Goat Nutrition & Why It's So Important
(Thanks to Onion Creek Ranch for much of the following information on Goat Nutrition. Additional sources come from the makers of Nutritional Products and Vet Colleges.)
Think of goats as *first cousins* to deer. They are not "little cattle," and "sheep" should not be used in the same sentence with "goat." Sheep are grass eaters. Goats are foragers/browsers like deer. In their natural habitat, goats free range over many acres while consuming a wide variety of high-quality forage and browse. Having the fastest metabolism of any ruminant (except deer), goats must eat frequently, concentrating on the choicest weeds and leaves available to them. Sacked grains, whether pelleted or textured, are not their natural diet. Ruminant herbivores (plant-eating animals using a rumen for digestion) eat low-protein plant materials continually; they cannot safely digest high levels of protein. Illnesses such as urinary calculi, laminitis-founder, ruminal acidosis, ketosis, hypocalcemia, and bloat are often the result of feeding protein levels that are too "hot."
Incorrect levels of protein, vitamins, minerals, and nitrogen can also cause breeding and kidding problems.
Proper nutrition is a complex matter. Most of us don't have the knowledge needed to formulate a quality feed ration. Do not rely on persons experienced in cattle or sheep nutrition. Goats are not "little cows" and sheep have different nutritional needs from goats.
Goats are efficient browsers and prefer eating brushy plants along with some other woody and weedy plants found on the ranges. Goats are able to digest a large variety of fibre and roughage. The nutrient requirements of goats are determined by age, sex, breed, production system (dairy or meat), body size, climate and physiological stage. Feeding strategies should be able to meet energy, protein, mineral, and vitamin needs depending on the condition of the goats. Goats do not depend on intensive feeding systems except some supplemental feeding during growth, lactation, pregnancy and winter. Of course, when goats are in lactation for an extended period of time (i.e., 10 months), they will require supplemental feeding on a higher plane of nutrition (e.g., dairy quality second cut alfalfa hay and grain ration).
Goats belong to the small ruminant group of animals and have no upper incisor or canine teeth but a dental pad instead. The rumen is the largest part of four stomach compartments with the capacity of roughly 2-6 pounds. Some bacteria and protozoa are normal habitants of the rumen which break down plant food into volatile fatty acids along with vitamins and amino acids. The daily feed intake of goats ranges from 3-4% of body weight as expressed in pounds (dry matter/head/day). The daily feed intake is influenced by body weight, % of dry matter in the feeds eaten (12-35% in forages, 86-92% in hays and concentrates), palatability, and physiological stage of the goats (growth, pregnancy, and lactation).
Roughage is essential to the goat's diet to maintain good health. Dry matter roughage (long fiber, also known as grass hay or dry forage/browse) is critical for proper rumen function. Goats digest their food using live bacteria. The interaction of live bacteria and long fiber keeps the rumen functioning and the goat's body temperature in normal range (101.5*F and 103.5*F). Long fiber rubbing the walls of the rumen causes contractions and aids in food digestion.
The rumen is on the left side of the goat's body. The size of the rumen expands as the day passes. A large rumen is not an indication of a fat goat but rather is evidence of a good digestive factory. The rumen is a fermentation vat, producing foul breath and distinctive noises.Note: While bloated goats also have large rumens, bloat makes the rumen wall hard and tight to the touch, while the healthy goat's rumen feels spongy.
Repeated over-feeding of grain products can also damage the goat's bones and break down the entire skeletal system by putting too much weight on a frame that cannot support it. High-calorie diets can cause bone growth that cannot keep pace with massive body weight. Gout-like symptoms are not uncommon in such goats.
It takes about eight pounds of sacked grains to produce one pound of weight gain in the goat. This is an inefficient conversion ratio. Goats convert plant materials to muscle (meat) much more efficiently. It is neither healthy for the goat or for the producer's bank account to push grain on goats. Supplementation is necessary under certain conditions (bad weather and does raising multiple kids, for example), but forage/browse is where goats need to be most of their lives. For producers without adequate forage/browse, horse-quality grass hay is an acceptable alternative. Never feed hay that is moldy as you are setting up the environment for hard-to-cure, usually fatal diseases like Listeriosis to occur. (Never tell a hay seller that you are buying for goats; they think that goats eat tin cans, so they can sell junk hay to you.) Always have it tested for nutritional values if possible.
Illness and death can and does occur from improperly feeding goats in managed herds. If, because of limited forage/browse, the producer must regularly offer sacked grain to goats in conjunction with providing top-quality grass hay, then do so in limited quantities, remove any feed that is left after 15 minutes, and offer less the next day. Do *not* free choice sacked feed on a multi-hour basis. Most bags of sacked grains recommend feeding far more than a goat needs. Feed companies are in the business of selling feed rather than keeping goats healthy.
