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Cold Milk, Free Choice Lamb Bar Feeding Explained

Raising bottle babies can be one of the most challenging and time consuming tasks we goat producers encounter each Spring. In a society where most households have a two person income, it becomes almost impossible to make sure that someone is home to prepare and feed individual bottles to however many babies, three to four times a day, every day, for 16 weeks or more. But when dam raising isn’t an option, what is the conscientious breeder to do? For many, the answer may be an ad libitum or “free choice”, cold milk lamb bar system.

So to get started, you will need a lamb bar feeding system of some kind. Just about any type will work, from a cooler with holes cut to accept standard lamb bar nipples to a purchased bucket system or my favorite, a home made system fashioned from a square kitty litter bucket and grey lambar nipples with tubing that acts like a straw to reach the milk. It really doesn’t matter as long as the bucket is large enough to ensure that it holds enough milk to feed the kids in the pen without them running out before you have a chance to refill it every 12 hours or so.

Once you have your lamb bar system ready, the concept is simple. You start your newborns with colostrum and warm milk for the first few days of life. Once they are fully transitioned to drinking from the lamb bar (usually about 3-4 days) you want to gradually change the temperature of the milk from warm to cold. I do this by warming the milk to room temperature the first several days and then gradually decrease the temperature until it is given straight out of the refrigerator.

Kids do not like cold milk. They tend to take a few sips and stop and then walk away, only to come back a little while later for a few more sips. They do this all day long, more closely mimicking dam raised kids who’s dam’s don’t make their milk all at once of course, but gradually throughout the day. As a result of the milk being served cold, they don’t gorge on it and thus, there is a reduced risk of over eating and bloat. Also, since they have milk available to them at all times (free choice) they do not fight over the milk, enabling the producer to use fewer nipples and/or lamb bar buckets thus reducing cleaning time and work load. But the biggest benefit to the producer, in my opinion, is the convenience of only needing to be present twice a day to refill the feeder. Having a free choice system eliminates the need for the mid day feeding that very young kids require. A few minutes spent morning and night removing the buckets and cleaning them and then replacing them with fresh milk, really is a big time saver.

The only downside I’ve noticed with feeding young kids cold milk in the colder part of the year is that it will lower their body temperature temporarily and cause them to shiver, thus using more calories (energy) to warm themselves up again. For this reason, it’s important to also provide a way for the kids to easily stay warm, either with a heat lamp, deep straw bedding, a kid hut or some combination of the three. And then monitor the kids closely at first to insure that they are able to warm themselves up in an appropriate amount of time and are continuing to thrive.

So keeping the milk cold in the winter is no problem, but what about in the warmer months? If you are using a cooler as a lamb bar, just adding the milk cold may be enough to keep it cool for 12 hours. I personally use a bucket system so to keep the milk cold in the warmer months; I just freeze a 2 liter bottle of water and put that directly in the milk. It floats and keeps the milk cold for 12 hours until I refill the bucket and swap out the 2 liter for a freshly frozen one. It’s important when using this type of system that the producer is discarding any unused milk and cleaning the lamb bar system twice a day to decrease the risk of any bacteria or other contaminates from being consumed by the kids through the milk.

So that’s about it. I have been using this system for several years and have had what I consider to be great success, in that my kids are generally much growthier and more hardy compared to before I started feeding cold, free choice milk. I have very few cases of enterotoxaemia or bloat in my kids as compared to when I fed warm, free choice milk or even individual bottles on a set schedule. I offer a fine stemmed, alfalfa mix hay to my kids starting a week old, and I use the cold, free choice milk system exclusively until the kids are around 4 weeks of age. And then, as grain is introduced, I gradually change back to a cold milk, twice a day feeding schedule to encourage grain and hay intake and to help develop rumen function. By 12 weeks, my kids are on once a day, cold milk in addition to their hay and grain at which time it’s a gradual reduction in milk until they are fully weaned at 16 weeks of age. Then it’s time to put the lamb bar away until next year.

This is what has been working for me and I hope I’ve provided some information that other producers can use to help ensure that all goat kids are well fed, healthy, growthy and happy this year. Happy goating everyone!

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