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Just like we as people need a balanced diet, so do goats. A balanced diet will keep them healthy and happy. Like sheep and cattle, a goat is a ruminant. This means it has a special digestive apparatus that allows it to eat grass and leaves that cannot be consumed by humans. If you first understand how this digestion process works, you can better understand how to feed them properly. Feeding goats can be a simple process, but at times takes some planning and observation to get it right.
The 4 Parts of the Digestive System
A goat’s digestive system is made up of a stomach with four chambers, the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum. The abomasum is the closest association with the human stomach.
This is the first chamber and the place that all of what the goat will eat goes into first. In this chamber, food is broken down into smaller digestible pieces by micro-organisms. Plant matter is broken down in the rumen by a process called fermentation. This process also produces heat which keeps the goat warm. Some pieces from the rumen that are only partially digested return to the goat’s mouth for more chewing, these pieces, are called cud. Any animal that chews on cud, like cows and sheep, are called ruminants.
This chamber acts like a pump and pushes food back to the mouth as cud, or into the omasum for further digestion. It basically sorts the food particles.
This chamber basically removes the moisture from the food and pleats it like fabric. This allows the omasum to have better surface area so it can absorb more moisture from the other food it is passing through.
This chamber is considered the true stomach. It is the second largest part of the entire digestive system of a goat. Here, the proteins are broken down in a form that can be used by the goat’s body to stay healthy and continue to grow.
Ingredients in Feed
Goat feed is also called concentrate, goat chow, goat ration, or simply grain. When feeding goats, you will need to adjust the amount of feed according to how much roughage your goats eat, and each goats’ condition.
Carbohydrates provide the chief source of heat and energy for goats. Feed comes labeled with two classes of carbs, crude fiber, and nitrogen-free extract. The nitrogen-free extract is the more soluble part of the carb’s, it includes; sugars, starch, and other more complex carbs. The sugars and starches have a high feed value and are more easily digested. The rest of the carbs are harder to digest and they take a lot more energy too. For this reason, goats prefer “fined-stemmed, leafy green hay”.
The fat content in feed includes both fats and oils, fat comes from solids and oils come from solids. These “fat’s” contain important things like cholesterol, ergosterol (which can form vitamin D), and carotene (which is converted into vitamin A). These fats come from plant sources, not animals sources, and are vital to a goat’s life.
These are of utmost importance in feeding goats. Proteins come from the leaves of plants, the fruits, and the seeds of plants. The protein found in feed is important for muscles, internal organs, skin, wool or hair, horns and the skeleton of your goats. Protein requirements are higher for young and growing animals and animals that are reproducing and lactating. Protein is also the most expensive part of commercial livestock feed so you won’t want to waste any of it.
The most important minerals in commercial livestock feed are calcium and phosphorus, they are the main minerals found in bones and in the body. the body will contain twice as much calcium as phosphorus, the proper balance is vital. Other minerals needed include iodine (which produces hemoglobin), iron, copper, and cobalt.
Only two vitamins are of utter importance when feeding goats, vitamins A and D. Vitamin A is necessary for milk production, growth, and reproduction. Vitamin D is necessary to enable the body to make proper use of calcium and phosphorus. The chief source of Vitamin D is actually from the sun.
Feeding Goats the Right Feed at the Right Time
Roughage is another word for dietary fiber. Humans digest fiber like whole wheat bread or bran muffins in the stomach, goats digest fiber with the help of micro-organisms in the rumen. Goats get fiber from roughage in the form of grass, hay, twigs, bark, leaves, corn stalks, and other plant parts. Roughage is the goat’s main food.
The hay can be found in two forms: legume hay, made from alfalfa or clover; and carbonaceous hay made from timothy, brome or other grasses. Alfalfa and clover provide excellent nutrition for kids, pregnant does and lactating does. Grass hays are less nutritious. A 50-50 grass-legume mix is best, always look for hay for horses, not cows. Look for hay that is fine-stemmed, green in color and leafy. Hay is fed free choice usually in a manger so that the goats can eat whenever they choose to.
Lawn grass can only be beneficial if you do not fertilize or treat your lawn, and it grows naturally with weeds, grasses and possibly dandelions. When cutting the natural lawn, the clippings, after they dry can be fed to your goats. Only feed as many clippings as the goats can consume in thirty minutes. Feeding goats the right roughage will determine their health.
Feeding Guidelines for Kids
Kids should be introduced to concentrate as soon as it shows interest after it is weaned, you can gradually work up to 1 pound per day. Divide the pound into 2 feedings, morning and evening. Overfeeding concentrate to a kid will upset the rumen’s balance.
Feeding Guidelines for Mature Goats
As long as the goat is not producing milk and is not reproducing anymore, mature goat’s can be fed from 1/4 to 1/2 of a pound of concentrate per day providing it is allowed to graze, and only if it is a meat goat. Dry does and wethers do not need concentrate as long as they are allowed to graze on pasture.
Feeding Guidelines for Pregnant Does
Non-dairy, pregnant does should be kept on a maintenance ration until 6 weeks before she gives birth. Then concentrate can be reintroduced until she receives the normal 1 pound. Continue with the 1 pound until her offspring is 6 weeks old, at which time you should start decreasing the concentrate. Once the kids reach 3 months of age, she can return to the maintenance ration.
A pregnant dairy doe is fed 1 pound of concentrate per day until the last two weeks of pregnancy when you should gradually increase concentrates to 3 pounds per day by the time she gives birth. While she is lactating, feed her a minimum of 1 pound of concentrate plus an additional 1/2 pound for each pound of milk she gives over 2 pounds. When production of milk levels off, you can feed her 1/2 pound of concentrate per pound of milk. After the doe has been bred, decrease, slowly, the concentrate to 1 pound per day, and start the feeding cylce again.
Feeding Goats Soda and Salt
Acidity is like the tartness of a lemon. Feeds that ferment rapidly in the rumen increase its acidity, when it gets too high too quickly, the microorganisms multiply too quickly, and the goat gets sick.Sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, helps bring the acidity back to a safe level. You don’t have to figure out how much to give a goat because goats know how much baking soda they need and they know when they need it. On average, a goat will consume about 2 tablespoons per day, they will need more in hot or humid weather. Just allow them free access to it and they will take care of the rest.
You should also provide trace mineral salt which is available at most feed stores. It can come in loose form, or in a compressed block. Loose salt is easier for you to handle and easier for the goats to lick up. Trace mineral salt should be offered at all times also. Both can be offered in a feeder attached to the wall in their house that they can access freely.
Clean water is the most important and least expensive item need in feeding goats. It helps with digestion, controls body heat, and help to regulate the production of milk, the more water a does drinks, the more milk she will produce. Placing a 5-gallon bucket outside of their stall will do well for goats. Goats also will drink through a keyhole. See Goat Housing for more information on keyhole feeding and drinking.
Keep in mind, goats require fresh water and will not drink from a bucket that has anything floating in it or is contaminated in any way. You can fill the bucket with warm water in cooler weather and cool water in warmer weather to encourage your goats to drink if needed.
Now you have a better understanding and more knowledge about feeding goats on your homestead. Feeding goats can sometimes seem like a science, however, with this knowledge and some common sense, your goats should be healthy and happy. Do you feed commercial feed and allow grazing? Do you provide treats for your goats? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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