Every kind of animal has its own unique care requirements, but plenty of new goat owners find out a little too late that their new charges have highly particular diets, even compared to other ruminant animals.
Like most livestock, it’s up to us to ensure that our goats get plenty of food every single day, and that means providing it for them in the form of hay to supplement what they find in the pasture, if you allow them to browse.
The first thing we need to know is how many calories goats need daily, and with so many breeds, this is easier said than done. So, how much hay does a goat need every day?
Goats generally need between 3% and 4% of their body weight in hay daily. They will need a little less if offered natural foods from their environment, and more if there are subsisting mostly on hay or it’s wintertime.
The good news is that goats really like hey, and so long as it is chosen with care and tested for good nutrition it is the mainstay of their diet, one that they can eat all year long.
But there’s plenty more you need to know about hay when it is time to feed your goats, and making mistakes can harm their health. I’ll tell you what you need to know in the rest of this article.
What Kinds of Hay are Best for Goats?
Each type of hay, whether it is grass, legume, or grain, has its own characteristics that make it suitable for different purposes in a goat’s diet.
Grass hay is a category that includes both perennial and annual varieties, but all grass hays provide lots of nutrition for goats.
It is particularly beneficial for pregnant does as it has plenty of folic acid that helps with mineral absorption.
Legume hay is great for goats because it is very high in protein and plenty of other nutrients. It is also high in calcium and essential amino acids, which are all important for growing kids.
Alfalfa hay is the most common type of legume hay, but other varieties like clover and vetch are good too.
Grain hays can be a great supplement to grass and legume hays when chosen with care and fed sparingly.
They are very calorie-dense, but can easily cause bloat in goats if it is fed to them too often, too suddenly, or if you allow them to eat as much as they want.
It’s also essential to consider the quality of the hay you are feeding your goats. All types of hay should be free from mold, dust, and other contaminants that could harm your goats.
How Many Bales of Hay Does a Goat Need?
How many bales of hay you feed your goats depends on their weight and the size of the hay bale, but the calculation is simple.
We know that a goat needs about 3% to 4% of its body weight in hay each day, so for a 150-pound goat you’d need about 4.5 to 6 pounds of hay per day.
A regular-sized bale of hay typically weighs between 30 and 60 pounds. So our goat above could eat for 4 to 8 days on a single bale of hay, depending on the size.
All you need to do is calculate your herd’s consumption in this way against how long they will be eating hay, and then you will know how many bales are needed. Always add 5% to 10% to your determination to have a margin of safety!
How Much Hay is Needed to Get a Goat through Winter?
Goats eat the same amount of hay in the winter as they do in the summer, generally, but do keep in mind that if they are in a colder climate they may need more hay, as it can help them to keep warm. Also if the pasture and browse is limited, you should feed more hay.
Likewise, does that are pregnant in early or mid-winter will need more calories and nutrients, so plan for extra hay accordingly.
Should Goats Still Eat Hay in the Summer?
Absolutely. Hay is beneficial to goats in the summer too. It’s a great source of nutrition, and is something that goats can and will eat all the time – assuming they like it, of course!
Hay is an essential part of a goat’s diet, no matter what season it is.
All-You-Can-Eat Hay Does Not Necessarily Mean Total Nutrition!
You can give goats hay on an as-wanted basis since they will eat as much as they want, but not more, or you can schedule feedings for them two times a day.
However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because they eat all the hay you provide that they are getting enough nutrition.
Goats typically need more than just hay to stay healthy and thrive, so make sure that you also supplement their diets with minerals, vitamins, and other feed supplements as needed.
A goat might be filling up on even high-quality hay constantly and still be deficient in one or more nutrients!
Frequently Asked Questions
If feeding pellets to growing goats nursing goats, aim for 1 to 2 pounds per day, or about 1% of the goat’s body weight.
Good quality grass hay like brome, orchardgrass, and timothy are all good choices for goats. Legume hays like alfalfa are great for growing kids and pregnant does that need extra calories and nutrients.
Goats don’t really need grain as a staple in their diet, but in some cases it can be a beneficial supplement.
Choose high-quality grains that are low in sugar and carbohydrates, feed sparingly, and always introduce them slowly to avoid disrupting their rumen.
Depending on the weight of the goat, breed, and quality of the hay, a goat can eat up to 6 pounds of hay per day.
This means an average 150-pound goat could consume as much as 180 pounds of hay in a month! Bigger breeds will eat even more…
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.