Feeding goats properly is essential to the overall health of the herd, and to the success of any meat goat, dairy goat, or fiber goat homesteading operation.
Goats are ruminant animals, they have four stomach chambers. When they are eating the wrong type of food, too much of the right kind of food, or introduce feed changes too quickly, their rumen gets out of whack, and can cause potentially deadly bloat or other serious medical issues.
To keep the ruminant stomach chamber healthy and fully functional, a goat must eat enough roughage and avoid ingesting too much rich grain feed.
Some goats tend to be more prone to bloat than others, which means a keeper may need to adjust feeding habits slightly and provide more of an administered free choice supplement (baking soda) or keep bloat drenching
Table of Contents
Grain feed should be only a small part – if at all, of the goat’s diet. A goat that consumes too much grain is at increased risk of health issues – like bloat. A quality grain feed is comprised of significant percentages of protein, minerals, and vitamins.
If feeding grain to goats it should account for no more than 10% of their overall daily food intake. Dairy goats are sometimes given more grain than meat and fiber goats in an attempt to enhance milk production.
Sweet mixed that have a high percentage of molasses should only be given (if at all) in incredibly small amounts or to pregnant and nursing nanny goats to give them a calorie boosts.
A goat should eat between 2 to 4 pounds of hay on a daily basis. This recommended amount varies based upon the maturity of the goat, stature (miniature goats, standard goats), and takes into account the enhanced caloric needs of pregnant or nursing nanny goats.
Goats are browsers and not grazers like horses and cattle. They can garner some if not all of their daily roughage intake while wandering around your homestead eating grass, weeds, brush, leaves, and similar natural items – at least during the warm weather parts of the year.
Even during the winter time goats can browse for a portion of their roughage intake, depending on your climate, and on how much space the herd has to roam and forage for food.
The quality and type of the hay provided to the goat herd matters a great deal from a rumen health and nutrient intake perspective. Suffice it to say that all hay is not created equal.
A leafy legume type hay is recommended for goats. This type of hay is usually comprised of alfalfa, soybeans, vetch, and clover.
Goat kids as well as their nursing mommas typically thrive on a legume style of hay. Mature goats, regardless of type, usually prefer a grass and legume style hay mix to fulfill their dietary needs.
Being a small to medium sized livestock, goats generally will not eat a grass style hay unless it is their only option. Their small mouths are not well equipped to eat such a coarse variety of hay.
This legume style hay boats a high protein, fiber, vitamin A and calcium percentage. Alfalfa hay is comprised of roughly 15% to 22% crude protein, and 32% crude fiber.
The leafy fiber strands are longer than the ones produced by a grass hay. Goats will ingest approximately 120% more energy from an alfalfa hay that they would from an oat style of hay.
Orchard – This style of hay is lower in protein than alfalfa hay but boasts a higher percentage of fiber. Orchard grass hay is comprised of about 30% crude fiber and 7% of crude protein.
A cereal or oat type of hay is lower in protein than either alfalfa or orchard grass hay but is comprised of a higher carbohydrate and fiber percentage.
Goats tend to love this type of hay because it is sweet and is soft enough that they can consume it right down through the stem easily.
A diet of only cereal grain hay would not be good for goats due to its lack of protein content, but mixing some cereal grains into your hayfield or buying hay from someone who does, will be welcomed as a tasty and healthy hay bale treat.
Cereal grain hay is comprised of 9% crude protein, and also has a significant manganeses, zinc, and phosphorus content.
This style of hay is a nice mix of essential nutrients, but it also has a lower protein percentage than alfalfa hay. Timothy hay is comprised of approximately 7% crude protein, and 32% crude fiber.
Safe Treats for Goats
Treats should only be given as a training aid or in small amounts on any type of a regular basis.
It can be difficult for some goat owners not to provide too many healthy treats because the goats love them, but too much of a good thing can also cause rumen problems.
Training the goats to stay in their pen, free range on your homestead, or simply to establish trust so the animals run towards and not away from you if injured or trapped in fencing are all great reasons for giving small amounts of healthy treats.
You can plant many of these healthy treats in the goat herd browsing area, or inside their pen as a free choice snack.
