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Goat diets … probably the most varied way of care amongst all goat owners. Everyone has a different diet for their herd, and as you will learn later in this post, it is extremely subjective. I absolutely adore walking people through an in-depth dietary analysis, and if you want to chat about your goats’ diet, feel free to send an email or message on social media, and I would be happy to chat with you and explain it to the best of my knowledge! For now, I am keeping this post simple and straight to the point. Many people ask me, “you give your goats so many supplements, and your feeding regimen sounds complicated, so why do you say feeding goats is simple?” My answer is that feeding supplements, etc., and having a complicated feed regimen is not necessary if you have the ability to keep goats on the diet they are truly meant to live on. By this I mean forage: trees, bushes, grass, weeds, and more! Goats are meant to live on simply what they might find in the wild in their natural habitat, and drink rain water from ponds, streams, lakes, and other natural sources. So here’s what I tell people: If you actually have the ability to provide your goats with endless amounts of nutrient rich forage, water that they would drink in the wild, and a whole lot of land space, you might not need to supplement with much at all. But the more goats stray from their original diets, the more we need to correct that with a complicated dietary regimen. For example, goats who live almost solely on grain will most likely be some of the least healthy goats due to the fact that eating processed grain materials is one of the furthest things from their natural diets. Of course, even I cannot keep my goats on the diet they should truly have, so I have to do a small amount of overcompensating, and more importantly, balancing, of their diets.
Whenever I start a conversation on feed, specifically the overfeeding of grain, I will state first and foremost this simple thought that baffles most goat owners when they hear it:
Goats theoretically only need 3 things to live …
Did you see grain anywhere in that list? No.
So we are going to go deep into what I mean when I say those 3 simple words, and how they have meaning way beyond the simplicity of their names.
Hay is the staple of a goat’s diet (one that doesn’t have access to the “complete forage” I mentioned above as their natural diet). Good hay is a must. I am not talking about the brown or yellow hay you may find; I am talking about good, nutrient dense, green, fresh, hay! This is the most ideal hay you could give to your animals. Hay should be about 90-100% of the feed that goes into your goats. If you have SOME forage, you may be able to lessen the amount of hay you feed, and the rich, green, hay, might not be as important if the animals are getting in those nutrients elsewhere. If there aren’t any other sources of “greenery” in a goat’s diet, that’s when good hay is the most important. My favorite hay for goats is orchard grass hay. I much prefer grass hay to legume hay, such as alfalfa. Alfalfa, overall, is a tricky subject. It is a great source of protein, and due to the protein, it is good for putting weight on animals; and alfalfa hay has also shown to be good for does that are in milk. I would not use alfalfa hay as a baseline hay for goats, but alfalfa is still a dietary additive that may be beneficial in certain cases. My preference for goats always has been, and will continue to be, grass hay.
So when I reference hay, I am talking about it as a staple of my goats’ diet. I would never let a day go by that my goats don’t have hay out for them 24/7. Hay is THE most important part of MY goats’ diet.
While this may sound extremely simple (and for the most part it is), the water you feed your goats has a big impact on their health, and may have a need for additional supplementation. Water should be available 24/7, and it should be clean and fresh. Sounds easy enough, right? Well it is easy—that particular part of supplying water—but the other part is where your water comes from. I have hard well water, which means it has a high sulfur and molybdenum content. These are known mineral antagonists. I do not have the ability to change the water my goats drink, nor do many of you, I assume; so this simply tells us that we need to “edit” the diet of our goats to adjust to the water. For example, a diet of hard well water, along with alfalfa hay, which also contains calcium and molybdenum, will lead to extreme deficiencies of copper, zinc, and selenium. In this instance, one of the variables has to change.
To adjust for my hard well water, I make sure to keep my goats on a lower calcium diet, because I know the water is providing a lot of that particular mineral. While I do my best to adjust the pre-existing foods in their diet, I still have to supplement additionally. Even my loose mineral blend (more on this later) is not enough to balance the scales with the antagonists. I supplement with a loose salt (along with their loose mineral!) containing selenium and iodine. As needed, I will also copper bolus my goats. Sometimes zinc supplementation is necessary as well, and I will adjust what I supplement based on what need arises. This, together with loose minerals, and occasionally the addition of raw apple cider vinegar to their water, is my compensation for antagonistic water.
