Weaning kids from their dams is a stress-inducing experience for both mothers and kids. Stress can cause illness and sometimes even death, so a wise producer will try to minimize stress at all times. Intact bucklings should be weaned at three months of age to avoid the possibility that they might be able to breed their dams, sisters, or other females in the herd. Doelings can stay with their dams for a longer period of time. This writer has found that doelings grow out better if they are removed from their dams no later than four months of age. 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 make this option unlikely.
The weaning regimen at Onion Creek Ranch is as follows: All kids will have had two dewormings as well as their first and second CD/T vaccinations before weaning time (at one month and again at two months of age). The Colorado Serum pneumonia vaccine Mannheimia Haemolytica Pasteurella Multocida Bacterin vaccine (first injection) will also be given at weaning, with a follow-up booster injection administered in two to four weeks. Depending upon circumstances such as bad weather conditions, the weanlings may be dewormed again prior to moving them to a weaned-kids pen/pasture as far away from their dams as possible. Kids and dams calling to each other is both stressful to them and nerve-racking to producers.
Males and females from weaning age and up are kept in pastures on opposite sides of a wide center alley that divides the ranch into west and east sections. 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 to males that the producer may not wish to breed.
Weaning is done early in the morning of a good-weather day (not rainy, very hot, or extremely cold). Kids are separated from their dams at the central working pens at the Vet Building. If the distance is great, kids 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 kids will travel on foot will be watered to avoid dust-induced inhalation pneumonia. The goal is to always avoid stressing just-weaned kids.
When weaning kids (bucklings in particular but both sexes in general), 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 within the herd. 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 no horns. This is one more reason not to disbud kids. Doelings are not as aggressive as bucklings, but they too will mount and pursue new doelings 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.
Feed the kids after they are in their new pastures. Eating together is a familiar group activity that will distract them from harrassing each other and add some "routine" to the expanded herd. Kids tend to wander, getting lost from the main group, therefore 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.
Livestock guardian dogs should have been placed with the dams and their kids once kids bonded with and were following their mothers (around a month of age) so that kids got used to the presence of LGD's. If this has not been previously done, the introduction of the LGD is another hurdle that the producer has to cross. Herd protection animals are essential in pastures of newly-weaned goats. Most livestock guardian dogs won't hurt kids but they can frighten them when the dogs try to move a stray kid back to the herd by slobbering all over its neck and face.
The weaning process has a profound effect on the dam. 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 adjust to lower milk output. Weaning all kids at one time sends her body into milk overload. Dairy and dairy-influenced goats, including Boers, makes 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 is increased, and the producer 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 seldom have this milking issue but it is a fact of life with dairy-influenced goats that the producer has to learn how to handle. Meat-goat dams raising kids on forage, browse, or pasture should not have as much difficulty drying up after weaning.
Around the beginning of the third month of the kids' lives, begin 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 time of first kid's weaning, cut back a bit more on grain-based feed to the dam.
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. Rumen problems will arise and sick goats will be the result. If the producer will follow this writer's 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.