May 2014 Issue



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Weaning kids from their dams is a stress-inducing experience for both mothers and kids. Stress can cause illness and subsequent death, so you must minimize stress at all times. Intact bucklings should be weaned at three months of age to keep them from breeding their dams, sisters, or other females in the herd. Doelings can stay with their dams for a longer period of time. My experience is that doelings grow better if they are removed from their dams no later than four to six months of age. Dams can then re-gain body condition in anticipation of their next breeding. While some producers believe that it is better to leave the weaned kids in a familiar location and move the dams, space limitations on most goat ranches usually determine pen/pasture assignments.

The weaning regimen at Onion Creek Ranch is as follows: All kids are dewormed, have received their first and second CD/T and pneumonia vaccinations, and have had all eartagging completed before weaning. See my article titled Deworming and Vaccination Schedules on the Articles page of and in the MeatGoatMania archives. Weaned kids are moved to pens/pastures as far away from their dams as possible. Kids and dams calling to each other for days is stressful to them and to you. A common fenceline between males and females is not good management because it allows direct access of males to females, resulting in "party girls" who get bred too young through the fence and produce unwanted or ill-timed matings.

At Onion Creek Ranch, weaning is done early in the morning of a good-weather day (not rainy, very hot, or extremely cold). Morning is chosen so that the kids have time to acquaint themselves with their new surroundings long before nightfall. Kids are separated from their dams at the central working pens. If the distance is great, goats are trailered to their new location. If the distance is short but the alleys are dusty from lack of rain, then the route that the goats will travel on foot will be watered to avoid dust-induced inhalation pneumonia. The goal is always avoid stressing just-weaned kids as well as their dams.

When weaning kids (bucklings in particular), never wean one or two kids and place them into a herd of already-weaned kids. They will be harrassed to the point of exhaustion as the pecking order is re-established. Polled bucklings in hot climates can collapse and die of heatstroke. Horns act as radiators to remove heat from the body, and polled goats by definition have been born without horns. This is one more reason not to disbud kids. Doelings are not as aggressive as bucklings, but they will mount and pursue each other until everyone accepts their individual positions in the group. Establish a mini-herd of weanlings, then wait to introduce three (3) or more kids into the main weaned herd early in the morning of a good-weather day. Ride your fences and pastures before nightfall and at daylight to make sure that newly-weaned kids haven't gotten themselves caught in fences or into other life-threatening situations as the pecking order is re-set and they try to find a way back to their dams who are calling to them.

Feed the kids after they are in their new pastures. Eating together is a familiar group activity that will somewhat distract them from harrassing each other and add some routine to the expanded herd. Kids tend to wander, getting lost from the main group, becoming potential targets for predators. Herding kid goats is like trying to herd chickens; it just doesn't work until one animal takes a leadership role. This can be done by introducing one or two older goats of the same sex into the herd.

A livestock guardian dog should have been placed with the dams and their kids once kids bonded with and were following their mothers so that kids got used to its presence. This, of course,depends upon the availability of a livestock guardian dog who isn't aggressive to young kids. If not been already done, the introduction of the LGD is another hurdle that you have to cross. When bucklings are weaned, you may have to to put an older larger buck in the herd so that he can keep the LGD from playing with the kids. See my article on Livestock Guardian Dogs on MeatGoatMania and on the Articles page at Herd protection animals are essential in pastures of newly-weaned goats. A livestock guardian dog properly trained as a goat guardian should not hurt kids but it can frighten them when the dog tries to move a straying kid back to the herd by nudging it or slobbering over its neck and face in its attempt to familiarize itself with its new charges. Remember that each livestock guardian dog is its own unique individual with challenges that the goat raiser must resolve.

The weaning process has a profound effect on the dam. I wean one kid per dam each week, starting the first week of weaning with the biggest buckling. This process allows the doe's body to lower milk output. Weaning all kids at one time can send her udder into milk overload. This is especially true of dairy and dairy-influenced goats, including Boers, which produce lots of milk. Remove all kids at one time and the dam's udder is going to be uncomfortably tight by the next day. A too-full udder makes her miserable, the potential for mastitis and congested udder is increased, and you must milk the dam. Do not take the dam off water. Repeat: Do not take the dam off water - ever. Meat-goat breeds without dairy influence, like I raise, seldom have this milking issue, but I choose to be careful when drying off dams.

Around the beginning of the third month of the kids' lives, consider cutting back slightly on grain fed to the dam. Kids should be eating more solid feed and should be requiring less milk. This is, of course, subject to evaluation since a doe with multiple kids, i.e. triplets or quads, has different nutritional needs from a dam with a single kid or twins. At the time of first kid's weaning, cut back a bit more on grain-based feed to the dam. Recognize that growing kids require a higher level of nutrition than mature goats, so be prepared to provide quality nutrition to these weanlings as they transition to eating on their own. See my article on how to feed newly-weaned kids on the Articles page at This is a very vulnerable time because they no longer are receiving antibodies in their dams' milk that protect them from disease yet their own immune systems are far from mature.

Do not ever suddenly take goats off one type of feed and change to another feed type -- whether open doe, pregnant doe, buck, kid, or wether. Do not ever free-choice grain to goats, especially kids. Rumen problems will arise and sick or dead goats will be the result.

If you will follow my oft-mentioned rule of learning to think like a goat, many problems can be avoided and the weaning process will be less stressful for all involved -- kids, dams, and you.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 5/8/14

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