Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bottles vs. Teats

The debate about whether or not to bottle feed baby goats is about as heated as the breast-fed vs. formula debate with human babies. Many goat owners get all ruffled up over the idea of baby goats being bottle fed. They cry that it is not "natural" and that the baby goats won't learn how to be a goat if they aren't dam-raised. As if nature has all the answers - Puh-leeze! Nature's ideas for taking care of animals include disease, starvation, natural disasters, and predators. If you are trying to raise goats in a farm type setting, then nature really doesn't have much of a place. The moment you put that goat in captivity and bred it for your own purposes, you made nature take a back seat. So then relying on nature to take care of your baby goats is a double-edge sword. You can't have it both ways.

The argument that baby goats won't learn how to be a goat if they are bottle fed is total crap. Goats don't need to "learn" how to be a goat; they are born KNOWING how to be a goat. That's like saying raising a duck with a bunch of chickens means the duck won't learn how to swim. Throw the duck in a pond and sure enough, he will swim just fine. Nobody needed to teach him how to be a duck. Just like no one needs to teach a goat how to be a goat -- they already know how to be goats. Maybe people that are afraid their goats won't learn to be goats are actually raising sheep and wondering why all their "goats" run around like idiots and make wool.

People like to get their spittle up about how "dangerous" bottle feeding can be. WTF?! Obviously I missed the YouTube tutorial on "How to improperly feed a goat with a bottle" because I have never lost a kid purely due to bottle feeding. Sure, I have lost my fair share of baby goats due to things like coccidiosis and enterotoxemia, but I have never lost one solely due to the dangers of a soda bottle full of milk with a soft rubber nipple on top. That's is crazy talk... Meanwhile, I have heard of kids being killed due to dam-raising. This is a dirty little secret that the teat-lovers don't like to talk about when the bottle vs. teat debate springs up. Want to know the killer secret? --- IT'S CALLED CAE, PEOPLE! Kid goats can die from CAE virus transmission due to being allowed to nurse on mom. You can stop CAE virus transmission by (gasp!) BOTTLE FEEDING! Yep, that's right. The "unnatural", "time-consuming" and "dangerous" practice of bottle feeding can actually save the lives of your little caprine kiddies. Take a newborn kid from a CAE infected mom and bottle feed that kid pasteurized milk -- Viola! = Uninfected kid. How many kids each year are infected by their mommas and sentenced to die due to someone's aversion to bottle feeding? How many adult goats get the axe because they are infected when they could have been saved by someone taking the time to do CAE prevention? It's something to think about, isn't it?

The other argument is that dam-raising is soooooo much easier than bottle feeding. NOT IN MY OPINION! Sure, bottle feeding does require that I commit to being at the farm to feed the kids a couple of times a day, everyday for a few months. But what I lose in time spent bottle feeding, I gain in time not spent chasing half-wild kids around just to trim their hooves or time spent trying to wean them from mom after 8 months. There's nothing like your yearling doe still nursing on mom as she tries to push the next batch of kiddos out her whoo-ha. You can't tell me that situation isn't a huge time-suck when you have to deal with it.

Bottle raised kids are more friendly because they look at humans as a source of food and comfort. Dam-raised kids do not associate humans with those things. They may be "friendly" but that is only because they are tame. They are never going to have the same relationship with a human as they have with their dam. Bottle feeding produces a psychological bond in the kid goat's brain that forever links them with humans. If you want to test this theory just take a bottle fed kid and a dam-raised kid and put them in a pasture together for 4 months and don't let them have contact with humans during that time. Then after 4 months go into the pasture and try to catch them. The bottle baby will come running up to you like you were never gone. Meanwhile the dam-raised kid will be in the opposite corner of the pasture trying to scale the fence to get away from you. Even if both kids were "friendly" when you left them, they both won't be like that when you come back. Bottle raised kids are more friendly towards humans. Period. End of story.

I personally think all those people who claim dam-raised kids are just as nice as bottle raised are not raising dairy goats. Dairy goats are like dairy cows, so over bred for milk production that they are high-strung and crazy. The same genes that control milk overproduction must also control adrenaline overproduction. I have never met a dairy goat that wasn't just a little keyed-up all the time. Meat goats, on the other hand, are like beef cows. Nothing phases them and they just go with the flow. You have to try hard to get a reaction out of a meat goat. Maybe it's all the blobs of fat and meat that clog up their ability to go all cuckoo-bananas when humans come into their pens. Maybe they just know they are big and slow and don't care what it is we are going to try to do to them because they are going to win by brute force and awkwardness every time. I can totally believe a meat goat producer when they say you don't need to bottle feed to make those goats friendly. Meat goats are a normally friendly bunch of animals. But don't get all up in my grill when I say that dairy goats need to be bottle fed in order to make them manageable. There's a big difference between the two types of goats and some people just need to accept that.

So, if you are contemplating bottle feeding your baby goats, please don't let the dam-raised group put you off of the idea. Bottle feeding is a perfectly fine practice that people have been doing for as long as they have been domesticating goats.