Feeding Goats


by Stephanie Cruickshanks, Farm Production Advisor, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives

Feed testing has been encouraged for a number of years, but why? The nutrient concentration can vary considerably in feeds, especially forages. What appears to be cheap feed can end up costing you a lot of money in lost production. Feed tests can be used to target specific feeds to different categories of livestock thus using your feed most efficiently.

Your goat herd will be the most productive when they are fed a ration balanced for their needs throughout the entire year. Many rations are for using average nutrient values which can lead to over-or-underfeeding of certain nutrients. Winter feeding is the most costly component of production and therefore using the nutrients you have available to their limits will go a long way to maximizing your profitability.

In order to formulate a ration for your goat herd it is advisable to test all lots of feed you will be using during your feeding season. These feeds may include alfalfa hay, grass hay, straw, silage, and feed grains. It is important to get an accurate sample of the feed in order to get an idea of the quality you are dealing with.

When sampling hay or straw in a round bale randomly sample 15-20 bales from each forage lot. A forage lot is any hay/straw that comes from the same field harvested at the same time. Forage core sample probes in Manitoba are available to be borrowed from your local MAFRI office.

Sampling silage is a little more difficult to get an accurate sample. One way to collect the sample is to take one or two handfuls of silage for three separate feedings. Store samples in an airtight freezer bag in the freezer until you are ready to submit it to the lab.

Feed grain samples are easiest taken at the time of unloading and are the feed product that fluctuates the least from year to year in nutrient content.

Once you have successfully sampled you feeds and have the report back from the lab it can often be confusing and difficult to understand what it means. It is best to consider what your goats need for optimum health and match your feeds to their needs. Goats need energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water to thrive. Livestock producers often talk about energy by using the term TDN (total digestible nutrients) and energy is usually the nutrient that is the most limiting in the feed. Protein requirements are highest in young growing animals and are the most expensive ingredient to purchase.

Hay is the most common feed ingredient for goats through the winter feeding period and its nutrient content is the most variable based on the maturity at time of harvest as well as the environmental conditions at that time. Hay can often satisfy the requirements for protein and energy for goats during the maintenance and sometimes through the pre kidding and post kidding period. The protein of legume or alfalfa hay is higher than that of grass hay and very high quality alfalfa hay can be used as a protein supplement. Rations can be “topped” up with energy easily by adding energy dense feeds such as barley, oats, or corn.

Vitamins and minerals are needed in the goat to keep all body systems functioning at their optimum. The most important minerals to be aware of are calcium, phosphorus and salt. Force feeding minerals and vitamins by mixing it with grain is the best way to ensure all of the animals consume these feeds. However feeding them free choice in a loose form is a suitable alternative feeding method.

Working with a nutritionist to balance a ration for your herd can mean that you are utilizing your recourses to their maximum; it can also help you make use of low quality or unusual feedstuffs. When working on rations the information that is important to know is: the weight of your mature does and bucks, the time of year you breed and kid, the type of housing and shelter the animals have, the type and quantity of feed you have access to, as well as how you water and feed mineral and vitamins to your herd. In addition to the balanced ration, goats require up to 1 ½ gallons of clean fresh water every day to maintain ideal rumen function and produce like you want them to.

Feeding goats to optimize your production takes a bit of forward planning and careful observation of their eating habits but, by doing so, the long term health and productivity of your herd will be positively impacted.