Whether negligent or nourishing, almost every mother or father will declare themselves to be a “good parent” if asked. But when it comes to raising goats, what does it mean for a goat to be a “good parent?” Or, since the sire won’t be around once the kids are born, a better question is: “What is good mothering in goats?”. A capable breeding doe takes ownership of her babies, hides the kids from predators, and nurses her young effectively.
A good mother should not abandon her kids immediately after kidding. This may seem obvious; but, when we first entered the goat business, we encountered far too many Boer crosses who would walk away from their kids and never look back. To be a useful, productive animal, a breeding doe has one job: raising kids. Any goat that walks out on her kids the second they’re born is not fulfilling her duties as a mother. But, there’s more to mothering than just the first few hours after birth.
A mother must also be smart about raising her offspring to weaning age. Some of our does hide their kids in brush piles or under rocks for 2-3 weeks after kidding. This protects the kids from dangers like coyotes, hawks, and other aggressive goats until they’re fast enough to keep pace with the rest of the herd. If a mother needs to leave her kids to graze, she warns them not to leave the hiding place until she returns. When she gets back, the mother carefully checks the area for predators before revealing her kids. If a predator is spotted, she will try to catch their attention in order to draw them away from the hiding place. In this way, a good mother protects her kids from harm by keeping them safe while they’re too small to avoid danger.
Finally, mothers need to be able to nourish their kids. Some does have naturally unsuitable udders which are difficult for her babies to nurse because they’re too large or complex. When a doe gives birth, her bag expands to hold milk for her kids. If this stretching is too great, her kids will struggle to fit their mouths around the teat. Similarly, some does have ‘split teats’ or ‘extra teats’ which are disconnected from the functional mammary tissue. This makes it difficult for her kids to nurse while they’re distracted by the decoy nursing sites. Thus, a doe with a poorly constructed bag will struggle to provide her kids with enough nutrients and cannot be a good mother.
For a goat to be worth their upkeep, she must raise kids by taking responsibility, protecting her young, and feeding her offspring. If a doe cannot consistently raise kids, she is a liability without an expectation of profit. That’s why it’s so important to breed goats that are good mothers.