1 Goats are good browsers and can selectively utilize a wide variety
of shrubs, woody plants, weeds, and briars. If you allow the goats to
roam the woods, be sure that there is no wild cherry, hemlock,
azaleas, or species of laurel family nearby because these plants are
poisonous. While such grazing simplifies management, it can result in
bad eating habits.
2 Does enjoy browsing, but they cannot produce much milk without hay
or pasture plus grain. Yearlings, dry does, and even low producers,
however, may get enough nutrients from browsing to satisfy their
3 Feed Choices
Pasture -- Often the lowest cost feed available is pasture. It does
not have to be harvested, stored, and fed out if grazing is permitted.
You can economize by relying heavily on pasture during the summer
months. The best pasture for goats con- sists of alfalfa-bromegrass or
a mixture of clover and timothy. Pastures will yield their most when
they are limed, fertilized and clipped on a routine basis. Small herd
owners very likely will not have the equipment to develop good
pastures. When limited pastures are available, they are often
overstocked and overgrazed, which kill off the pasture and encourage
the growth of weeds. When circumstances do not permit extensive pasture
management, an effort should be made to rotate animals to other pasture
lots if they are available. If not, pasture feeding should be
appropriately supplemented with other feeds such as greenchop, root
crops, or wet brewery grains.
4 Pasture has some limitations. Bloat is a constant concern with
pastures heavy in alfalfa, particularly in early spring and fall. The
quality of pasture changes with each passing day. The energy level
drops between 0.5 and 0.75 megacalories per hundred pounds of dry
matter per day. The water content of lush pasture is so high that it
cannot support high levels of milk production.
5 Because of these fluctuations in nutrient content, it is always good
management to provide grazing goats free access to hay while they are
on pasture. It will offer some protection against bloat and provide a
source of feed to compensate for the decline of nutrients in the
6 Management tips for goats on pastures:
1. Provide easy access to shade and water.
2. Have available salt and a mineral mix or offer a mix of equal
parts trace mineral salt and dicalcium phosphate.
3. Rotate animals among pastures where possible. This permits
pastures to rejuvenate and also tends to break the cycle of
4. Provide ready access to hay.
5. During early spring pastures, be alert to possible cases of
bloat and grass tetany.
7 Dry Forages -- Aside from brush lands and pasture, another low-cost
feed for goats is good quality legume hay, such as alfalfa or clover,
even when heavily mixed with bromegrass, orchard grass, or timothy.
Legumes are favored over grasses because they are much higher in
protein and in a variety of minerals.
8 The nutrient composition of forages can be determined by analysis in
a forage-testing laboratory. Your county agricultural agent can help
you select a laboratory. A visual examination can yield considerable
information about hay quality such as:
1. Earlier cutting date indicates more digestible nutrients.
2. More leaves provide more protein and minerals.
3. Lack of seed heads indicates early cutting.
4. Coarse stems suggest late cutting while crushed stems indicate
early removal from the field, and thus less damage.
5. Foreign material (weeds or tree leaves) mean reduced feed value.
6. Green color indicates presence of vitamin A.
9 The date of harvest is the most important single factor affecting
feed consumption and quality. As the stage of maturity changes, there
is a marked effect on the protein content.
10 As the protein content decreases over this period, the fiber
content increases from about 27 percent to approximately 38 percent.
When this occurs, the digestible energy values not only decline but the
crop is less palatable so that animals consume less.
11 Silages, Haylages, and Root Crops -- Silages and haylages have
never been used extensively as feeds for goats. This is due more to
management problems than to any limitations in the nutritional or
feeding value of the crops. A small herd of goats would have to be
associated with a cattle operation to have enough volume to justify
using silages and haylages as a practical feed.
12 Because silage contains only about 30 to 35 percent dry matter,
2-1/2 to 3 pounds are needed to replace one pound of hay. Only about 2
pounds of haylage are needed to replace one pound of hay. Normally,
silage should be limited to the replacement of only 1/3 of the hay -
about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of silage daily for a mature goat. Young goats
should not be fed silage until their rumen is functional (6-8 weeks
after birth); otherwise digestive disturbances and scouring may result.
13 Even mature goats should be allowed a period of adjustment when
silage is incorporated into the ration. Gradual increases in the amount
of silage will prevent any digestive disturbances.
