FEEDING GOATS PROPERLY
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
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
See this author's website's Articles Page for treatises on these
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The percentage of protein in a feed ration is just one of the
factors to be considered. Most prepared feeds are too high in
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
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
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
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
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.