Minerals are the most complex part of any goat’s diet. You read a sneak-peak above, but minerals themselves are extremely complicated to balance, and may very well be the most important part of a goat’s diet as well. As a baseline, goats should have 24/7 access (free choice) to a good loose mineral blend. I say loose mineral, because mineral blocks are NOT adequate for goats. Goats have very soft tongues, unlike cows, and it is difficult for them to lick enough off of the block to get what they need. There are lots of brands of minerals, too many for me to list! The best thing to do is a quick mineral analysis, taking into account everything in your goats’ diet, and then deciding where your mineral needs might be lacking based off quantities and antagonists. Once you have a simple picture of what you need, find a mineral that matches that. If your goats are copper deficient, find a mineral with good copper balance! As always, if you are unsure how to conduct a basic mineral analysis, feel free to send an email or message on social media, and I would be happy to chat with you and explain to the best of my knowledge how it works! Loose minerals are the simplest form of mineral supplementation, but may not be enough. So here are a few additional supplements!
Under the category of minerals, kelp meal is one of my favorite mineral supplements. Kelp might not be for everyone, and it’s also high in calcium. So just as I mentioned a similar scenario above, I wouldn’t feed kelp if I were feeding alfalfa due to the high calcium content in alfalfa. But other than that, kelp is a wonderful mineral supplement to go along with loose minerals. Read more about kelp HERE!
- Salt licks
If your mineral blend is high in salt content, salt licks are not necessary. But sometimes it is preferred to have a low salt mineral with additional salt supplementation. Here’s why: if minerals are very high in salt, the goat may only choose to eat the mineral until they have consumed the salt they feel is necessary, leaving the actual minerals eaten at a diminished rate because the goat did not want to consume any more salt. Goats self-regulate their mineral intakes; they stop eating once they feel they have enough. So if they are only stopping once they feel they have enough salt, they aren’t actually getting enough minerals. Having salt separate allows goats to eat as much minerals as the need, and as much salt as they need, without interference. I like to keep all forms of mineral supplements separate.
- Copper Boluses/Mineral Pastes/Supplements
I give my goats copper boluses as needed. Some give them yearly, some give every 6 months, and others bolus every 3 months. It depends on how severe your deficiencies are. Boluses usually take care of copper deficiencies quickly and efficiently. A good solution for selenium issues is Replamin Plus Gel or Selenium/Vitamin E Gel, this can be given weekly (Replamin) or monthly (Selenium/E) to boost a deficient goat, it is especially helpful during pregnancy (where selenium is greatly needed). Zinc deficiency is something that I struggle with as well—Zinpro40, TruCare4, and even human zinc supplements given correctly, can all help to correct this!
Hay, water, and minerals, are the three main points of a goat’s diet. Now onto additional supplements/foods …
This is a biggie. Not a big part of a diet, but a big topic for discussion. Some people say not to feed grain at all, some say to always feed grain no matter what. I’m the middle ground. My view on grain is that no, it’s not necessary. The only time I will suggest that grain might be useful, is if a goat is in milk/about to be in milk, or for a growing goat/goat in need of weight. For young growing goats, I would still not exceed 1-2 cups daily. For underweight goats, please see THIS POST. They do not need much grain if the rest of their diet is well balanced! Milking does may need a fairly large ration of grain, start small and increase the amount until you have reached peak condition and milk production. But what do I mean when I say, grain? Pelleted grains are balanced rations – and you can even find organic ones! Sweet feed is not a good option for goats, with the high molasses content and poorer ingredients, it will not be a huge benefit for your goat’s health! It can even cause an odd milk taste in some! You can also balance your own ration, a pre-made grain is not necessary! Alfalfa pellets and oats (50/50 ratio) is a lovely feed for milking does. This is also a good ration to start goats on in late pregnancy (last month in very small amounts), or when growing, just in lesser amounts. Overfeeding processed grains to a pregnant doe can lead to health issues, but under-feeding can do the same. Feeding alfalfa in some form to your pregnant and lactating goats is usually essential. You can also mix your own complete feed! This is a commonly used formula for a DIY grain, it was inspired by a friend of mine:
2 parts whole oats
1 part rolled barley
1 part mixed field peas
Top with 1-2TBSP Black Oil Sunflower Seeds or 1-2tsp Flax Seed/Meal.
