Starting Newborns Right: Birth to Weaning
Maxine Kinne

The stork brings active, healthy kids most of the time, thank goodness. There are some basic things we can do to help them into the world and start them off right.

Be prepared! Kidding shouldn't come as a surprise. A healthy start begins in clean, dry, freshly-bedded privacy with supervision to make sure everything goes OK. If it doesn't, it is very important to intervene before a situation becomes critical. When a healthy doe gives birth easily, and in a good environment, most neonatal problems are due to chilling, starvation and bacterial infections.

Get Kids Breathing

Some fetal membranes are very tough, and the kid arrives like a gift inside a balloon. Break the membrane so the kid can start breathing as soon as it is born. Rub its face with a towel for stimulation, and stick a piece of straw up its nostril to make it sneeze. You can pinch an ear or the tail to get a few good yells out of the newborn. A little sneezing and hollering helps inflate the lungs. If a kid has trouble clearing its airways, pick it up by the hind legs and hold it upside down for a few minutes. A dark red or purple color of the gums is a sign that the kid is has been oxygen deprived. This symptom resolves with time.

Protecting Against Germs

As an extra hygiene precaution, I place a clean towel behind the doe for each kid's arrival. No kid is allowed off of the towel until its navel is dipped in 7% iodine. This helps prevent serious bacterial infections in early life. Iodine should be applied to the entire cord up to and including the belly wall. Use a small container for the iodine, like a plastic film canister or a baby food jar. Lower the kid's umbilical cord into the iodine, hold the jar against its tummy, and turn the kid upside-down to coat the umbilicus. I like to repeat this procedure when the kids are about one hour old.


Cold-weather delivery, dystocia, and hypoglycemia can all contribute to reduced body temperature in newborns. Chilled kids won't eat, nor will the mother want them to. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can develop because the kid won't eat. These conditions are usually avoided if the kid eats soon after birth. Chilled kids are lethargic and depressed. Feel the temperature inside the kid's mouth with your finger. If it feels cool, artificial heat must be used to raise its temperature to 102o F.

You are only 98.6 degrees, and it's impossible to warm a kid sufficiently inside your coat. Place the kid in a cardboard box and wrap a heating pad (medium heat setting) around it. If you can't get the pad around the whole kid, lay the kid on top of it. Cover the kid with towels to retain the heat. Thirty to sixty minutes of supplemental heat should do the trick. When the kid's temperature approaches normal, it should become more active and alert and display interest in finding something to eat. Electrical cords are very hazardous - don't leave the mother goat alone in the same area with the heating pad, or she may bite into it and electrocute herself.

Hypoglycemia and Starvation

Kids are born with very limited energy reserves in the form of brown fat. They must eat soon after birth - the sooner the better. Without food in the tummy, body temperature goes down and the kid becomes hypoglycemic. Without your help, the kid's condition will advance to depression, lethargy, coma and death. The best way to prevent this is to make sure the kid eats as soon after birth as possible.

A keratin plug in the streak canal of each teat is nature's way of protecting the udder against bacterial invasion. Remove the keratin plugs by milking one or two streams of colostrum out of each teat to be sure milk is readily available.

Colostrum is the thick, yellow "first milk" present in the udder when the doe gives birth. It is rich in maternal antibodies that protect kids against disease during the first few weeks of life. Kids absorb colostral antibodies through the intestinal lining. The body's ability to assimilate these antibodies begins to decline within two hours of birth. By the time a kid is 24 hours old, the gut can no longer absorb the large molecule antibodies.

After Day One

Because goats are relatively independent at birth, kids need to be socialized within the first four days to be tame and friendly. You will need to have their trust before you do all the rotten things to them listed below. The down side of friendly kids is that kids constantly swarm you and become proficient at untying shoelaces, or at least slobbering all over them, at very early ages. Handle them gently and often in those first few critical days.

Vaccinations need to be given at appropriate intervals, depending on your style of herd health management. Clostridium perfringens Types C & D and tetanus toxoid are the most essential of these. Some manufacturers combine these two, and that type of combination is called CD/T.  Kids may need additional vaccines if the dam was not given prenatal shots three to four weeks before delivery. Talk with your veterinarian about giving injections of selenium if you are in an area of the country deficient in this trace mineral. Additional vaccines can be given for specific problems within a herd.

Timing Basic Vaccinations

Pregnant Does (30 days before due)

1 dose CD/T

All Adult Goats (annual)

1 dose CD/T

Kids from Immunized Does

1 dose CD/T @ 4 weeks
1 dose CD/T @ 8 weeks
1 dose CD/T @ 12 weeks

Kids from Non-Immunized Does

1 dose Tetanus Antitoxin @ birth
1 dose CD/T @ birth

1 dose Tetanus Antitoxin @ disbudding

1 dose CD/T @ 4 weeks
1 dose CD/T @ 8 weeks

Disbudding is much easier on kids from 7 to 14 days old than on older kids. The success rate, defined by regrowth of scurs, is very good when they are disbudded at this age by someone who is proficient at it.

Castration method and age varies with the herdsman's personal preference. I like to castrate at 10 to 12 weeks old, giving the plumbing a little extra time to grow, which may help to avoid urinary calculi. If you have success neutering at other ages, you have found the right answer for your herd.

Coccidia and worms can be very harmful. Young kids are very susceptible to these and external parasites because their internal and external tissues are tender and succulent. It is a good idea to deworm the doe on the day she gives birth to reduce the number of oocysts in the barn and on the premises. Toward the same objective, it is advisable to treat does in late gestation for coccidia. Length and timing of coccidia treatments in pregnant does depend on which product you use. As the kids grow, monitor coccidia and worms with fecal analysis and treat them as needed. Regularly examine young kids for biting and sucking lice. Louse and tick powder labeled for cats is safe to use on young kids.

Food and Water

When there are too many goats for the amount of feeder space available, kids are the first to suffer. A separate area, called a creep feeder, can be situated in a corner with a feeder inside so the kids don't have to compete with adults for food. Kids often begin to pick at fine hay within a few days of birth and should have the best. A very small amount of grain can also be offered in the creep feeder or individually.

Like all goats, kids like to jump up on things, and they don't recognize the danger of a water bucket or trough. The first jump into one may well be the last. Use water troughs with vertical walls under 10". If they jump or get pushed in, they can get out. A death like this is a tragic and unnecessary loss.


Kids should remain with their mothers until they are a minimum of 10 weeks old. The kid is born without a functional rumen and must be eating enough to sustain itself before weaning time. In these first weeks, the kid also begins to learn how to function within the herd. The stresses of weaning are great, as the kid is removed from her mother and the nutrition her milk has provided up to this point. Keep a close eye on internal parasites, as the kid can be quite prone to them during this stressful time. I never wean kids - they nurse until the mother gets sick and tired of them.

Many kids that seem to do poorly within the first few critical hours can be saved with a little extra attention. For their first three months of life, a good herd health program aimed at prevention paves the way to a darned good chance at a long, healthy life.


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