Protein percentage is only one of many factors to be considered in choosing a grain mix. Some prepared feeds are too high in protein. Soluble (digestible) and bypass (indigestible) are two of the most important types of proteins fed to goats. When reviewing the label on a sack of feed or a protein block or tub, find out precisely what the protein is derived from. Urea (also known as non-protein nitrogen) is not easily digested by goats, and the typical producer should not feed it. There is a Rule of Thumb about feed ingredients: *cheap* generally means less bio-available (useable) to the goat's body. Properly formulated rations are the cheaper route in the long run, because the goat's body can better process and utilize its nutrients. You cannot starve the profit out of a goat.
Along with protein, nitrogen levels in many prepared feeds are too high for goats. Both ammonium chloride and urea are non-protein nitrogens and are overused in goat feed. Ammonium chloride is added to try to prevent urinary calculi, but its over-use can cause excess urea in the kidneys and liver. Textured (horse & mule) feed should not be fed to goats because it molds easily, setting up the environment for hard-to-cure, usually fatal diseases like Listeriosis to occur.
Along with proper levels of roughage (long fiber) and correct amounts of vitamins and minerals, bacterial microbes are added to keep the rumen functioning efficiently. Goat nutritionists know which minerals in what forms bind up other minerals and prevent their absorption. Energy is another essential part of a properly-formulated full-feed package which goat nutritionists are trained to know how to supply.
Not all mixed feeds available for purchase are formulated by trained livestock nutritionists. Livestock feed labeling laws are somewhat lax because prepared feed is considered a supplement to foraging/browsing/grazing animals. Labels don't always tell the entire nutritional story. Salt in most livestock feed products is not iodized.
Begin your search for the right feed ration by having a soil analysis done on your property to determine mineral and vitamin availability. Have your livestock nutritionist use this information when formulating your grain supplement. Recognize that long fiber is the foundation of all that you feed to your goats. Top quality forage/browse and/or top quality hay should be your first purchase.
Remember: Does nursing twins or triplets have greater nutritional requirements than does nursing a single kid. For your does with babies I'd feed the following until they all rejoin the herd (increase to 4-5 cups of this feed mix, each doe with babies): 16% Dairy Goat Pellet should make up 60% of mix; 10% Calf Manna; 10% Alfalfa Pellet; 10% Beet Shreds; 10% Black Oil Sunflower Seeds.
A mature dry doe or a mature wether or buck are examples of animals having maintenance requirements only.
Vitamin D may become deficient in animals raised in confinement barns, especially during the wintertime. Animals should have frequent access to sunlight because it causes vitamin D to be synthesized under their skin, or they should receive supplemental vitamin D. Good quality sun-cured hays are excellent sources of vitamin D. A deficiency in vitamin D results in poor calcium absorption, leading to rickets, a condition where the bones and joints of young animals grow abnormally.
Loose minerals made for goats should be offered free choice. Blocks or tubs that contain a combination of protein and minerals should not be fed. This is one of those situations where two different products are better that one combo product. Feed protein tubs or blocks separate from loose minerals and feed both products free choice. Combination protein and mineral blocks/tubs reduce consumption by using the minerals as "limiters" (think of trying to eat over-salted food) and the goat doesn't get enough to eat. Always have hay tested for nutritional values. Employ a qualified livestock nutritionist familiar with your area and have him formulate a pelleted ration for you for use during weather conditions that require supplementation. There will be plenty of opportunities to feed sacked feed. Use it wisely.
If you feed top-quality hay, you can cut down on the amount of sacked grains that have to be fed. Your goats will be healthier and your financial "bottom line" will improve. It is a win-win situation.
Nutrition for Newborn Kids
(the following information compliments of Manitoba Goat Association)
It is crucial that kids nurse their mothers (does) in the first 8 hours of their life to consume colostrum at a minimum rate of 10-20% of their body weight, preferably within 2-3 hours after birth. Colostrum contains vitamins and antibodies that will save kids from many diseases including enterotoxaemia and tetanus. Kids born as twins and triplets may need supplementation of colostrum fostered from other high producing does and even cows. Extra colostrum from high producing does with dead kids can be stored in the freezer. It is not recommended to thaw frozen colostrum in a microwave or on high heat as this would possibly denature the nutrients. Thawing at room temperature is all it takes. Replacement kids should stay with their milking mothers for as long a period as possible. Early weaning of replacement kids can leave them undernourished and will have a detrimental effect on their production potential.
Doe kids should be grazed with their mothers during as much of the milking period as possible and not weaned early. Following weaning, doe kids should be separated from the main herd and have access to high quality forage and receive good nutrition through first kidding at 1-2 years of age, depending on the nutritional plane. Leaving doe kids with the main herd will result in undernourished doelings that are bred too young and too small; these animals will never reach their production potential.
