning them.
Coccidiosis is a dangerous and often fatal sickness in goats and needs to be caught early or prevented if possible. Bloody or dark-colored loose stool is the main symptom of coccidiosis. If you suspect this illness, consult a vet immediately and separate your sick goats as soon as possible.
Trust the Process
Do not go back to feeding your goat kid milk or let them back with their mothers simply because they cry or beg for it. For a short time, the baby goats will cry for their moms or search for the milk bottle they were used to getting each day.
Monitor their weight if you are concerned and consult a vet if you feel like they are losing too much weight. Remember, there may be a short period immediately following weaning where the kid may lose a little weight due to the shock of weaning.
The weaning process may seem challenging and at times it can be, but if you are prepared for the journey and know how to determine the right time to wean your goat, you will do just fine. If you follow the right steps, your goat kid will breeze through the weaning process and will flourish on into its adult years.