Advancing rumen development in dairy goat kids during the nursery and grower phases

Posted on August 23, 2023 in Dairy Goat Performance
As a Vita Plus dairy technical specialist, Noah Litherland, Ph.D., has long been interested in rumen development and the physiology of growth in youngstock.  He applies that interest to his family’s farm as they raise dairy goats.  During his Vita Plus Dairy Goat Seminar presentation, Litherland focused on starter intake as a key component of youngstock nutrition and management.

Litherland first highlighted the multiple areas in which growth occurs:

  • Gene expression
  • Skeletal
  • Muscle
  • Digestive tract
  • Hormones and hormone receptors
  • Blood volume
  • Immune maturity
  • Establishment of microbial ecology, including ruminal and post-ruminal

Litherland said numerous factors impact growth, including genetics, epigenetics, birth bodyweight, age, health, environment, feed intake, diet composition, consistency of management and feeding, and data-tracking methods.

Litherland suggested that producers evaluate growth curves on their herds and focus on percent body protein, percent body fat, body energy, percent body ash, and percent body water, and cited research by Sousz et al. with Saanen goats.

Other research shows kids are impacted in utero by maternal factors, including environmental stress, gestational length, body condition score, ketosis risk, intestinal microbial ecology, and trace mineral status. Litherland encouraged producers to develop a visual body condition scoring system as a guide to train others to identify does with deficient or excessive body condition and to investigate what factors are impacting their energetics.

Litherland’s family raises a small herd of Saanen dairy goats. He said his family’s goat raising goals are:

  • Strong milk intake in kids starts during week 3.
  • High milk yield peak at week 10 with a strong appetite and competitive behavior.
  • 10- to 12-week-old kids should weigh 50 to 60 pounds.
  • Yearlings are strong and can deliver healthy twins by one year of age.
  • Yearling does are grouped separately from mature does.

The current herd average is 13.5 pounds of milk per doe per day.

Litherland described the dairy goat kid digestive system and said starter intake is critical for rumen development, which affects performance and health of the next generation.

“Ideal feeding behavior is a kid that is excited to drink milk but doesn’t act like it’s famished, it finishes the milk completely, the kid moves from milk to starter grain, after eating some starter grain it drinks warm water, lays down to rest, and starts ruminating,” explained Litherland. “A kids should have consistent, normal manure and should be back up and eating grain again in one to two hours.”

Litherland said rumen development causes constantly lower abomasal pH, which is a sign of physiological maturity. A lower abomasal pH inhibits bacterial growth, but a high pH might open the door for pathogens in the intestine including E. coli, Salmonella, or Clostridium.

Producers need to protect the gut to protect the lungs from the inside out by observing any scours during the nursery phase, amount of starter and water intake during weaning, and how the group adapts to transition after weaning.

Litherland encouraged producers to fill out a Dairy Goat Herd Consultation Summary with their nutritionist or goat specialist and to consider using data analysis to help consistently meet your growth goals, to use observations of feeding behavior to gauge success, and to rely on starter intake to stimulate rumen development, drive physiological maturing, protect the lungs, and provide coccidia control.

For more information, contact your nutritionist or dairy goat specialist.

Category: Animal health
Dairy Goat Performance
Doe nutrition
Kid nutrition