Due to the hard, dangerous birth in the winter blizzard, our Oberhasli doe Alibi did not have enough reserves to give much milk for her twins. They have been partial bottle-babies since they were born. Unfortunately, the early birth meant that no other goats were yet in milk (the rest are due a week or so from now). That means trying to find an adequate substitute for real mother's milk!
Sadly, there is no real equal to fresh, raw milk. Raw milk has enzymes and active cultures (like good yogurt--think "Activia!")--these cultures are useless if they're pasteurized and killed off! A baby goat, like any other baby, is still in the developmental stages and needs help to digest their food.
Commercial cow milk is often lacking in needed fats, and, because it is pasteurized, is hard for the baby kids to digest. Canned "evaporated" milk is thick and fatty, and equally hard to process. Do not use condensed, sweetened milk.
Powdered milk replacer, even that labelled for goat kids, is NOT a safe alternative. We lost a baby goat last year to ignorance of this crucial fact. Powdered milk does not absorb the liquids correctly when being reconstituted, leading to clumps of dry powder that hide in the milk and get swallowed by the baby!!! Our baby billy last year died from those dried clumps clogging his intestines. If you must use powder, make sure to mix very, very thoroughly and pour the results through a fine strainer before putting it in the bottle.
Furthermore, powdered baby formula for goats still lacks the active cultures, so while it will work for a few weeks to keep the baby alive (if you strain it), at a certain point the baby goat's rumen (chambered stomach that works via fermentation) will need help.
Knowing that not one of the substitutes would be safe to use on its own, we went with a combo approach. The babies got a small portion of their mothers milk, and for the first few days, we gave them frozen colostrum (saved from last April in our freezer) that we heated on the wood stove in water baths. Then we switched to a mixture of mother's milk, commercial cow milk, powdered goat milk, powdered goat kid milk replacer and canned evaporated milk. Mixed thoroughly, this worked well for a month.
Then, one of the twins, Anam Cara, began to slip behind her sister in growth and energy. We noticed that she was less interested in nursing, and growing lethargic. After three days, she began to hunch up her back and hang her head a little. Though she still ran alongside her mother and was not yet refusing to eat, we knew this spelled trouble! She had no diarrhea, no "scours," and she did not "slosh" when held up. That meant constipation.
***Constipation is fatal for baby goats. The moment you notice it, you must act. Do not wait and hope it'll go away. The baby goat needs help immediately.***
Our solution: first, isolate the baby from her mother and feed her separately. Because the baby is a month old and has more strength and reserves than a newborn, she could go hungry for a time. Therefore, we removed all food for a full 24 hour cycle--when a kid is constipated, they cannot digest anything in their stomachs, so it simply sours and becomes toxic inside of them if allowed to build up. It is better that they run empty if they can live through that period, giving us time to help work out the other end. (With a younger goat, perhaps a few days old, it is better to try a shorter period; 4 hours at first, perhaps half a day if the baby is a week or more.)
Second, with the baby warm inside a crate in the house and given no access to food, we gave her enemas to try to dissolve the blockage. Yes, it is a horrible process; the baby goat must be turned upside down so her bottom is upright, and warm water, mixed with dish soap until it is slippery to touch, must be injected into the rectum with a blunt syringe. The syringe must be held in place to keep the soap water inside the upside-down baby goat for a minute. Then she must be flipped so that her head is upright and, holding her front legs up, her stomach has to be massaged deeply to work out all the water from inside of her. If nothing comes out, the process must be repeated until her system begins to flush.
She screamed throughout the experience, and if anyone thinks that being a farmer is not heart-rending, they ought to have heard her. Saving an animal's life sometimes requires making the animal miserable, and in their eyes, betraying their trust. In the end, though, if you don't try, you've condemned them to die through your inaction.
We were not lucky at first. Nothing came loose and Anam Cara remained blocked, hunched and miserable for the first day.
The second day, we re-introduced whole milk again in VERY small amounts, with active yogurt mixed in almost equal measure, with a tablespoon of oil (we used baby oil) as a stool softener. She consumed a cup of milk and yogurt mix in the day (this is about a quarter of what she had been eating before).
The third day we increased the amount of milk-yogurt mix, and allowed her to return briefly to the barn with her mother and sister. She was moving more confidently and hunching less, but had not yet pooped. That night we gave her another enema and let her eat more. Success! That night she began to pass loose, watery stool.
For those who may be wondering, diarrhea is MUCH easier to stop and save the goat from than constipation. We were overjoyed by the reversal.
Over a week old and growing quickly, Summer Promise and Anam Cara are holding up in spite of the weather and their mother's difficulty in recovering from the birth.
Because Anam Cara did not position herself correctly for birth, Alibi has had a rough time and continues even now to struggle with milk production. The babies are receiving whole cow milk in bottles, because Alibi seems to be unable to make more than about a cup a day. At first she even refused to nurse them, preferring human hands for milking instead of the hungry mouths of her kids. Now, thankfully, she has accepted them and allows them to milk her directly, saving us a lot of time and helping stimulate her into higher production.
The remaining goats are, thankfully, holding off as we prepare for yet another of these unpredictable winter storms. This one calls for anything from 3 to 11 inches of new snow. The previous snow hasn't melted, but did get an ice cap the other day:
Wish us luck with this overzealous winter weather! Stay warm, stay safe when traveling, and trust that Spring is right around the corner; it's March now!
Farmer Shannon runs MSSF and keeps horses, sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, pigs, dogs and cats, while living gluten-free & spinning/weaving for a hobby in the SCA.