Starting out I watch my friends, read books, ask questions, then try to make my own way. Whether to leave the baby on the mother or bottle feed was no exception.
Friend #1 takes the baby from the mother immediately. She gives the baby bottles of colostrum for a few days then off they go with their perspective owner or stay with her bottle feeding for ten or so weeks. The mothers truly forget what they were doing. They can be in the same pen with the infant and have no maternal urge to nurse or protect the youngster. On the same note, the baby thinks that the bottle feeder is her mom and is happy as can be playing with the other goats and drinking bottles. Her goats are super friendly (Loretta was a bottle baby, and so is Elsa) and excited to see people. More like small dogs, they are playful and love attention.
Friend #2 leaves the baby on the mom. After three weeks she separates them at night, milks in the morning, then lets the baby stay with the mom all day. She gets plenty of milk, and then doesn’t have to worry about bottle feeding, weaning, or anything but once a day milking. The babies are nice enough, though they do prefer to stay with their mom, which seems quite natural. Friend #2 slaughters some of them for meat. She has a full circle farm. Bottle babies become apart of the family, it would be difficult to eat a baby that you kept in the house and watched American Idol with.
When Katrina had her baby, Buttercup, I opted for friend #2’s approach. Wasn’t it mean to take away the baby from the mother? Wouldn’t it be easier to milk in the mornings since we are just getting started? Wouldn’t the baby be healthier if I left her on the mom? Buttercup is adorable, and as she gets bigger, she gets faster. The family that bought her come to visit often. At the beginning, we could swoop the small infant up and snuggle her, but now we have to plan and coordinate her capture. She is like a feral cat. Her mother, who was already ornery, is now a beast with her infant by her side. She charged Bumble, the greyhound, and pushed him into a fence. He is a rather docile creature and easily injured. He did not understand why he was being attacked. He looked at me with big humane society eyes. The second time she was charging full speed towards him, thankfully, Doug was there to grab her collar and curtail her attempts at maiming the dog.
I discussed my issues about milking with Friend #1. Because Katrina is nursing all day, she doesn’t let all her milk down for us. She is also a Nigerian Dwarf so has less milk anyway. Friend #2 has Nubians, so she gets plenty of milk. With a baby by her side, Katrina is not friendly. Milking time is no exception as she kicks, spills the milk bucket, and tries to get away. She sits down and thrashes about. She is a nightmare. If she didn’t have a baby that would relieve her of her engorgement soon, she might be more apt to let us milk. Maybe.
Elsa is a bottle baby. She doesn’t miss nor does she remember her mother who is happily getting milked twice a day. Elsa is excited for bottles and is content playing in the yard or sitting on my lap. She is growing steadily by the day and is more certain on her long legs. She enjoys sleeping on my lap alongside my cat while we watch singing shows in the evening. She doesn’t seem overly traumatized from the experience of bottle feeding and lack of caprine matriarchal care. I seem to be a fine substitute. Elsa went and visited 119 middle school children yesterday at the schools I was speaking at. She was lovey and adorable, a great ambassador to the future farming world of some of these children, with any luck. There is no way we could have taken Buttercup.
The notion of bottle feeding goat kids being a nuisance is no longer contemplative. It is one of my greatest joys in farming.
With this small of a farm, I have to be choosy about what animals I have here. I have to consider that I do not have a lot of animals. I do not have a pack of goats or alpacas or sheep that sit out in a pasture all day. We have a sixth of an acre in each pasture. Our farm here was set up to be an example that one can farm anywhere, as a place where kids can come out and see vegetables growing, find eggs, and pet the goats. A place that may inspire them to have farms of their own when they get older. An aloof goat does nothing for atmosphere! This is also a homestead, and a place where I spend much of my time. I prefer very friendly animals. Even my chickens enjoy being picked up!
I am sure there are many situations where leaving the baby on the mother is beneficial and necessary on many farms, but for our small piece of friendly farm, as I sit writing this with a baby goat on my lap, bottle babies will be in our future.