Is Bottle Raising Dairy (and sometimes other) Livestock the Best Choice?
The following is what I've found to be true on our farm.
Other folks can figure out what is best for their animals with experience and time.
We pull and bottle-feed dairy goats here most of the time. Especially dairy doe kids or reserved kids.
There are reason we haven't or recommend not:
1. time constraints
2. only a single kid (so would be raised alone if on the bottle) born without others due soon
3. excess buck kids born that will be wethered or cross kids we know are not likely to sell before they are older or may be raised for food.
4. FF does with super small teats.
We have also found bottle raising dairy heifers is generally the better choice. That said, we've had a lot of bull calves born, and if selling a bull calf as a breeding animal, dam raised tends to make safer male cattle.
I usually only buy bottle raised goats, and I prefer bottle raised cows, but I've bought both. I've made a few exceptions. I've usually regretted it, but not always in cattle (sometimes they came around to be friendly enough, like Clemmie).
I try to give most of our goat buyers this same courtesy because it helps set them up for success.
While dam raised kids/calves can occasionally be friendly with some effort, I've rarely found most are friendly enough in their new homes to make the buyers feel comfortable and make the animal low stress in this transition when compared to bottle raised kids / calves. The animal wants his dam or herdmates and doesn't look at humans for comfort or as a friend.
Most simply are not friendly, but some folks work hard enough to create exceptions. I have never had enough time, but even when I have tried, I have usually failed to win them over very well.
Dam raised kids are not as likely, even when friendly, to accept all people the way bottle kids do. So when they are sold, they are afraid of the "new people." They still look to their mothers for nutrition where the bottle kids look to and count on human caretakers.
So basically, dam raised babies may be friendly on your farm because they are used to you, but when they leave, they often do not have any reason to bond to the new folks, and I hear via calls and emails how upset buyers over these types of offspring are and have upset the animals they have bought (stressed) are for a long while.
So, when these dam raised kids or calves go to a new buyer and prove very wild, this quickly discourages new owners on their dairy venture . . . to not mention the fear the goat or calf endures. They get passed on and on, eventually many of these animals go onto a stockyard or dying of poor care somewhere down the line. Of course, this doesn't always happen, but it is only fair to YOU all that you hear the risks, and it is only fair to future livestock you might produce.
Bottle kids / calves think anyone with the bottle holds the key to life, and they love everyone (now and again, they love too much - and this is something to be aware of, for sure). They do not care who you are, if you have that bottle, you are mama, and they are happy. Sometimes, though not super often, a person mentions a story about a wild bottle kid (usually if this happens, it was lamb-bar raised kid, and that isn't the same), but again, there are always exceptions to everything.
If we live for the exceptions all of the time, we can make a lot of messes.
I've met a handful of truly friendly dam raised goat kids and have never met a truly friendly dam raised calf. It is rare you encounter a wild bottle raised calf or goat.
I like to increase my odds for what is favorable in my animals. Ease of handling is worth a lot to me. The value has proven to be very high in buyers. Chasing and fighting and scaring things isn't my idea of fun.
People assign too many human emotions to animals, and so I assure you when I pull goat kids away minutes after birth, my does could CARE EVEN LESS than less. Cows. .. they tend to care more if they have raised calves before, though.
I guess we could compare it to bottle feeding newborn kids if you're an adoptive parent or opt to not breastfeed. It is fine. All that matters is excellent care and a full belly to the babies.
The goat kids think I'm mom from the very beginning and are thrilled to be inside in a tub in my kitchen in warm bedding with no fighting to eat or working to hard to do much of anything. They all get the same amount each feeding, which helps lessen kid losses, and if something goes wrong, I am more apt to notice quickly.
If you know how to properly bottle raise, kid and calf mortality rates are lower. Most for how attentive you have to be, but also, the offspring are exposed to less right off the bat.
Sometimes, folks note a lower parasite and cocci exposure when raising kids apart from the adult herd, too.
I find the kids from a birth will grow evenly when pulled because they do not need to fight other kids to eat. Now, this means some may not be as big as if dam raised (the bullies), but you shouldn't have any runts or much smaller kids.
