April 18, 2012

Garbage In - Garbage Out

In their natural habitat, goats range freely over many acres, consuming a wide variety of high-quality forage and browse.

Being both ruminants and herbivores with fast metabolisms, goats must eat continually, concentrating on the best selection of weeds and leaves available to them. Goats are not the 'tin-can eaters' portrayed in Saturday morning cartoons.

Their digestive systems are sensitive and fine tuned.
Roughage is essential to the goat's diet. Dry matter roughage (long fiber, i.e. grass hay and dry forage/browse) is essential for proper rumen function.

Goats digest their food with live bacteria. A generous combination of live bacteria and grass hay is an essential building block towards establishing a healthy rumen. As the day wears on, the rumen grows larger as the goat eats more long fiber.

The producer can actually see the rumen expand as the day passes. A large rumen is not an indication of a fat goat; instead, it is indicative of a good digestive factory.

Note: Bloated goats have large rumens, but they are tight and hard, rather than the spongy-feeling-to-the-touch sides of a healthy goat.
Goats were not meant to be penned and intensively fed grain products. Herbivores cannot digest much high-protein feed.

The part not digested either leaves the goat's body as urine or feces, or causes health problems like urinary calculi, ruminal acidosis, ketosis (in pregnant does), hypocalcemia ("milk fever") in lactating does, bloat, founder, or other rumen-related illnesses. Improper levels of protein, vitamins, minerals, and nitrogen can also contribute to breeding and kidding problems.

See this author's website's Articles Page for treatises on these topics.
Goats do not marble fat throughout the meat as cattle do. Instead, fat layers around vital internal organs (heart, kidneys, liver), impairing their optimum function.

Continual overfeeding of grain products will not only cause the health problems listed above, but will also damage the goat's bones and entire skeletal system. Mega-calorie feeding will add gross weight to a goat, but the bones cannot grow fast enough to carry the weight.

Show-goat bucks that survive such intensive feed regimens and live to four or five years of age are often seen walking on their front knees because their bone growth has not kept pace with the massive body weight that it is required to carry.

Gout-like symptoms are not uncommon in surviving older show goats.
Creep feeding of grains is not recommended for any goat, kid or adult. Creep-feeding, to this author, means offering grain free-choice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If the producer must offer grain because of limited forage availability, then do so in limited quantities, remove anything left after 15 minutes, and offer less the next day.

Note: Some producers believe that they can creep feed successfully. This writer thinks that most people raising goats, particularly those new to the industry, should stay away from this feeding methodology.

There are too many variables that can kill goats; here are but two examples: Feeding textured feed (horse-and-mule type feeds) in hot and moist climates can result in mold and induce listeriosis, and (2) Offering grains like shelled or cracked corn can cause bloat or ruminal acidosis.

Too many telephone calls and emails come my way with problems resulting from creep feeding for this goat producer to endorse it. The biggest problem with creep feeding is massive over-feeding of sacked feed.

Many sacked feed labels recommend feeding far in excess of the amount that an individual goat should eat. Remember that these companies are in the business of selling feed rather than raising quality meat goats.

The conversion rate of feed-to-muscle (meat) in goats is inefficient; it takes about eight pounds of feed to produce one pound of meat. It is neither healthy for the goats nor for the producer's bank account to sack feed the goats on a regular basis. Supplementation is necessary in bad weather, but forage/browse is where goats need to be the majority of their lives.

The producer, however, must make sure that his goats are not overcrowded and that sufficient quality forage/browse is available for them. It seems that goat breeders wind up on both ends of the spectrum, either over-feeding or under-feeding. Finding that right balance is the necessary goal in order to raise healthy goats.

Other than death caused by slaughter or predators, the third-ranking killer of goats is, in this writer's opinion, producers who improperly feed their (usually confined) animals. Goats are not intended to be fat animals.

A layman's method of checking for excess body fat on a goat is to try to 'pinch an inch' of fat where the goat's front leg meets its body.

