Feeding Kids By the Cold-Milk Free-Choice Method
by Elaine M. Eidemiller, Seven Maples Dairy Goats, Oil City, PA

       There are many methods for feeding kids - dam-raising, bottle-raising, controlled lambbar feeding, pan feeding and the cold-milk, free-choice method. This will be the fourth year that I have used the cold-milk, free-choice program. I believe the kids grow great on this program and are, overall, more thrifty than what I experienced when bottle-raising.
      The trick to free-choice is to start them right from the colostrum. That way their intake of milk is as natural as if they were nursing off of their mother, and they do not have the tendency to overeat. I had one that I had to have started on a weekend while I was away at a show. My parents came up to stay and fed this kid by bottle, especially since he was a 4-pounder and had a tough start in life. This kid never did adjust to the free-choice program. Each time he was left in the pen with a full lambbar he was more apt to overeat as a result of not being started on the program right from birth.
      I start my kids on free-choice immediately after being given their colostrum. The kids all come to the house and go in a playpen. They are fed their colostrum by bottle with the black nipple that is used on their buckets. For the first set of kids they have a small bucket with about 2 or 3 nipples on the bucket that has some warm water in it. The kids usually start playing with this while even on the colostrum. When they have had their last colostrum feeding, I start placing their mouths on the nipples (now the bucket has milk in it) every couple of hours and make sure they usually take a couple of swallows. It doesn't take long for them to get the idea. Once they are drinking from the bucket themselves they are ready to go to the barn.
      Kids born after those first kids of the season are usually in the playpen with the ones who already know the bucket-by the time their colostrum is finished they are learning from the older kids. Older kids then go to the barn and start on their free-choice buckets in the pens in the barn.

Some of the more commonly asked questions regarding this program include the following:

What about bad bacteria growth in the buckets? Bad bacteria growth in the bucket and subsequent danger of kids getting sick can be controlled by how the buckets are handled. What I do is have two sets of buckets for each pen. At least once a day I go down with a completely cleaned bucket that is filled with fresh milk and take out the bucket that is in the pen and that bucket goes up for cleaning. I usually try to do that at a time when they have very little milk in the bucket so that I am not discarding too much milk and wasting it. All my buckets have lids that can't be knocked off which eliminates anything getting into the bucket.
       Cleaning the bucket involves taking the buckets totally apart at least every other day and putting a brush through the tubes and the nipples etc. Alternate days I fill my buckets with the water containing bleach or a hydro-chlorinated cleaner and high-pressure hot water through the bucket for a couple of minutes, following that with cold water to flush all cleaning solution through the tubes and nipples. I also find that running the buckets, nipples, and tubing through the dishwasher works well.
      The cleaning solution I use is a hydro-chlorinated product, commonly found in supply stores where solutions are sold for dairy systems.

What is the incidence of FKS (Floppy Kid Syndrome) with this method? I had FKS for one year several years ago. At that time, I lost the first case and saved the subsequent ones. In the following years what I have done, is make sure that I spend a little time each day trying to watch and see if I have any kids that look funny. Otherwise I have been doing the following which I feel has helped --

  • First, I add Probios powder to the milk that is fed to the babies. This is done on a regular basis. I usually add at least ½ teaspoon per kid to a bucket once a day.
  • Second, when I get to the point where my kids used to get the FKS-usually about 1 to 2 weeks after birth-I will add about ¼ teaspoon baking soda per kid every day or every-other-day to a bucket of milk.

I haven't had a case of FKS for the past two years since I had my first bout with it that one year.

How do you keep the milk from freezing in the cold or spoiling in the warmer weather? I am lucky-my husband and I are self-employed farmers and work on the farm without having to leave for an off-the-farm job. Being at home, I can check on my buckets enough during the day and handle problems as freezing milk, etc. by checking more often.
      Methods I have heard are successful with these problems include placing smaller pop bottles with hot water in them in the lambbars in cold weather to slow the freezing process. Likewise, in hot weather place the smaller pop bottles with frozen water in them to keep the milk cool longer. At the most, I have had buckets with frozen milk maybe in the morning.

How do you keep the milk from leaking on the ground? Before I went to free-choice, cold milk , I used the red/gray teat units that are placed at the bottom of the buckets. When I decided to do free-choice, I went to the black nipple and tubes which they have to suck through like a straw. As long as you do not have your milk filled above the black nipple you will not have leakage.
Another note here, the only thing I buy from the supply catalogs are the actual black nipples. I get my tubing from the hardware stores. Be sure to take a nipple with you when buying the tubing to assure you have the proper size. Using the appropriate drill size and obtaining buckets with lids from your delis in grocery stores and bakeries, considerable money can be saved by making your own buckets rather than buying them from the supply catalogs.

How do you assure that the kids will not overeat and get sick? First, never let the bucket get empty. If the bucket becomes empty for a long period of time, when you put the full bucket in, the kids will be hungry and eat more than they normally would. The idea is to allow the kids access to the milk at all times. Then, they are essentially nursing off the bucket the same way they would nurse off of their dams -- little bits of milk, many times a day.
      Second-you never want the milk warmer than cool or room-temp. If they are used to the cooler milk and you do not wait for the pasteurized milk to cool down and you put it in the bucket, they are liable to overeat because the milk is warmer.

Do your kids have a harder time bonding to you their owner, since they are not being fed a bottle? I find the kids can be more manageable. You can bond with the kids but you are not bonding with them because they are storming you looking for a bottle or a lambbar that is fed at certain times. Even my neighbors who used to love coming up and feeding bottles to kids find that they don't miss feeding the bottles that much-they are enjoying a more relaxed kid. When the kids come to you they are coming to you for affection, petting, etc.-not because they are constantly looking for a bottle.

      I have never had kids grow better or with less problems than with the cold-milk, free-choice method. I used to feed 3 or 4 times a day when bottle-feeding, maybe feeding 48 ounces a day. I thought this was enough. I am using much more milk now to keep these buckets filled, which leads me to believe that I was not feeding enough milk when bottle-feeding. Nutrition is one of the most important factors in a kid's first year of life. What better way is there to feed than the next best thing to natural dam raising -- by having a surrogate dam available in the form of a lambbar that always has nutritious milk available to the kid.
      I find that this method works for me. Remember, that in all things concerning your management of your own goat herds, individual situations mandate different things. Whether you can be there to fill the buckets often enough, how many kids you will have, how much milk you have available -- these are just some of the factors that influence which method of feeding you choose to use.