Kidding Tips and Tricks
Getting creative with feeding and marketing dairy goat kids.
The first kid of the season is a refresher. Despite two years of kidding and 250+ births witnessed, I’m surprised by that particular feeling of seeing a steaming baby wobbly in the hay. I stumble through the ceremony of taking the kid, cleaning it off, dipping its umbilical cord in iodine, and checking it for soundness. I then remember that there is a newly freshened doe waiting for me to relieve her udder of its bursting colostrum.
This is spring. It’s everything that the winter had promised it would be, but with streams of mud and freezing cold nights. It can be heartbreak, because as your herd size doubles and nearly triples, so does the frequency of sickness and death. But for the most part the season’s start-up is full of promise as you enter it wiser from all the lessons the previous year had to offer.
The looming question on most goat farms is one that continually challenges the farmer: what do you feed all those kids, and then what do you do with them? There is no universal approach to feeding kids, and whatever you choose will depend largely on the individual needs of your farm or homestead. To start, ask yourself 1) how long you plan to keep the kids (are you feeding for lifetime health or short-term weight gain?); 2) do you plan on using the milk for production; 3) what are the constraints of your infrastructure and budget (consider milk storage and cost)?
Some farms sell their kids to local feeder farms as early as three days old. Vermont Chevon connects dairy goat farmers with feeder farms that will raise the kids to market weight. Each feeder farm is different, so the price and terms of the sale vary. Although the organization is based in Vermont, they work with a handful of farms in New York as well.
If you prefer to raise kids on the farm, you’ll have to decide what to feed them. If you don’t readily need the milk for production, the easiest thing to do is feed the goat’s milk back to the kids. Some farms even allow their kids to be dam raised, which is a great way to save time and labor. The drawback is that kids who aren’t socialized with humans are much more difficult to handle and milk when they’re older. An important consideration when raising kids on goat’s milk is Caprine Arthritis and Encephalitis (CAE) prevention. Unless your herd is CAE free (defined as a closed herd with no goats testing positive for 3 years consecutively), you’ll want to pasteurize all of the milk and heat-treat the colostrum. This is especially important if you plan to sell the kids for breeding stock as most buyers will (and should) be curious about your farm’s CAE status and prevention measures.
Milk replacer is the least desirable source of kid feed. There are a handful of milk replacers on the market but the key is finding a goat’s milk replacer versus a lamb or calf replacer. Be sure to have plenty of probiotics on hand, like a commercial additive or yogurt, to help the kids maintain good gut flora. There is strong anecdotal evidence against the use of milk replacers, so if you’re considering this option be sure to discuss it with your veterinarian. Milk replacers can also be expensive and need to be stored in specific conditions so they don’t spoil. A tip: be sure to check the expiration date on the bag before you buy!
The best option in my experience is cow’s milk. Kids thrive on cows milk as well as they do on goats milk. The key is that it’s actual milk. One thing to watch out for is Johnes, a contagious bacterial infection of ruminant intestines, so pasteurized, whole milk is often your best option. Try contacting nearby cow dairies or the headquarters of a local dairy co-op. They often have excess milk in spring when cows are first freshened. If you only need a marginal daily amount, you can easily purchase a couple gallons of milk from the grocery store.
Of course, now you have to sell all of those kids that you so lovingly reared. To start, identify which does in your herd will produce suitable kids for 1) breeding stock, 2) show stock, 3) backyard milkers, homesteads, and 4-H, and 4) meat. Identifying these traits in advance will make it easier to advertise the kids to their respective markets. For breeding and show stock, reach out to local dairy goat breeding associations and sell doelings and select bucklings out of high producing and thrifty does. An easy way to boost sales of your herd is to regularly weigh the milk amounts of your dams and use those amounts as a selling point for the kids.
The Dairy Herd Improvement Registry (DHIR) is an official registry of a goat’s production and, when used in conjunction with American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) registrations, can greatly increase the value of your herd. Another strategy is to familiarize yourself with the show circuit, regardless of whether you actually show your goats – the ability to talk to a breeder in their language will help market certain does that have desirable show traits. The ADGA website has downloadable resources on what to look for in a doe’s confirmation.
Reach out to local 4-H clubs and coordinate days to get families out to the farm. Include information about upcoming 4-H events and county fairs. Craigslist is also a surprisingly positive force for selling goats. Be sure to make your post stand out with high-quailty pictures. Provide buyers with resources on raising goats, particularly if it’s a family’s first goat. Offer to reduce the price for kids sold as backyard milkers or to 4-H families.
Finally, selling goats for meat can be an exciting creative outlet. Since goat meat is still a novel food, encourage tentative consumers with lots of samples and recipe suggestions. I like to substitute any lamb recipe with a similar cut of goat meat. If your farm is equipped to handle visitors, try coordinating a goat roast dinner on the farm. Or partner with an adventurous local chef and bring your customers to the restaurant for a night of goat themed fare.