Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Easter Baby Syndrome

If you cruise Craigslist or the classified ads this time of year you will see lots of ads for baby goats for sale starting at 3 days old. The babies are plentiful and cheap ($10 - $50 each). This is great if you are an experience goat owner and maybe you have some other babies from your own herd to bottle feed. Adding one more kid or a few more to the bottle feeding pile is not a stretch. Unfortunately, this is a terrible idea if you are new to goats and have never raised a baby goat before on a bottle. Baby goats are super cute and the temptation to go and buy a couple for $10 a piece is huge. But baby goats need an extraordinary amount of care in order to survive into adulthood.

Any goats under 8 weeks old will need to be bottle fed milk or milk replacer in order to survive. Bottle feeding a baby goat is not always very easy. There's a lot that can go wrong for a novice goat owner. Unless you already have goats or have a close neighbor with goats, the likelihood of having a fresh supply of goat milk is very little. So you will have to use milk replacer. Unfortunately most goat milk replacers are not actually healthy for baby goats. Milk replacers tend to be made up of all sorts of ingredients that don't include milk. These ingredients add necessary fats or proteins or vitamins and minerals to the replacer, but they don't always end up as a digestible form of milk. One of the things that makes goat milk so unique is that it is differently formulated than most other mammalian milk. It is easier to digest and contains different proteins than cow milk. It has a very high mineral and vitamin content compared to many other milks. This makes it great for using as a "universal foster" milk for most other mammals. Everything from calves to puppies can typically survive on a diet of just goat milk. The flip side of this digestibility is that baby goats are adapted to drinking this universal milk and don't do well on anything other than goat milk. It's very hard for a new goat owner to feed milk replacer and get it right the first time without major digestion issues and even fatalities.

The second problem with buying truckloads of young baby goats is that baby goats are all born with horns. There are very few naturally hornless baby goats in the world. Horns aren't generally a problem until the goat gets 6 months old or so. By that time you are very attached to your little baby but now she is a weapon-wielding, dangerous animal. Even extremely friendly goats can accidentally gore someone with a sharp horn. Most of the ads I see don't include disbudding (horn removal) at the time of sale.

The third problem is that there are a myriad of parasites who love to colonize goats under 6 months old. Experienced goat owners know kids are constantly plagued by parasite problems and have developed elaborate prevention rituals to try to keep the baby goats from getting sick. Novice goat owners typically don't realize how many parasites they are dealing with until the kids start dropping dead or get very, very sick. Parasites are nasty monsters that enjoy killing baby goats in order to reproduce and spread to other goats. They are hard to stop once a baby goat is fully colonized with them. The best thing you can do is to try to stop full colonization with preventative treatments. Parasite prevention takes a lot of knowledge and research to come up with a plan for your herd.

A final problem is a problem inherent in any cheap baby animals for sale. They are super, super, super cute! Most people have a very hard time passing by a pen full of baby chicks, or kittens, or baby goats without stopping to "Oooh" and "Awww". And if the babies are for sale at a very cheap rate, many people have a hard time leaving without buying one or two or TEN! This creates a huge problem once the baby animals grow up and aren't so cute anymore. Add to that some less than desirable personality traits that tend to surface as a baby goat gets older, like fence jumping or head-butting, and you have a recipe for disaster. For every one ad I see on Craigslist in March for baby goats for sale, I see three ads in August for 6 month old goats for sale because the owners realized they aren't ready for adult goats and all the hard work they require. I call this the "Easter Baby Syndrome". It's when people start feeling springtime in the air and they go out and buy baby chicks or baby bunnies or baby goats because they are small and super cute. Fast forward to 6 months later and the landlord is pissed you have three goats in your bathroom and you find out your town has a "no chickens" rule and your kid hasn't cleaned the rabbit cage in 5 weeks. Now you are stuck trying to find a home for these animals. No one wants them because they aren't cute anymore so you give them away to anyone who shows the slightest interest.

I don't approve of selling baby goats before they are weaned unless it is a personal sale to another goat owner who is aware of what they are getting into. I don't approve of over-producing baby goats and not being ready to raise them until weaning. I know many dairies dump baby goats (especially males) because they need the milk and don't need the kids but they should have a more responsible plan in place to dispose of unwanted kids.

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