I'll take this spot to mention that I DO NOT feed any replacers to goats. I feed whole goat's or cow's MILK from my herd or from the store. Both will work. Replacers are a bad deal all around for goats.
The offspring tend to keep a life long ease of handling for worming, kidding help, milking, vaccines, taking blood, trimming hooves and there is little need to catch them, as they follow you wherever you go (now, this can be annoying).
Kids or heifers can go to educated buyers you chose at a young age, so they grow up with their future milking owners and give the same ease of handling for those people. This is just one step toward setting a dairy animal up for lifetime farm homes and the buyer for success. It also lessens your cost yearly because you're not holding kids until weaning. Kids and calves can go to their buyers' farms quicker (of course, make sure they are going to educated, sensible buyers only).
I've found dam raising can cause some does and cows pain in terms of raw, bleeding teats and constant nursing kids. I get these messages and calls often when folks are milking.
Animals have bleeding, raw teats and there is a fight to be milked because the kids / calves are making the udder and teats hurt, if you're milk sharing. I have known does and cows to have hardened udders from scar tissue where offspring has butted them over and over, as well. Lopsided udders are common when you dam raise if you aren't going behind kids to even out each side.
Watch and observe how very rough kids/calves are. They are brutal. I've seen many goats run away from their kids when I dam raised years back - NEVER does this happen with hand milking. The does run to the stand. It is very gentle process. Goats and cows enjoy it - they eat grain and have routine they thrive on twice a day - udders and teats are never bruised or bleeding.
Folks talk about nature, but they do not consider dairy goats and cows to not exist in nature. The huge udders and big teats and tremendous production are things people developed, so it is no shock the care revolves about human involvement and work.
When kids nurse constantly, the orifice never closes. The open orifices leave the udder open to infections / mastitis. That is something folks rarely consider. It has been proven in those who monitor bacteria counts in dairies, though. Raw milk small dairies, too. In dairy herds I have known, milk testing shows contamination rates are much higher with animals dam raising. . .so much so, if you're trying to herdshare and testing your milk, your levels will stay too high to safely use the milk for the share program. Dam raising does have a higher rates of mastitis. If kids are on nursing, they can transfer an infection in one side to the other. It is a mess. It can spread through the herd if kids try to nurse other does, and that is a mess.
If you let cows and does bond with the kids/calves, to a degree, they mourn a bit when offspring are removed, but if one uses common sense or has any experience, they know that even if the offspring is 6 months old and sold or when the cow is bred or when the calf/kid is sold, the cow and calf / doe and kid will mourn then, too. I've found it is worse the longer they have the kids or calves. If you pull them right away, there is very little stress. Sometimes none at all.
Nothing cruel about it, as many 5 year old children cry their first day of school or day care or staying over with family, then they decide it is wonderful and move on. Animals do, too.
Also, speaking of calves, they will nurse (not as often in goats) even after the dam is rebred and after you've kept them apart, and using weaning rings and so forth becomes hard to overcome for a while.
Lastly, remember, Buck kids can breed their dams before they are old enough to be weaned, and then the doe is bred back too early by her own buckling or breeds his sisters, etc. Nature is pesky like that. You have to wean the buck kids by about 8 weeks to be 100% safe, and that is TOO young for the kids to be off milk and grow properly. So if you don't bottle raise, you need to be aware this can happen.
Bottle raising lets the kids stay on milk as long as needed without worry because the kids are raisedi away from the
adults, and the buck kids can be moved away from doe kids when it is time.
At the end of the day. . .my guess is you will find, if you dam raise, it is because people work less initially, but overall, having done it and bottle raised, I do not prefer it.
It is more initial work on the farmer to bottle raise, but the return has proven worth the work and creates less headaches later on.
Nature is interesting, you know? It can be better and it can be worse.
I remind folks that dairy animals are a man-bred creation: selective. Not sure? Try hanging out naked in a blizzard. . .you'll appreciate your unnatural clothing and a fire or shelter pretty quick.
You can try all things on your own and see what works for you and the animals in your care. . .there are modified systems experienced folks come up with that can work well.
So, we do both here, but I always prefer bottle-raising.