Baby Goat Digestion
Written by Administrator-GL   
Friday, 21 March 2008

Baby Kids and Digestion:

Goats are ruminants, meaning that have a 4 chambered stomach and chew cuds. Often times referred to as having 4 stomachs. The baby kid is born as a Monogastric animal - meaning one stomach. This is not to say it only "has" one stomach but utilizes only one of it's four stomachs. The intestinal system of this young neonate is sterile at birth. Within a few hours after birth, bacteria from the baby's environment begin to colonize in the intestines. The neonate is also born with no immune system of it's own, relying completely on the dam for antibodies to keep it from getting sick. The neonatal kid goat derives all of it's antibodies from the colostrum the dam supplies during the first 24 hours of life.
compare adult goat stomach to baby goat stomach
Colostrum is primarily utilized by the body before the intestines and populated by bacteria. The actual epithilial cells that line the intestinal walls are able to absorb serum immunoglobulin G (IgG)1 while they are still Unpopulated by bacteria. They are able to absorb these intact macromolecules which make up the colostrum antibody and nutritional composition. This process is called 'pinocytosis'.2 . In simple words; the ability to be absorbed into the body for nutritional and antibiotic means. Once the bacteria enter the digestive system, which is normal and necessary, this process of pinocytosis can no longer take place. This loss of the ability of the neonatal digestive system to absorb immunoglobulins is commonly called "closure". It is thought to be directly related to the maturity of the digestive tract via this bacterial population of the intestine. What does this teach us? It is imperative to get quality colostrum into the neonatal stomach within 24 hours of life outside the womb. What does the colostrum do for the neonate after the first 24 hours is up? Even though the digestive system can no longer utilize the antibodies, the colostrum continues to bathe the intestinal walls with IgG, making it more difficult for dangerous bacteria to attach itself to the intestinal wall therefore reducing the occurrence of scouring in the neonate for the first month.

This shows the placement of the rumino reticular groove which allows the milk to flow directly into the abomasum. If milk gets into the rumen where it will not be digested because the rumen is not yet functioning in a neonate goat, it will sit and go toxic. Drinking milk from a bowl does not allow for the rumino reticular groove to signal to close, this is why baby goats are made to lift the head up to get the milk- and this should be mimicked when bottle feeding the baby goat.
Refer to this article on feeding baby goats: Bottle feeding Baby Goats

Feeding Baby Goats Grain or Goat Feed

Remember that concentrated feeds such as sweet feed, COB, goat chow, or any pelleted concentrated feed is difficult for a baby goat to digest because the rumen is not yet fully developed and will not be fully functional for the first 6 months of life. If you must feed grain or sweet feed below is a chart to use as reference but must be adjusted accordingly. If you baby goats begin to have scours - cut back. Personally I feed my baby goats their bottles or allow them to be dam raised until weaned which is usually around 4-6 months of age and they are offered and eat fresh high quality hay, which they will begin to pick and chew sometimes as early as a few days old. This picking at and chewing the hay begins to develop the rumen for future digestion. Adding too much sweet feed or concentrated feed such as pellets or goat chow can throw a baby goat into digestive upset.
Baby Goat Grain Chart GUIDE
WEIGHT (in lbs) GRAIN (or goat feed)
5 1/2 oz
7 1oz
10 2 oz
15 2 oz
20 3 oz
25 3 oz
30 4 oz
40 5 oz
50 6 oz

Digestion of the Kid Goat

When a goat kid is born, its rumen, reticulum and omasum are very tiny and not useful.  The goat kid depends on a liquid, milk, not roughage for its feed source.  When the kid swallows milk, the milk goes directly to the abomasum through the esophageal groove. Everytime the kid swallows, a flap of skin at the entrance to the rumen folds over to form a grove that bypasses the rumen and sends the milk straight to the abomasum to be digested by stomach acid.  As the kid gets older,  he starts trying to consume roughage.  The rumen becomes active and starts to enlarge.  Its population of micro-organisms increases. The reticulum and omasum also respond to the changes in diet by getting bigger.  By the time the kid is an adult goat, roughage is his main source of food and his rumen is far larger than his abomasum.


The goat is a member of a class of animals called ruminants.  These animals ruminate (chew their cud).  Unlike us, they have special four-compartment stomachs especially designed to digest roughage (food high in fiber) such as grass, hay and silage.  

The goat’s stomach has four chambers: 1) the rumen, 2) the honey-combed reticulum, 3) the omasum, and 4) the abomasum or true stomach.  The size relationship of the four chambers changes as the animal grows up.  The abomasum gets proportionally smaller.  To understand why this happens, let’s consider the function of each compartment and then review the goat’s diet.

1) The rumen acts as a big fermentation vat.  Bacteria and protozoa in the rumen supply enzymes to break down the fiber in the goat’s feed.  This is similar to how bacteria can ferment the sugars in grape juice to make wine in big wine barrels.  The tiny organisms in the rumen also help to build proteins from the feed and manufacture all of the B vitamins needed by the goat.  Many nutrients that help provide the goat with energy are also absorbed here.  The fermentation process produces heat that helps to keep the goat warm. 

When roughage is eaten by the adult goat, it is chewed on, soaked with saliva, and then swallowed.  This bolus of food is called “the cud”.  It goes down into the rumen to be attacked and broken down or digested by the micro-organisms. At regular intervals the cud is brought back up to the goat’s mouth to be chewed on some more and then swallowed again.  This entire process is called rumination.  If you watch the goat’s neck carefully, you can see him swallow and later regurgitate his cud.  The goat will often burp to get rid of the gas produced by all the fermentation going on in his rumen.  You can really smell the fermentation process on his breath.  If something causes the goat to stop being able to burp up the gases, the gas will build up and bloat or swell up his rumen and he may become very sick with “bloat”.

2)  Once the food particles of cud become small enough, they pass to the second compartment or reticulum.  Here any foreign objects that may have been accidentally swallowed with the feed settle out in the honeycomb structure of the reticulum’s  walls.  Another name for the reticulum is the  “hardware stomach”.

3)  The fermenting particles then pass on to the omasum.  The omasum removes the water from them and also absorbs more nutrients called volatile fatty acids that help supply the goat with energy.

4)  The particles are then forced into the abomasum or true stomach.  Here, the particles are digested by the stomach acid, hydrochloric acid (HCl).  This form of digestion is the same as what occurs in our stomachs.

The remaining particles are then passed on to the small intestine where most of the nutrients are absorbed by the body and made available to the goat.


Last Updated ( Saturday, 02 May 2009 )