It seems that most people who show big dairy goats bottle-feed their kids. When we started showing our Nigerians in 2005, which was the year they were accepted for registration in ADGA, several people with standard dairy goats asked, "Don't you have trouble with kids ruining the udders?" when they learned that our kids nurse on their moms. I didn't even understand the question the first time I heard it, but I was told that some kids have a preference for one side or the other, which can lead to lopsided udders. Whether you're miking or showing, it's nice for a goat to have a balanced udder with both sides producing the same amount of milk.
Just as we human moms sometimes think that our human kids are smarter than someone else's, I assumed that my little Nigerian kids were smarter than the big goat kids. And just as that thought comes back to haunt you as a human mom, it has come back to haunt me with the goats!
Last year -- our seventh year with goats -- we sold a kid who had a twin sister that was nursing on only one side. Apparently each kid had their own personal teat, but we didn't know until a week later when I looked at the mama and saw that her udder looked like a balloon with a large teat on the bottom and a tiny teat sticking off to the side! One side of her udder had already dried up! I was mortified and felt terribly guilty. We got that goat dried up as quickly as we could, hoping that her udder wouldn't be permanently unbalanced. When she freshened this year, it was lovely again, so we had managed to survive that big goof. Then we completely forgot about the possibility of a kid having a favorite side. That was just a fluke, right?
Wrong! This year, two goats had singles, and the kids chose a favorite side. We didn't realize it until the does were fresh for a week, so the udders were already getting terribly unbalanced. We tried milking out the less-favored side, hoping to increase production. The teat on the non-favored side was about twice the size as the favorite side, so by milking that side, the teat was the same size as the other side, and we hoped that perhaps the kid would be more willing to nurse on that side. Maybe they did nurse on that side once in a while, but certainly not enough to get the halves evened out. Both does were first fresheners, so we've continued milking them now that their kids are gone, and we're hoping that production will even out. I think it is happening with one goat, but not with the other.
But wait, that's not all! Last Friday, we sold one of Cleo's does. Cleo is five years old and one of our best milkers, and apparently her little doelings had assigned teats, because yesterday Katherine happened to notice that she was lopsided! Five days would be enough time for some goats to dry up almost completely, but since Cleo is older and a great producer, I'm hoping that her udder will bounce back. Because we're getting two gallons of milk a day, we were not milking any goats that had kids on them, but it's obvious that we need to be milking Cleo now.
It is also obvious that we need to check does' udders whenever we sell a kid to make sure that the udders are not getting lopsided. And when we start freshening goats next spring, we need to check udders of does with single kids to make sure they're not lopsided. Maybe I should post a sign in the kidding barn reminding us, so that we don't forget again by next spring. Of course, Murphy's Law of Goat Udders would say that as long as we're checking, they'll all be fine, and the first time we forget to check, it'll be a problem again!