Glimmercroft - Udder Development and Dam-Raising Kids

Laura Workman, Glimmercroft, Lynnwood, Washington

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"My doe just kidded and her teats are too small for milking easily.  She doesn't seem to have very much milk anyway.  Can I just let her kids handle the milking for a while until her teats get bigger?"

Unfortunately, from what I've seen, it doesn't work that way.  Here's how it really works.  When a goat kids (freshens) for the first time, her udder and teat tissues become very stretchy in order to accomodate her milk production.  This stretchiness lasts for two or three months.  After that, the tissues firm up, and there will be little or no more expansion until her second freshening.  She'll have another stretchy period early in her second freshening and, to a much lesser extent, early in her third freshening.  After that, her udder and teats are pretty much where they're going to be.

If you leave the kids with the doe all the time, they spend their days taking sips of milk, and her udder is never required to store any significant quantity.  Also, because the udder is never full, there's never any pressure on the teats, so they don't expand in size.  A doe's body will make a larger amount of milk for a larger number of kids, and her kids will be able to keep up with her increasing production as they grow, keeping that udder empty.  Given the opportunity, kids can drink an amazing amount of milk.  (I once had two Oberhasli doelings a month old putting away three quarts of milk a day, each!)  The result is a doe producing lots of milk, but never developing any udder capacity or teat size.  Then, when you suddenly wean the kids, the doe's udder gets extremely full, and the back pressure causes her production to drop off dramatically.  Even if she doesn't get mastitis from the lack of circulation in that extremely tight udder, she will still stop producing any quantity of milk very, very quickly.  You'll try to milk her, but she'll think you're stealing food from her babies and will be miserable to milk, trying not to let her milk down, kicking, sitting down, etc.  Plus, her teats have never gotten any bigger, so it will take a very long time to milk her out.  You'll get annoyed with all of this and decide she's not really a dairy goat after all. 

I recommend a different method. :o)

Once the kids are solidly on their feet, say, after about three days, separate them from the doe at night.  At night, they will spend most of the separation time sleeping rather than crying for their mother.  So that nobody is unduly stressed by the separation, and so that the doe doesn't wind up rejecting her kids, put the kids in a place where they can see and smell the doe, and she can see and smell them, but they can't nurse.  I have a small stall with slats in one section of the wall adjoining the doe area, but a dog crate in the goat stall would also work.  Start with 8 to 10 hours of separation, and work up to 12 hours after a week or so.  At night when you put the kids away, be sure to milk out any excess milk the doe is carrying, to avoid uneven udder development.  This will also give you a good opportunity to train the doe to the milkstand while she's in more of a sharing mood, and while her milk isn't tasty yet anyway.  (It can take up to two weeks for the really good milk to come in.)  I also like to spend some time handling the kids every night when I separate them from the doe, so that they grow up to be comfortable around people.

If you're going to take milk from a doe with two or more kids, you need to watch the babies to see that they're getting enough to eat.  I've had does that could feed triplets on 12 hours' worth of milk and our family had the other half of her production.  Not all does can do that.  If the kids don't look happy and comfortable, if they're a little hunchy and not very active, you may want to let them have all of the milk for the first month or so, until they start eating other things.  I still recommend separating the kids overnight, and if the kids look hungry, letting them have breakfast on the milkstand.  When my kids have breakfast on the milkstand, I put them up on the milkstand one at a time.  I watch and feel the kid until his belly feels like it has a good bit of milk in it (not tight!) and he's sucking a bit less frantically, then pull him off and put the next kid on.  I don't want the kids to fill up to completely for a couple of reasons.  It can cause digestive upset, being an unnatural occurrence, and the last kid to eat may not get much milk.  Once breakfast is over and the kids are comfortable, milk the doe out completely.

If you're not feeding the kids on the milkstand, don't be tempted to leave "breakfast" for them.  If the kids know there's milk in the udder, they will compete for it, bashing the udder around, holding onto the teat with their teeth, etc.  If they know the udder is empty, they'll go get the couple of sips that are inevitably there, then try again every few minutes, providing lots of stimulation for your doe to produce more milk.  Eventually, your doe will notice that milking brings relief from a full udder, as well as a grain treat, so she will come to look forward to milking time.  Hint:  try to be there when your doe kids, put some birth fluid on your hands, and let her lick it off.  She will then see you as one of her kids and more readily allow you to take her milk.

The other thing you'll want to watch is the condition of your doe.  If she is losing weight, you'll want to increase her grain ration using a low protein grain such as dry COB (Corn, Oats, Barley).  This will add calories without encouraging her to increase production, as a higher protein ration would do.  Make sure you have baking soda available free choice if you're feeding anything over a minimal amount of grain so that your doe doesn't have digestive problems.

With my method of separating the kids overnight, your doe's production will be stimluated by two things:  her udder being completely empty twice a day, and her kids constantly nursing during the day.  Her udder will get full once each day, gently stretching her udder and teats, building the milk-holding capacity of her udder, and making her teats larger and more milkable.  The kids will still feed themselves and be looked after by their mother, which seems to make for healthier, faster growing kids, and your doe will develop an udder and teats that make her worthy of being called a "dairy goat."

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This page updated August 11, 2007.

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