One of my favorite things about raising kids is bottle feeding them. Their little tails wiggle so fiercely and they look at you like nothing else in the world exists while slurping milk as fast as they can!
Many people ask me why not just let their moms feed them constantly? There are several reasons. If they are to be sold and you break the bond with their mothers sooner, the separation will be much easier on them. Second, that bond will be formed much stronger with humans. They are much easier to work with when they trust and get along with humans. Without bottle raising, they have a higher chance of being kind of “wild” and evasive. Last, if they are drinking from a bottle, you are controlling how much milk they receive and therefore, how much milk you can start saving for yourself or your family.
If you have ever tried to give a bottle to a creature who has no experience with it then you know how frustrating it can be. There are a few tricks that we use to ease the process for both the kid and you. Here’s how we do things here at Oats & Ivy Farm.
To begin, the kids will spend either 1 or 2 days with their mothers after being born in a private pen where mom can recover and the kids can have access to as much milk as they like 24/7. Too long away of the main pen and the rest of the does will gang up on the new mom. After this time, Mom goes back with her herd and the kids get three feedings with mom daily. 7:00am, 12:00pm and 5:00pm. This first day of separation is when the training begins. Each time the kids are picked up and carried over to mom for their milk, we rub their noses (everyone has a different way) and they will start to learn that when their noses are rubbed, they are about to nurse. After a few days of this, the kids will start to root(thrust their noses as if to stimulate milk flow from the udder) on your hand while carrying them over. Smart little critters. We do this until they are about a week old or a little more.
The next step is, in my opinion, the hardest step. The kindest term for it is diet day. The kids will have their last feeding at night and then no milk for the entire next day. 24 hours of hunger. This day will break your heart but be strong. Everyone, does and babies, will be yelling for each other through the fences. It is a NOISY day so it isn’t a bad idea to bake a batch of bread for your neighbors the day before. Like I said, stay strong and it will make the transition much easier.
On diet day,you have an opportunity to milk your girls out. Keep their milk separate. This way, the kids will receive only their mom’s raw milk in their first bottle and it will be more familiar to them, and likely more successful for you.
After your long diet day, the kids should be ready and eager to take the bottle. It has been said to me that the more you fuss with them, the less likely they are to take the bottle. That being said, stay patient and don’t be hesitant. With the milk in a bottle(Empty Dasani bottles works great) fitted with a Pritchard nipple, warm the bottle in a pail of warm water to the temperature it would be straight from the source. You get a feel for it after a while. If it isn’t the right temperature, it will be more difficult. Now you’re ready to try. Take one kid out of the kid pen and rub his nose like you have been the past week. From a kneeling position, put him between your legs so you can hold him in place, lean over him(Mom is covering him while nursing) and get the bottle in his mouth. For me, it is easiest to stick a finger through the side of his mouth then slip the bottle in and gently hold his mouth closed on the bottle, rocking the milk back and forth gently in the bottle. It will take a few seconds for him to realize this is milk but should start sucking away. Keep your hand kind of covering his eyes like he is beneath his mom. Do not squeeze the bottle, the nipple allows air in as milk is sucked out. The kids won’t allow themselves to die of starvation so as long as they have had that full 24 hour period of hunger, the chances they will take the bottle is very high.
If you just purchased a kid from another farm who hasn’t had any pre-training for the bottle, just wait out the 24 hours. It will be more difficult (We learned that this year with little Galileo who was a month old and had not been trained with the nose rubbing) but with sure movements, you can do it!
Be sure to feed the kids from the bottle all three feedings that day to make sure they have the process down. After manually putting the bottle in their mouth a few times, they should start to do it willingly and before you know it, when they see you with a bottle, you’ll get mobbed by all the kids at once. From here on, it is up to you how much you’d like to bottle feed. Here at O&I, we bottle feed in the morning and then put them with their mothers for the lunch and dinner feedings.
Speaking of bottle feeding, I’m a few minutes late to get out and bottle feed our kids! I can hear them all yelling for me! Good luck with your first training and remember to be patient.