14 Goats are quite fond of root crops and garden products. These types
of feeds can be effectively incorporated in the ration for a change of
routine. Carrots, beets, turnips, and cabbage are especially relished
by goats. These types of feeds are high in moisture and should be fed
in the same manner as silage. Several of these feeds, such as turnips,
can create off-flavors in milk, if fed too closely to milking time. A
general rule of thumb is to avoid offering feeds which impart flavors to
milk within 3 hours of milking time. It is better to offer these feeds
15 Feeding Additives -- There is some evidence that antibiotics and
other drugs can increase growth rate and feed efficiency when added to
the rations of diseased animals. However, improved performance has not
been demonstrated in disease-free animals. Dairy goat owners would do
well to use only feed additives commonly available for dairy cows and
to avoid those for which extravagant claims are made.
16 There is no research to show that dairy goats require any vitamins,
minerals, ''organic'' health food additives, or medications that are
not required for milking dairy cows. Indiscriminate use of such highly
touted materials can be expensive and can do more harm than good.
17 Concentrates -- The cereal grains are excellent sources of energy.
Corn, oats, barley, and wheat frequently form the foundation of
concentrate mixes for goats. Beet or citrus pulp is especially
valuable in the ration when the hay is poor and fibrous.
18 Grains should not be fed whole or most of them will go straight
through the animal. They should be rolled, crimped, cracked, or flaked.
This will improve digestibility and taste. They should be free of mold
and have very few fine particles.
19 Concentrate mixtures for goats should include pellets containing
linseed meal, soybean meal, or dried brewers grains. No supplemental
calcium is needed for alfalfa-fed herds, but add 1.0 percent trace
mineralized salt and 0.75 percent monosodium or monoammonium phosphate.
If grass hay is being fed, then the mineral supplement could be one
percent dicalcium phosphate in place of the monosodium phosphate.
20 When a protein supplement is needed, a commercial supplement
containing other nutrients in addition to protein may be preferable to
one of the meals. This could either be fed separately or mixed with
grains available on the farm. Be sure it does not contain urea to avoid
problems with palatability. These commercial supplements also contain
minerals, so additional minerals may not be needed.
21 Molasses, an excellent energy source, is commonly used to reduce the
dustiness of feed and to increase palatability. If too much molasses is
included in the ration, the feed becomes sticky and the digestibility
of other ingredients is reduced. For these reasons, molasses is usually
limited to 5 to 10 percent of the concentrate mixture.
22 Premium-quality dairy cow feeds can usually be fed to dairy goats
satisfactorily. Occasionally commercial cow feeds contain by-product
ingredients that are not palatable to goats, but this is rarely a
23 Horse feeds should be avoided. Most have too much molasses,
excessive amounts of fiber, excessive calcium for alfalfa-fed goats, and
few have enough protein for milking does.
While there are several ways of raising kids, one of the most
popular is to take the kids away from the does immediately, before they
begin to suckle. Then put the colostrum milk in a bottle with a nipple
and encourage the kids to drink from this.
25 Colostrum -- Colostrum is the first milk produced. It contains
higher levels of total protein, milk solids, globulins, fat, and
vitamin A than normal milk. It is also laxative. Most important,
colostrum contains antibodies against diseases to which the doe has
immunity. Young kids are able to absorb this antibody protection
effectively at birth, but by the time they are three days old, this
ability will almost disappear. The newborn kid should receive fresh
warm colostrum before it is 15 minutes old, if possible, to give
maximum protection. During the first two days of life, kids should
receive at least three colostrum feedings per day. A kid will consume
about 1-1/2 to 2 pints daily.
26 As soon as the kids are strong and can drink milk easily, they can
be fed from a pan or pail. Cow's milk may be substituted for goat's
milk after the kid is a few days old. This sometimes reduces the cost.
Make the change gradually over a period of several days. Excellent
growth and health can be achieved by feeding kids one of the
high-quality milk replacers currently available. Because of varying
formulations, care should be taken to follow the manufacturer's
directions. The milk or milk replacers should be heated to about 100F.
Twice-a-day feeding of milk is adequate and no more than 3 pounds
should be fed.
27 Weaning -- As young kids approach weaning age - three to four
months gradually add warm water to their milk diet. This will provide
them with the necessary fluids for rumen development and ease the
stress of weaning them. After the kids are weaned from the milk, feed
them all the bright green forage they will eat, plus 3/4 to 1 pound of
any good dairy calf-starter ration.
28 Feeding grain and forage -- Young kids will not consume much solid
food at first, but small amounts of a starter feed can be placed in
front of them during the first week. A mixture of equal parts of
cracked corn, crushed oats, wheat bran, and about 10 percent soybean
meal can be used. Early consumption can be encouraged by putting some
of the grain in the milk. Hay can also be offered at this time, but it
should be the finest hay available. Early forage consumption will lead
to early rumen development and will thus permit early weaning.
