Bottle babies are a pain in the behind. It takes a lot of extra time to mix the milk replacer, fill the bottles, feed the babies three or more times a day, and clean up all your bottles and nipples and and bowls afterward. A lot of dairy breeders pull the babies right at birth, as this can help prevent the spread of a disease called C A E, which shortens goats’ lifespans and reduces their milk production, often dramatically. Out of seven goat births here on our place, however, we’ve only managed to attend one.
The only bottle babies we’ve had from here were kids rejected by their moms. Between day jobs, the garden, house renos, and the human baby, it’s just not something I would willingly sign up for. Besides, all of the goats in our original herd were raised on CAE prevention, so we should be covered on the disease front.
However, in spring, 2013, we bought a few more goat kids, to broaden our genetic base a bit. We bought from a reputable breeder, one who raises her kids on CAE prevention. That’s good, because it means we won’t introduce anything to our clean herd, but it sucked, because it meant bottle babies again. Trekking to the barn four times a day in the cold and dark was no more fun in 2013 than in other years, and I have to admit, there was some grumbling on our part.
The 2013 bottle kids were born at the end of February and beginning of March, so they were a couple of months older than our farm kids. We really noticed a size difference – at three weeks, the dam-raised kids were as tall as the bottle babies, but much leaner and glossier. As well, they seem more energetic and curious.
Even now, almost a year later, the dam-raised goats are still somewhat bigger and sleeker; those bottle babies still haven’t caught up. Our little female bottle doeling hasn’t really put on the weight the same way our dam-raised doeling did, and seems to have entirely too many ribs, especially compared to the other yearlings, who are verging on being fat.
While I understand the reasoning behind CAE prevention, I do have to say I am happier with dam-raised kids overall. They seem healthier, and are considerably less work. Sure, we don’t get to milk right away, but it’s only a few weeks before you can pen the kids at night and milk in the morning. It also gives us a bit more freedom – if we can’t be here to milk, we can leave the kids with the does, and let them do our milking for us, which makes finding a farm sitter a whole lot easier. In 2012, I couldn’t milk with the birth of our baby, but we let Titan keep milking Saffron right up until the middle of September, when I felt up to taking over. It let us get a couple months’ worth of milk that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to deal with.
The one disadvantage to the dam-raised kids is how skittish and shy they end up being. We can catch and handle every goat on our farm, but the dam-raised does, in particular, only come for a bucket of grain, unlike the bottle does, who come for ear-scratches and attention. Interestingly, the dam-raised bucks seem to get fairly friendly once they are separated from their moms and put in the buck pen. It will also be interesting seeing how the yearlings and two year olds are for kidding and milking in 2015 – I expect those dam-raised does to be a challenge on the milking stand, but maybe I’ll get a pleasant surprise. On the bright side, having been raised by their moms, those skittish yearlings should (theoretically) turn out to be pretty good moms, which will save us the hassle of bottle feeding, or even coaching a nervous first-timer about how to stay still to nurse her kids.
We’re hoping that, with the exception of maybe (maybe!) a buckling every couple-few years, we are done with bottle babies. We did not breed any first-timers this year, as we know our springtime will be crazy-busy, but most of our yearlings were dam-raised anyhow, so they should do okay when we do breed them in 2015. I’ll be sure to provide updates!