Baby goats shouldn’t be weaned too soon – their mother’s milk provides huge nutritional benefits. But if you’re raising goats for milking purposes any kids will soon be transferred from their mother’s milk over to commercial milk replacer formula, the costs of which can really add up if you’re not careful, so weaning kids as soon as possible (but not too soon) is important, especially in a commercial operation.
Baby goats are born with only one chamber of their four chamber stomachs actually functional – they can’t digest hay or grain. Even in a dairy operation a kid should be left with its mother to nurse for the first few days, since this is when the doe is producing colostrum – a very nutrient-rich milk. Colostrum can’t be put in with the rest of the milk from a commercial dairy, and would just go to waste anyways, so given the huge benefits it provides to the kid it’s best to let Mother Nature handle things for the first few days.
After that the time it takes to wean a kid will depend on a number of factors. If you are marketing milk-fed kids for Easter (or another specific ethnic market) that will be slaughtered at 6 to 8 weeks it’s best to leave them with the doe for the duration, since they will get more milk more often than they would on milk replacer.
Older kids on dairy does
If you want to keep your kids a bit longer you should put hay and grain in front of them as soon as they’re about 1 week old – they’ll copy the doe and start nibbling at it eventually. This encourages the other three chambers of their stomach to develop, which means they will be ready for weaning sooner, which will mean getting your doe back into milk production sooner as well.
Meat kids who are being kept for several months or even up to a year before being sent to market should simply be allowed to nurse as long as the doe will allow. Sooner or later the doe will dry naturally, or she’ll forcibly wean the kid, by which time he or she should be vigorously consuming hay (and pasture). In the fall, before you put the breeding buck in with the herd, you should complete the weaning by forcibly separating the does and their kids, as well as separating any intact bucklings from the doelings and the wethers before they start to breed.
Kids on milk replacer
It’s a very tough, time-consuming job raising a bottle-fed kid. Technically, in order to do it properly, a baby goat should be fed just as often as a baby human – once ever four to six hours. In reality the best most farmers can manage is two or three times a day, resulting in smaller kids that, without the nutrients of their mother’s milk, are more susceptible to infections and diseases. This is where the balancing act of weaning comes in – you should be giving the kid a bottle of milk as often as you can for the first six to eight weeks of life, but you can shorten this by a bit if the kid’s stomach becomes fully functional sooner. You can encourage this by slowly reducing the amount of milk replacer you feed, but if you cut back too soon or too severely the stomach won’t be ready, the kid won’t get enough nutrients, and its growth will be permanently stunted.