Mommie Dearest
Maxine Kinne

Not every doe is a perfect model of motherhood. She may take one look at those soggy kids and take a hike.

Mothering ability is one of the most highly valued heritable traits in all breeding animals. Females with poor mothering performance may pass this trait to their offspring. We don't want to select for a trait that forces us to bottle feed all the kids these does have. There are strategies you can use to outwit bad moms and convince them into taking their kids the first time this happens. Hopefully, they will get the idea and continue to be good mothers for the rest of their lives.

Make sure the kid acts normal. That generally means normal body temperature, teat-seeking behavior and the right odor. The law of the jungle dictates that kids who don't act right don't live. In the wild, they would slow down the mother or the herd and make many others susceptible to predation. (Humans are the only species that foster defectives.)

Chilled kids don't act right, and they won't eat even if the mother is a very good one. The neonate's body temperature can decline within an hour of birth, depending on weather and whether or not the doe had trouble delivering. Chilled kids need to be warmed up to 102o F (verified with a rectal thermometer). Put a heating pad in a cardboard box and set it on medium. Set the kid on the heating pad and put bath towels over it to retain the heat. Do not cover its head. Stay with the kid to make sure that its mother does not bite the electrical cord - she can electrocute herself.

Aside from behavior, maybe a rejective mother's sense of smell clues her the kid is defective. Kids also may pick up a strange odor when they are towel-dried if you use fabric softener. When one of my angora does attacked her son, I picked him up for a cuddle and realized that he smelled just like my laundry. Forget your squeamishness and pick up a big, gooey gob of placenta or amniotic fluid and rub it on the kid's head, back and especially its bottom. If that doesn't work well enough, a little Vicks VapoRub or peppermint extract on the doe's muzzle are good odor blockers.

Do you wear a lot of perfume? Does identify their offspring primarily by smell, at least for the first few days. Watch them smell bottoms every time the kids nurse. The kid who tries to sneak a sip from anyone besides his mom usually gets clobbered! Many dams are even fussy about which kid nurses which half of her udder. (I'm sure they name these Right Baby and Left Baby.) Use perfume judiciously for the first few days or of letting heavy Avon users fondle your kids.

Difficult births may result in rejection. Take the placenta or some of the birth fluids and smear it all over the doe's nose and in and around her mouth. Often, her first few licks of it will elicit a positive mothering response. Most reluctant mothers get the idea and begin talking to and licking the kids. Pain medication will make her feel better (no aspirin!) and may get her back in the swing of things more quickly. (Consult your veterinarian about the use of analgesics!)

Sometimes a doe butts her newborn away or attacks it even more viciously. She can be encouraged to accept it. Build a small enclosure by nailing a short length of 1" x 10" wood planking in a corner to confine the kid (18" - 24" high for dairy goats). This allows her to see and smell the kid without doing it harm. Put mother and kids together for short periods while monitoring them, and separate them again if mom's attitude is still poor. This may take up to several days.

A stanchion can be very helpful during rejection. Lock the mother into the stanchion and plug the kid in to her udder. Make sure it nurses all it wants. Repeat this about four times a day. When the mother's smell comes through the baby's bottom, she may well accept it. This is particularly helpful if the kid has been given colostrum or milk from a source other than the mother.

It is rather rare for rejection to occur after the bonding process has taken place. This might be due to a kid who acts abnormally, although it would have to be pretty doggoned strange, or that a kid has been nursing another doe and picked up her smell. I've also heard of certain mothers who prefer one gender over another.

Here's to great maternal behavior and strong, healthy kids. But if you don't have one or the other, be patient and some of these suggestions ought to help. Many of these tricks also work to graft an orphan onto a surrogate mother. Good luck!


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