Indeed, one of the main attractions of goat meat to consumers is that it is lower in fat and calories than white meats or other red meats.
Think of goats as 'first cousins' to deer.

Goats range and forage like deer, eating the same types of plants. Because goats are not naturally resistant to stomach worms, they eat 'from the top down.'

Wherever goats forage heavily, a browse line will be present, above which the forage is intact and below which the goats have obviously eaten. Trying to make grazing animals of goats invites worm infestation. Goats will eat grasses, but only when other, more nutritious weeds and leaves are not available.

If there is not a retailer or mill producing feed made specifically for goats in your area, then find a qualified nutritionist familiar with the types of feed that goats require and utilize his services.

Do not try to mix feed yourself. Most of us raising goats, this writer included, do not have the knowledge or experience to formulate a good feed ration.

Proper nutrition is a complex issue. Do not rely on persons experienced in cattle or sheep nutrition. Goats are not 'little cows, ' and sheep have distinctly different nutritonal needs from goats.

The percentage of protein in a feed ration is just one of the factors to be considered. Most prepared feeds are too high in protein.

There are several types of protein . . . . soluable (digestable) and bypass (indigestable) being two of them . . . and how they interact with the goat's digestive system is of paramount importance to the animal's health. When reading feed labels, find out exactly what comprises the "crude protein" indicated on the bag or block.

Rule of Thumb: Cheaper (less 'useable' by the goat's body) ingredients equal feed that you should not want to offer your goats. Properly-formulated rations will be better utilized by the goat, thereby costing the producer less in the long run.

Ammonium chloride and urea are non-protein nitrogens, and both products are often over-used. Ammonium chloride is used in the (hopeful) prevention of urinary calculi, despite the fact that its usage can cause an excess of urea in the liver and kidneys.

While this author often hears that urea can be successfully fed to goats, she maintains that goat producers need to avoid feeding urea unless they have employed a goat nutritionist who is very familiar with how to properly use it.

Correct amounts of vitamins and minerals are critical to cycling, breeding, birthing, and even hair color and texture. Goat nutritionists know which minerals in what forms bind up other minerals and prevent their proper functioning. Energy is one more element requiring consideration in a proper feeding regimen.

Nitrogen levels in most prepared feeds are too high for goats. Changes in climatic conditions affect what the goat needs to eat to remain healthy.

Forage, browse, and pasture affected by drought will put higher levels of nitrates/nitrites into plants, increasing the likelihood of nitrate/nitrite toxicity. If the processed feed being offered to the goats is also high in nitrates or nitrites, this can be a deadly combination.

Begin your search for the right feed formulation for your goats with an analysis of the soil on your property. This is your base line for mineral and vitamin availability upon which to build your customized feed ration.

Have your hay tested for nutrient content so that you can offer a well-balanced menu to your animals.

Find a qualified goat nutritionist, even if he is located outside your area, and pay him to formulate a quality feeding program for your goats, taking into account the soil conditions, nutritional content of hay, and ingredients readily available in your area with which to formulate a feed ration suitable for your goats.

Contact your local agricultural extension office or county agent for assistance and referrals. Better yet, join ChevonTalk, this author's 1100+ member meat-goat discussion group, and ask subscribing goat producers for references in your specific area.

Confining goats into pens and small pastures dramatically increases their exposure to worms. Pasture rotation is vital in any goat-producing operation. The life cycle of a stomach worm (Haemonchus contortus . . . the stomach worm most commonly affecting goats) is only three weeks.

At least four pastures are needed on any goat ranch so that the producer can remove goats from the first pasture and leave them off it for at least nine weeks.

This timeframe does not insure that stomach worms will be gone when the goats return to the first pasture, but it is certainly helpful. Some producers run a small herd of cattle behind their goats to clean up the pastures. The goat producer's first axiom is: Permanent pasture equals parasites.