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Rearing orphaned kids

by J Clarke, I.R. Thomas and R.C. Couchman, sheep industry officers, and B. McGregor, livestock research officer.

All goat keepers have on their hands at some stage orphaned kids, or kids with mothers that cannot feed them because of mastitis or damaged teats. Whether it is worthwhile trying to save these kids will depend on how many there are, how much time can be spared and how much they will be worth once reared. Kids that the producer decides to save can be reared by fostering or hand rearing.

A newborn doe kid averages 3.3 kg in weight. The goat kid grows and matures very quickly and must be fed accordingly.


Fostering is the easiest option in the long run if a suitable doe is available. Various means can be tried to encourage the foster mother to accept the kid. A traditional ploy is to fasten the skin of the doe's own dead kid on the orphan until the doe accepts it.

Alternatively, the doe's sense of smell can be overpowered or confused by smearing a strong-smelling substance such as aniseed or sump oil on the kid and on the doe's muzzle. A special proprietary spray pack is also marketed for this purpose for sheep, and may be useful for goats also.

Confine the doe and kid in a restricted area (preferably fairly dark) with food and water until the relationship is firmly established. Hold the doe several times a day to ensure that the kid has a drink, or bail her up or tie her head in such a way that she cannot repel the kid but can still reach her food and water.

The first feed - Colostrum

Every kid needs a first drink of colostrum, the thick rich milk available from the freshly kidded doe. Colostrum is rich in energy and protein. It has a mild laxative effect to move the foetal dung and to prevent the formation of a hard, rubbery clot of milk in the stomach.

Colostrum also carries disease-fightin antibodies produced by the doe. These antibodies give the kid short-term protection against gut and bowel infections until it is able to build up its own resistance. If the doe has been properly vaccinated, her antibodies will protect the kid from clostridia) diseases such as pulpy kidney, and tetanus until it is vaccinated.

If a kid is to be hand reared, or fostered on a doe that has previously suckled a kid for more than two days, first give it at least one or two feeds of colostrum. The kid that does not receive this colostrum may die after a few days with a large rubbery milk curd in its gut.

If a freshly kidded doe is available, the orphan kid can be suckled on one side without affecting the survival of her own kid. Better still, milk out one side by hand and give the orphan kid from 100 ml to 150 ml of colostrum, using a coarse "eye dropper", a bottle and teat, or a teaspoon. Repeat in four to six hours.

Store the remainder in small, clean, scalded containers in the freezer. Frozen colostrum should keep for at least six months and probably two years or more without deterioration, so that a "bank" of colostrum will last right through the kidding season.

Carefully thaw frozen colostrum in a lukewarm water bath (no hotter than 40C) so that the vital antibodies are not destroyed.

Cows' colostrum can be used as a reasonable substitute it does' colostrum is not available. It can also be stored frozen until needed. A kid that has already suckled for at least a day before losing its dam will have no further need for natural or artificial colostrum.

Artificual colostrum

The following artificial mixture can be used as a substitute for the first day's feeding if natural colostrum is not available (or is available for only one feed):

  • 600 ml of fresh cows' milk (condensed milk, appropriately diluted, can be used instead of fresh cows' milk)
  • One beaten egg yolk
  • One dessertspoon of glucose or lactose (if unavailable, use sugar)
  • One very small teaspoon (3 ml) of cod liver oil (or castor oil)

Mix (shake) well and divide the mixture into four equal feeds for the first day's feeding. Divide it into six equal feeds instead of four if the kid is small or weak.

Artificial rearing - Choice of feed

Full cream cows' milk is the obvious choice for kids if it is available. Calf milk replacer can be used if full cream milk is not available, for example, "Venavite" or "Denkavit". Does' milk is about the same strength as cows' milk, which contains about 4% fat and 8% solids-not-fat. So, if using calf milk replacer for kids, make it up at the same rate as for calves.

Do not water-down cows' milk.

How to feed

An ordinary drink bottle and rubber teat can be used to feed each kid three times a day if only a few kids are to be reared. This works well but is very time-consuming.

Insulating foam wine racks can be used to hold the bottles and to save time and effort. Each rack is mounted vertically on a wall or post, and bottles of chilled milk are inserted with necks and teats protruding through the small openings in the bottom.