Insufficient water intake will depress a goat’s performance earlier, and more severely, than any other dietary insufficiency. Adequate and clean water is the paramount management concern. Personally I am not a fan of tank watering goats. They do not drink the necessary quantity from a soiled container because they like clean fresh water daily. Goats should be consuming more water with high protein ration feedings. Fresh water quality, not just quantity, is a must.
Nutritional Health Problems
Pregnancy Toxemia (Ketosis or Twins disease) Does with a body condition score of 4 carrying twins or triplets need high energy diets during their last trimester to cover the needs of the fetuses. Malnutrition during the last weeks of pregnancy leads to the breakdown of body fat reserves that secrete ketones. Due to lack of energy the glucose concentration in the brain decreases and nervous signs appear. At this stage the doe seldom survives. Autolysis of dead fetuses produces toxins causing whole body toxemia of the doe and eventually death. Treatment is usually unsuccessful. Intravenous injection of 5% Dextrose can be helpful in the early stages. However proper feeding of does during pregnancy can prevent pregnancy toxemia.
Urinary Calculi Excessive feeding of grain to males, particularly castrated males, can block the urinary tracts with calcium phosphate calculi. The calcium phosphate ratio in a goat’s diet should be at 1:1 or 2:1. DO NOT feed Alfalfa pellets or Alfalfa hay to wethers or bucks.
Acidosis, Enterotoxemia and Founder A sudden increase or excessive feeding of grains can also cause a few more problems to the doe. Lactic acid content of the rumen can increase at toxic levels (acidosis) due to feeding of starches that exceed need. Acidosis can cause vasoconstriction of blood vessels around hooves (Founder).
High levels of starches in the diet also speed up the bacterial growth in the intestines (Enterotoxemia). The rapid bacterial growth means more endotoxin production and death occurs quickly. This usually happens with rapidly growing kids. Vaccination can prevent this disease.
Polioencephalomalacia is another disease caused by high levels of grain feeding accompanied by stress. Thiamine deficiency is the main cause of this problem.
The term body condition refers to the fleshiness of an animal. You should be concerned with the body condition of your animals. Does should not be allowed to become too thin or too fat.
Minerals and Vitamins
Goats need certain minerals and vitamins for their maintenance as well as proper functioning of their physiological systems. Feeding of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) must be insured in a goat’s diet due to its inability to make these vitamins. Rumen flora can make vitamin B in enough quantities needed for goat metabolism. Vitamin C is essential for the immune system to work efficiently.
Minerals can be classified as macro and micro minerals. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur and chlorides are a few of the macrominerals needed in a goat’s diet. Microminerals usually supplemented in goat rations are iron, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium, molybdenum, and others. Feed tags report microminerals as parts per million (ppm) and macrominerals on a percentage basis.
Feeding of calcium and phosphorus (2:1 ratio) is recommended for better structural and bone strength, while other minerals are necessary for other systems like nervous and reproductive. Minerals should be added into the feed keeping in mind the quality of forages as some forages can be high in some of the minerals and low in others. Free choice supply of loose minerals and salts always works well. If the supplied minerals include enough salts then the producer should be careful in providing separate free choice salt.
It is important to feed enough copper (10-80 ppm) to goats as they have a tendency to be copper deficient. High levels of molybdenum in a goat’s diet can easily offset the copper levels in the body. Goats are not sensitive to copper, whereas in sheep even 20 ppm of copper can be very toxic. Selenium (0.1-3 ppm) is another mineral required for goats. If your soil is deficient in selenium, then forages from those soils may need selenium supplementation in the form of mineral supplements.
AppleJo Farms Grain Feeding Mixture: I have tried many different grain mixtures and percentages. Currently I'm trying this recommendation from my Vet and its going very well: 70% Goat pellets (16% dairy goat pellets for pregnant or lactating does and 18% dairy goat pellets for all others); 20% Beet pulp shreds; 10% Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. When I'm feeding an alfalfa or alfalfa mix hay to does, I do not supplement with alfalfa pellets when feeding this hay except at milking time. Feed alfalfa pellets at milk time to your does.
For your does with babies: I feed the following until they all rejoin the herd (increase to 4-5 cups of this feed mix, each doe with babies): 16% Dairy Goat Pellet should make up 60% of mix; 10% Calf Manna; 10% Alfalfa Pellet; 10% Beet Shreds; 10% Black Oil Sunflower Seeds.
If I did not have alfalfa hay for the does, I would exchange 20% of the dairy goat pellet for the alfalfa pellets to give them enough protein. Just a note about alfalfa pellets: they are not good for wethers & bucks to consume as they can cause nutritional problems which eventually presents health problems such as urinary calculi . If wethers & bucks get a tiny bit in their feed, no problem but not in any quantities.
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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers. Much of my page content is from Veterinary Colleges and Manuals.
In all cases, it is your personal responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. JoAnna Mertz is not a veterinarian. Neither JoAnna Mertz nor applejofarms.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.