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A goat who won't let her kid nurse

Reluctant milker

I should have known that Abigail's kidding experience was too simple. The birth itself went fine and our doe clearly bonded with her kid...but she really, really didn't want to let him nurse. On the first day, once the placenta was gone and life in the coop had returned to normal, I kept checking in and seeing the kid head for the udder...then Abigail would run in the other direction. A search of the internet suggested that this behavior is distressingly common, and that the solution is either to bottle raise the kid (not our goal) or to stick mom in the milking stanchion in order to give the kid an opportunity to drink.

Goat walk

When the kid was six hours old, I decided to try the stanchion trick. The result? Complete and utter chaos. I tried to leave Artemesia in the coop and to carry the kid while walking Abigail to the porch, but our doe seemed more concerned about leaving her herd mate than she was about the location of her kid. After much screaming (Abigail and Artemesia --- I refrained, despite my frustration), we went back to collect the doeling and all four of us (plus Lucy) ended up on the porch.

Cute goat

Lucy was intrigued by the new creature in my arms, Artemesia figured out that by jumping up on top of the picnic table she could stick her nose in the bag of alfalfa pellets, and Abigail realized that she could yank her neck right out of the stanchion. Nearly in tears, I ran to get backup.

Milking a difficult goat"You should have called me sooner," said Mark, taking in the drama unfolding in front of him. He tied up Lucy and Artemesia, then grabbed Abigail's hind leg while I pinned our doe against the wall. That left each human with one free hand, which we used to push the befuddled kid up against the nipple. And, to everyone's relief, he drank...and drank...and drank.

Mark and I considered a second feeding that day, but it gets dark so early at this time of year, and I wasn't sure that Abigail would have produced any new milk in two hours. So we left her until morning, at which point I made the same mistake all over again. I was worried and went up to check on the goats at 7:30 while Mark was still asleep, and seeing the kid shivering in 14-degree weather, I figured that surely I could repeat the feeding on my own this time around. To cut a long story short, chaos reigned again, this time with Abigail discovering a new trick --- lying down in the milking stanchion, never mind that the kid's head was underneath her belly. But I was finally able to tie up the two troublemakers (Lucy and Artemesia), to heft Abigail's belly up in one arm, and to stick the kid onto a nipple with the other.

Milking with a machine and a kid

Meanwhile, I decided that with only one kid, Abigail's udder wasn't getting all the way cleared out, which probably kept the flesh perennially tender, so I pulled out our milking machine and set it to sucking colostrum out of the other teat. I have to say --- that milking machine is a life saver. I was able to hold Abigail up, keep the kid's mouth on the nipple (he isn't too bright), and milk the second teat all with my two hands. When Mark showed up, everything was under control (even though, once again, he was right --- I should have called him sooner).

Milker in training

Since then, Abigail still hasn't let the kid drink on his own, but things have gotten much smoother. After his fourth real feeding, the kid finally started jumping around and acting like a baby goat should, which was a huge relief. Meanwhile, Abigail still requires an admonishing hold around her hind leg at first, but she soon settles into the stanchion (which we've relocated to the kidding stall to make crowd control simpler). Even Artemesia has figured out her role --- cleaning up any tidbits Abigail leaves behind once the milking is done.

For the next few days, we'll stick to thrice-daily feedings, but by the end of the week I hope to attain a morning and evening schedule as if we were milking. And maybe by then Abigail will be making enough milk to share with us as well as her kid.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Everything does take time. I think when you say tender "flesh" it's really tender mammary glands and nipple. What tidbits does Artemesia get? Food--or actually some milk? Do you alternate which side you use the milking machine--and baby--on? That is, does he know there is another teat on the other side? If he does, he might try both sides on his own...Could you put up that video camera you had once for the deer, to see what happens when you are not there?

Good to read the whole process, and thanks for all the photos!

Comment by adrianne Tue Mar 10 09:08:19 2015
Mom --- Actually, as of this morning, I think the problem has settled itself out. I milked out a cup of extra milk yesterday morning after the kid was done and prepared to do the same today. But he didn't seem interested in latching onto a nipple, and when I set up the machine, only a tenth of a cup came out. Sounds like the kid got sick of waiting for breakfast and Abigail let him nurse off the stand!
Comment by anna Tue Mar 10 09:39:00 2015
I'm guessing goats are like people, in that the more the need is, the more milk will be made? In which case, try milking her even after he's eaten to make sure she's empty, and I bet she should start to make more milk naturally.
Comment by Emily Tue Mar 10 14:32:20 2015

The newborn probably needs every 4-6 hours for at least the 4-6 days. I know all too well those early days. We would keep the bottle babies on the porch until they could get to 3X's a day. Also, in the coldest weather we would put a brooder lamp in the corner of the lambing/kidding jug to help keep a cozy corner for the baby for the first couple of days at least.

Hope the baby gets stronger. The first week to 10 days are the critical time when they may get sick or chilled.

Comment by Charity Tue Mar 10 14:42:00 2015

I'm glad the doe has finally let her kid nurse. We have had does do the same thing before. Luckily, after about the second day when the scent of the doe's milk shows up in the kid when the doe smells their back side, she will usually let them nurse. Usually, but not always. Maybe you can get a little more rest without the stress of worrying now. Good luck!


Comment by Fern Tue Mar 10 16:15:12 2015

Emily --- I'd been holding off on milking out the extra since I wasn't sure if the kid was getting enough. But now that he's drinking, I'm going to go ahead and start milking her out twice a day for exactly that reason. We only got a third of a cup today, but I figure that's a good start!

Charity --- I was going by Storey's Guide to Dairy Goats, which said 2 to 4 times a day feedings to total 12 to 14 ounces for the first three days. I'm sure more often would be better, but our kid seems to have thrived on that treatment! (I do think he might have gotten more milk total than they suggested, though. :-) )

Fern --- I really appreciate you sharing your experiences --- makes me think Abigail's a pretty normal goat. :-) I'm definitely ready to enjoy the cute kid rather than worrying over him constantly!

Comment by anna Tue Mar 10 18:37:09 2015

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