A lamb-marking ring over each teat will ensure that it stays on the bottle, while dripping should not be a problem if teat openings are not too large. Change or top-up bottles to make sure that milk is available at all times.

One bottle per kid is enough to begin with, but more may be needed, as appetites increase, to avoid the need for frequent attention. Thoroughly clean and scald bottles and teats at least once a day.

The four-bottle sized rack is convenient for kid feeding; one or more of these can be positioned about 500 mm from the floor, but may need to be raised as the kids grow.

Use a self-feeding "kid bar", or "Lambbar", if more than three or four kids are to be reared. It can handle about 30 kids and consists of a metal tank with teats attached (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Multiple suckling tank for artificial rearing of kids

The "kid bar" can be shortened or only one side used if only a few kids are to be reared.

Each teat has a windscreen-washer foot-valve inserted into its base to prevent leakage. This can be inserted quite easily, holding the teat open with the pliers normally used to expand lamb marking rings.

As an alternative, the teats can be set into the tank above milk level, with suction tubes inserted instead of valves. This is quite satisfactory but the kids may be a little harder to start.

When to feed and how much

Milk may either be fed warm and fresh, four times a day to begin with, or made available to the kids at all times and "topped-up" when convenient ("ad lib" feeding). Milk should be chilled to prevent souring before filling the "kid bar" if it is to be available all the time. It may be wise to insulate the tank in warm weather.

It is advisable to feed the milk at blood heat during the first four days, but kids soon get used to chilled milk and good growth rates (nearly 300 g per day) have been achieved with this method. The kids take a little milk every hour or so, as they would from their mothers, and soon learn to regulate their intake. It is important to cover the bulk tank to prevent dust and flies contaminating the milk.

Feeding requirement of kids

Note: Bucks that are being kept for breeding will increase their growth rates if they are fed an extra 10-20% milk and concentrate.

All equipment must be thoroughly cleaned each day to prevent the spread of gut infections. The bottles and tank should be washed in hot water with a suitable dairy detergent and then rinsed twice with clean water to remove all traces of detergent, and other material.

With periodic feeding, start with four 150 ml feeds per day from one to three days of age. Gradually increase the amount to 300 ml per feed at 10 days of age. Then reduce the number of feeds to three per day and feed 400 ml per day, gradually building this up to three feeds per day of 500 ml, depending on appetite, at 14 days of age.

Gradually increase the morning and evening feeds and reduce the midday feed until, at three weeks of age, they are drinking no more than 2 litres depending on appetite, divided into two feeds per day.

From eight weeks of age feed 1-1.5 litres once daily. Kids can be weaned at 12-16 weeks or at 18-20 kg bodyweight (use your bathroom scales). Hand feeding is expensive in time and money so keep feeding to a minimum, especially from eight weeks of age.

Remember that more kids die from overfeeding than underfeeding. Overfeeding can cause scouring, indigestion and perhaps death.

Scouring should be countered by reducing the amount of feed and adding a junket tablet or "Kao Magma" or similar product to the milk. When faeces return to normal, gradually increase the amount fed until you again reach the recommended amount.

If kids are kept indoors and denied access to pasture, add vitamin drops (veterinary or human infant type) until the time kids are grazing or eating quantities of hay.

At all times make sure that kids have access to plenty of cool, clean, fresh water.

Weaning and general management

Milk feeding should be combined with clean, fresh pasture and water. If you wish, a small amount of concentrate feed and good hay can be provided from two weeks of age. Small amounts of bran can be provided to nose about in and lick. This can gradually be increased to the usual concentrate mixture until kids are eating up to 250 g daily.

It is not necessary to feed concentrates if adequate pasture is available. In any case, cease feeding concentrates one month after weaning. Hay and suitable leaves can be fed but clean pasture is more nutritious.

Kids should have a warm, dry place to sleep in (no draughts), and a clean grassy yard in which to play. A few boxes or logs in their play yard will encourage them to run and jump.

They should be fed milk until about three or four months old (or until they reach 18-20 kg liveweight) and then gradually weaned.

They should be wormed with the appropriate amount of worm drench at three months of age.

The table gives some idea of the feeding requirements of kids. It should be used only as a guide, as some kids may eat less than the table shows.

© 1981 Vic. Dept. Ag.