29 To develop prime herd replacements with a chance for good milk
production, good eating habits must be established. Browse feeding is
not necessary. Such feed is often very fibrous, woody, and low in
energy. Train a goat to eat a ''domesticated'' ration of hay, pasture,
and grain from the early days of life. If treated to woods and weeds
from birth, kids will not break such habits easily.
In feeding young animals, the object is to provide enough
nourishment for body maintenance and growth. Too much feed causes
animals to fatten which could lead to difficulties in breeding. After 4
to 6 months of age animals should have good pasture - if available,
high-quality hay and a place to exercise. A 1/2 pound of grain per day
should lead to ample growth. If the forage is poor, animals may require
1 to 1-1/2 pounds of grain daily. Yearlings can be fed the same grain
mix that is fed to the milking herd. Low-quality forages should be
supplemented with a 12 to 14 percent protein grain mixture. Free
access to water, if located away from the manager, will encourage
exercise. A mixture of equal parts of trace mineralized salt and
dicalcium phosphate is suitable for free-choice feeding.
31 Dry Does
Dairy goats should be given a 4-to 6 week dry period prior to
kidding. The unborn kid develops 70 percent of its weight during these
last 6 weeks of pregnancy. It is important that a balanced diet be
fed. Unborn kids grow rapidly and need protein, calcium, and phosphorus
for muscle and bone development. A steady diet of scant pasture and
poor hay could produce weak or dead kids, or ones that die shortly
32 The dry period is a good time to rejuvenate the ruminant system.
Good pasture will maintain a doe at this time, with only mineral
supplementation needed (salt and dicalcium phosphate should be
available). In the absence of pasture, a mixture of good alfalfa and
grass hay can be used. Alfalfa contains too much calcium in relation to
phosphorus to be used as the sole forage for pregnant does. If the doe
is under weight, 1/2 to 1-1/2 pounds of grain might be fed daily. The
grain should contain 12 percent protein if alfalfa hay is fed or 16
percent protein if grass is the major forage. Does should be kept in
good flesh but not fat.
33 A few days before freshening, cut the grain feeding in half and
replace it with wheat bran. This is a good source of protein and
phosphorus. The laxative effect of the bran will help clean out the
34 Milking Does
The nutritional demands upon the lactating does are tremendous. It
is essentially impossible for the doe to consume enough to meet the
demands for body maintenance and milk production during the first few
months of lactation. She must draw upon her body reserves to balance
the nutrients consumed.
35 To meet the needs of the lactating doe as closely as possible, it
is necessary to feed the best quality legume hay or green forage
available. The quantity of hay may have to be limited to 3 pounds to
encourage the consumption of a maximum amount of grain. The grain
intake should be gradually increased until the doe is receiving 1/2
pound of grain for each pound of milk produced. In later lactation
this ratio can be widened to 1/2 pound for each 2 to 3 pounds of milk
produced. Grass hay will usually require 16-18 percent protein grain
while 12-14 percent would be enough for top-quality legume hay.
36 Catering to the animals according to individual needs can be of
considerable benefit to the small herd owner, ''TLC'' (tender loving
care). Such special attention makes it possible for individuals to
better perform. In large herds, this extra effort can be costly.
37 Succulent feeds such as silage or root crops are particularly
helpful during the winter months in keeping the goat's digestive tract
in good order.
38 During winter all mixtures should be supplemented with 6 million IU
of vitamins A and 3 million IU of vitamin D per ton of grain.
The buck can have the same kind of feed as the doe, but because of
his size, he needs a larger amount of hay and other forages. Grain
should be fed according to the buck's general condition. Feeding 1 to
2 pounds of grain daily should be adequate. Exercise in the pen or out
in the pasture is important for the buck to maintain a good
disposition, strengthen his legs, and keep him in a vigorous breeding
condition. When the buck is not being used for breeding, good pasture
or hay should be adequte for insuring good health. Avoid excessive
levels of calcium to minimize urinary calculi (stones).
40 A Final Word
Be careful not to overfeed or underfeed as this can cause digestive
problems. Animals can easily be thrown off feed by eating from
equipment that has not been cleaned and where feed has spoiled. Discard
all moldy feeds. Regularity of feeding is important. Any changes in the
ration should be made gradually whenever possible.
41 All in all, proper feeding of dairy goats requires that the owner
have a basic knowledge of nutritional principles to plan an efficient
feeding program and the experience and management ability to carry it out.