Mix this half and half with alfalfa pellets.
But for non-lactating goats, grain is a personal choice. If you would like to feed a small amount of grain to your goats on a regular basis, you can! This is not necessary in their diet, but I find the small bit to be occasionally helpful as a distraction or method of dosing them with something. For a miniature goat, I would only give 1 cup daily—max, and for a larger sized goat I may consider 2. Wethers/male goats are a slightly different story — in this case, I do not recommend grain at all once they are over 6 months old — except for a buck in a difficult rut season. For growing male goats, do not feed large amounts, and be extra cautious in balancing the diet! To read more about male goat diets, click HERE! Overall, grain is a personal choice, and it is no way a necessity in any given diet. You can choose to feed a small amount of grain, or none at all, either choice is your own. I am not a certified goat nutritionist, the amounts of grain I refer to are from personal experience and my own dietary calculations. None of these are exact measurements and every goat is different—please consult a vet for any dietary changes.
Having a bit of grass or forage for your goats is a nice addition to a diet. The amounts of forage available is rarely enough to provide a complete diet, but is a wonderful thing to feed. If your goats don’t have forage in their pasture, you can even go out and cut some for them and put it in their enclosure. Just make sure all plants/trees are safe for them to eat. As for grass, I like keeping my goats on a bit of grass, but do not assume that goats are like horses and will graze all day. If, and I mean IF, your goats graze, it will be sparingly. Goats much prefer weeds, trees, branches, and other “browse” products. Do not rely on grass as a big part of your goats’ diet, even though it is a welcome addition.
If you’ve read through this blog, you will know that I am garlic’s #1 fan. I feed my goats garlic every day, and while it is a small amount, it’s a very big part of their diet. Garlic is the baseline for keeping my goats healthy, I could probably sit here all day just talking about garlic, but instead I’ll link you to this post – Using Garlic To Improve Herd Health.
Along with garlic, I feed herbs (often daily). These could be anything from fresh herbs, to various herb mixes from Fir Meadow LLC, or single herbs. Herbs & supplements may not always be fed daily, but they are an important part of an overall diet. With natural goat care methods, we are always on some sort of routine or regimen, so even if these are not being fed daily, they may be fed once a week or once a month. Either way, I would not raise goats without feeding them garlic, herbs, and other supplements. This is why I have chosen to include them in my list of what goes in a goat’s diet.
Last but not least—treats! Every goat needs a bit of excitement or food-related praise, and most goat owners love to spoil their goats with snacks! I try to keep treats to a minimum, and by treats, I always choose less processed products. This could be anything from my Homemade Goat Treats, to fruits and veggies! This is a very small part of a goat’s diet, but every once in a while goats like some variation and something fun to eat! Remember to check if each food is safe, and while most treats are good, keep them in moderation. Treats should not become something you feel is making a large impact on their daily diet.
Overall, balance is essential. Every aspect affects the other. It’s important to be informed about each and every part of your goats’ diet. Keep it simple, and know what you’re feeding!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet, nor am I a licensed professional. I am in no way a “goat expert” and my opinions are only that of personal experiences, and my insights shared are not medical treatment suggestions, care suggestions, or any directions for raising goats at all. I am simply sharing my own personal opinions. Any and all changes to your goats’ health regimen, care, etc. should be approved by a veterinary professional or licensed professional. I also believe that every goat owner has their own way of doing things, so just as my opinions are my own, and cannot apply to anyone else, your opinions are also regarding your individual goats, and I welcome you to share them in a kind, constructive manner. Disclosure: This post may contain Amazon Affiliate Links, from which I will earn a commission.