What to feed goats

One of the first things folks ask me is, “What do you feed your goats?” This is a simple, innocent question with a complicated and important answer. Thankfully, word seems to be getting around that NO, goats DO NOT EAT TIN CANS nor are they lawn mowers.

Goats are what you call browsers which means that unlike cows and sheep who eat grass, goats prefer a diet of shrubs and leaves. They love nothing more than a patch of wild blackberries, a fence row overgrown with honeysuckle, privet, multifloral rose, and a wide variety of common weeds such as dandelion and plantain. Should you have a never-ending source of such vegetation available chances are your herd will thrive. The thing about goats, though, is they will eat ‘til extinction their favorite plants, leaving your fence rows picked clean and consequently you will soon find yourself with a pasture of nothing but grass and clover and hog weed. Speaking from experience, this is a less than ideal situation and one that requires attention or the health of your herd will swiftly decline.

Diet and nutrition is imperative because dairy goats require particular amounts of trace minerals such as copper and selenium. Mineral deficiencies in your herd’s diet will contribute to a host of maladies such as white muscle disease, reproductive problems, edema etc. Typically goats raised on grass and hay without browse will need supplements to maintain good health.

Another reason goats browse on shrubs and other weedy plants is to control their exposure to internal parasites like the barber pole worm, a parasite found on grass. A combination of the appropriate plants will provide the protein and minerals, as well as energy that are important in resisting the effects of the barber pole worm. For example, new red blood cells must be generated to replace those lost to the parasites. Nutrients are also needed to develop a healthy immune system.

 So to answer the original question, my goats graze on pasture all day. I keep an abundance of locally grown hay available at all times and they are fed a limited amount of 16% goat ration (typically referred to as grain). But, because I allowed my goats to eat away every last bit of browse they had, my fence rows are bare and my pasture is nothing but grass. Therefore I use the following supplements to maintain a healthy herd.

  • Loose minerals formulated for dairy goats provided free choice (which means they can have it whenever they want)
  • Probios, a gel or powder which helps establish and maintain intestinal well-being with lactic-acid-producing beneficial bacteria. This product is stabilized sources of Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, and Lactobacillus plantarum, all naturally-occurring bacteria in a healthy goat’s gut.
  • BoSe injected during gestation (two weeks prior to kidding). This is a selenium and vitamin E booster commonly given to goats residing in selenium deficient areas.  It is necessary to maintain muscle tone in adults, and prevent white muscle disease in kids. You must have a prescription to get this product.
  • Copasure bolus which contains thousands of tiny copper oxide wire particles (COWP). Boluses are administered with a small balling gun. When the bolus reaches the goat’s stomach, the gelatin capsule dissolves, releasing the small copper particles which then become trapped in the folds of the stomach. The particles remain in the stomach for up to 32 days but the copper absorbed into the liver appears to protect the animal from copper deficiency for 4 to 6 months. COWP appear to be almost immediately toxic to the barber pole worm.

If you think proper nutrition sounds complicated, try treating white muscle disease, battling anemia and bottle jaw caused by an infestation of parasites, dealing with hard udders during kidding season and struggling to save your favorite doe from anorexia. Trust me, understanding what goats need in their diet and providing it to them is worth the trouble! Raising livestock is not for the faint of heart and goats are not the hardy animals many perceive them to be. However, if you can manage to meet the nutritional needs of these wonderful creatures, they will give back generously with affection, healthy babies and MILK!

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4 thoughts on “What to feed goats

  1. How does the whole loose minerals thing work? Is it a box of powder or pellets or like a spool that they lick at or what? I am just starting to get educated on goats, we’re probably two years out from adding them, and this is one of the things I see said a lot. I’ve only raised rabbits, chickens, and ducks and their minerals are in the feed itself, so I have no idea how the loose minerals thing goes.

    • Hi Robin,
      That is a great question. The loose minerals I use come in a bag. I have a small feeder attached high enough to the wall in my barn that they can’t poop in it and that’s where I provide their minerals. Every now and then I take it off the wall and clean it out. Sometimes the goats will go for a long stretch without eating any of the loose minerals at all. Other times they go through it pretty quickly. You will just need to keep an eye out and when your mineral feeder gets low, fill it up again.

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