But, if you go this route, expect the herd to devour all of the treats quickly – often before the plant matures and produces the produce is yields that they would most enjoy.
95 Things Goats Can Eat
|Yellow Locus||Poplar Tree Leaves|
|Wandering Jew Plant||Poison Sumac Vines|
|Monkey Flower||Roses – entire Bush|
|Salvation Jane Plant||Peas – cooked|
|Elm Tree Leaves and Bark||Jerusalem Artichokes|
|Black Eyed Susan||Cottonwood|
|Oranges||Cedar Leaves, Bark, and Needles|
|Daisies||Peaches – after removing pits|
|Red Clover||Indian Currant|
|Garlic – in very small amounts and to help naturally prevent worms||Bananas – some goats prefer only the peels|
|Mustard – spice||Oregano|
|Oats – raw or cooked||Pumpkin|
|Oak Tree Leaves||Cabbage|
|Mesquite||Broccoli – raw or cooked|
|Unsalted Sunflower Seeds||Celery|
|Weeping Willow||Raspberry Bushes|
|Black Raspberry Bushes||Wild Tobacco|
60 Things Goats Cannot Eat
Not only are some kitchen scraps or store bought food stuffs not safe for your goats to eat, some naturally growing matter that could be in the browsing area of pen can even be dangerous to deadly.
|China Berry Trees||Burning Bush|
|Plum Trees||African Yew|
|Lilac Flowers||Coriaria Arborea Plant|
|Red Maple Trees||False Tansy|
|Brouwer’s Beauty Andromeda||Ficus|
|Horse Nettle||Chokecherry Trees|
|Japanese Pieris||Water Hemlock|
|Castor Oil Plant||Cestrum|
|Lily of the Valley||Morning Glory Flowers|
|Ponderosa Pine Trees||Laburnum|
|Poison Hemlock||Potato Weed|
|Dumb Cane||Iceland Poppy|
|Rhubarb Leaves||Calotropis Plant|
|Foxglove||St. John’s Wort|
|Japanese Yew||Goat’s Rue|
Many newbie goat keepers give salted crackers or bits of bread to their goats. This type of snack is not necessarily deadly, but can lead to significant health problems – especially bloat.
A goat, or any ruminant animal that consumes too much grain will have digestion and gas build up problems.
If you give bread, crackers, or even graham crackers to members of your goat herd, do so as only a special or rare treat, and not a daily or weekly small amount treat.
Never give off treats before the goats have eaten their daily ration of hay. The goats should first have a healthy food that will foster proper rumen function in their bellies, and not gobble down a snack or even grain ration, before their base healthy dietary meal.
Some goat supplements should be provided as a free choice “treat” on a daily basis, but others may need to offered only at specific times of the year or when a goat herd member is showing signs of a deficiency or illness.
Keep baking soda in a small feeder inside the goat pen so it is always available for herd members to munch on.
When a goat is starting to bloat or is bloated, it typically gravitates to the baking soda to help alleviate the increase in gas buildup.
Place a salt block on a clean and dry spot to help the goat herd replenish essential vitamins and minerals they lose when expending energy, and especially during the hot summer months.
A mineral block for livestock works basically like a vitamin for human beings. By licking the mineral blocks a goat can help infuse more calcium, potassium, sulfur, copper, sodium, manganese, iron, iodine, and zinc into their system.
Some mineral blocks also contain salt, but not all. Also, sheep mineral blocks do not typically contain copper, which is a superb supplement for goats.
Either buy goat-specific mineral blocks, or read the content label carefully to determine what nutrients the goat herd will ingest when licking the block.
This agricultural grade substance can be sprinkled over livestock grain rations or stirred into the grain feed storage tub to be fed as a supplement to the goat herd.
Diatomaceous Earth is a natural toxin remover and deworming agent that may help prevent parasites and bacteria from harming the health of your livestock.
The best diet for your goat (or any livestock) is the most natural one you can provide. The closer you can keep to the traditional browsing habits of goats, the better the odds are that the animals will remain healthy.
Never feed your goats hay, grain rations, supplements, or healthy snacks on the ground – especially not inside their pen.
Food that is fed from the ground is far more likely to be subjected to soil bacteria, manure, and any worms that may be present in the goat droppings.