Many of you are likely thinking about your own nutrition and health as this new year continues to march forward. This got me thinking about feeding our goats. It is our responsibility` to take good care of the goats that we have in our herd and one of the main cornerstones for this is good nutrition. Judging by the fact that there are departments at agricultural universities that study animal nutrition for decades, along with animal feed companies with complex research and development programs nutrition is anything but simple. So you might be thinking to yourself.... I am not a nutrition PhD or a major feed company how am I supposed to feed my goats and meet their nutritional needs. I am going to break it down below to the simplest terms that I have found to be successful in my herd.
The first component to any goats diet should be natural forage, browse and pasture. Goats are naturally much more like deer in their preferred foods then they are like cows or sheep. Do you have some overgrown areas with multi-flora rose and other bushes? If so this is prime browsing area for goats. Goats naturally like to climb and eat a variety of plants in their diet. If this is not possible, the next best thing is a good rotational pasture system for your goats. They will choose the grasses and other plants that they want out of a pasture and by moving them frequently they will not be grazing the grasses down to the point that they are contaminating themselves with intestinal parasites. In the same class as browse and pasture is hay or alfalfa. Goats are ruminants by nature, which means they always need to have something in their gut to be processing in order to maintain their health and well being. Deciding what kind of hay you want to provide your goats is largely dependent on other factors like, pasture and browse, age, sex, gestation, lactation, breed and management of your goat. For simplicity sake, a pet wether Nigerian dwarf that spends most of his days lounging does not need high quality protein and nutrient rich hay to consume. If you provide him with that he will likely become overweight, and possibly even have urinary calculi. However, if you have a doe that has just freshened and is heavily milking, you almost cannot give her enough high quality forage. Think about the nutritional and energy demands on the animal when deciding what hay to feed.
Almost as important as forage is mineral supplementation. All goats should have free choice access to loose minerals. It is important to make sure this is not in a block as this makes it difficult for the goat to consume enough of the mineral to meet their nutritional needs. I am a big fan of Sweet Lix Meat Maker mineral. I also always provide my goats with free choice kelp as I have encountered zinc deficiency issues in my herd and free choice baking soda.
The final component to a goats diet and nutrition is grain. I like to use grain as a way to monitor, maintain and add condition to my goats. My preferred feed is Blue Seal Home Fresh Dairy Goat Feed. This is a textured feed that has the appropriate 2:1 Calcium to Phosphorus ratio that makes it safe to feed to my bucks. Many people may stop here kicking and screaming, but you can't feed bucks grain and I am here to say in my opinion with my bucks they need grain. Turbo had a urinary calculi as a kid and I fed him and Branson only hay and minerals for almost a whole year, until I looked at them and thought to myself, these boys are failing to thrive! I am not giving them enough nutrients to grow and maintain themselves! Ever since adding grain to their diets they have been performing much better! The most important thing is to listen to your goats. What is their body condition telling you and feed accordingly.
This is not an exhaustive list of what and how to feed your goats, but is a simple combination of what has worked for me in my herd and on my property. I hope you have learned something that you can take away from this to better care for your goats. Happy Goating!