It is so important for any creature who is a soon-to-be-momma to have proper nutrition. Why? Because it’s not just for their bodies, it’s for the bodies of their offspring as well. I cannot begin to explain how many occurrences visible at birth in goat kids can be attributed to poor nutrition of their dam during pregnancy. But feeding pregnant goats can be confusing, scary, and complicated for new goat owners (or those new to kidding)! While nutrition in general is a complicated topic, nutritional requirements of pregnant goats aren’t too daunting, or too different, from the general diet requirements of a goat. If you haven’t yet read my post: What to Feed Your Goats: A Detailed Diet Explanation, please do so – as this is the baseline of a pregnant goat’s diet. I’ll sum it up below, nonetheless, so keep reading! If you also have not read my blog post: Goat Minerals 101, I recommend checking that out as well, because minerals play a huge part in nutrition for pregnant goats! But that’s not all, once a pregnant goat kids, and the focus turns to lactation instead of fetus nourishment and birth prep, their diet once again needs to be altered. Today, you’ll leave this post with a much greater understanding of what your pregnant and lactating goats need!
So, what should ALL goats have? All goats need high quality hay, fresh water, and loose minerals 24/7. Often enough, this is plenty to keep goats happy and healthy. This is your baseline. Now let’s talk about what to do when you find out your goat is pregnant (we will be taking this discussion step-by-step on a timeline to keep things simple!)
My first focus for a goat early on in pregnancy is problem resolution. If your goat is under her desired weight, early pregnancy is the safest time to increase weight. If your goat is over the desired weight, it is a good time to note that and safely resolve it as the pregnancy progresses. Weight aside, mineral deficiencies are usually the biggest problem. Due to how long it can take to resolve certain deficiencies, don’t put off supplementation until the last month of pregnancy like some recommend. That may be a good time to give a booster, but if your goat requires any selenium supplementation at 1 month prior to kidding, you can bet that your goat needed selenium supplementation far before that. Some goats will need supplementation of selenium monthly during pregnancy, some weekly (depending on products), and some won’t need it at all. Given that, I simply cannot tell you a one-size-fits-all answer for what your pregnant goat needs in terms of minerals during pregnancy. Again, start by consulting my blog post on goat minerals (and deficiency identification), and then consult me if you need more help.
Once you know your goat is pregnant and you have worked to identify key issues, it is very important to add one ‘champion-of-a-forage-product’ (I call it that because it is simply amazing for pregnant and lactating goats) to your pregnant goat’s diet: alfalfa. Alfalfa is a high calcium, moderate protein, high vitamin legume forage product. I want you to take a special focus to the mention of high calcium. Calcium is an essential macro-mineral for pregnant and lactating goats (it is essential for all, but extra important for them). Many pregnancy and kidding problems can occur from a diet too low in calcium. Alfalfa is non-negotiable for pregnant and lactating goats. But if you’ve read my blog for a while, or worked with me one-on-one, you know that I don’t always talk about calcium in such a positive light. Calcium is a mineral antagonist, so is sulfur, molybdenum (also a component of alfalfa), iron, and more. Mineral antagonists bind to certain minerals and hinder their absorption. And while this is thoroughly frustrating, they cannot be avoided. Thus, when feeding alfalfa, make sure you feed the correct amount, in the correct balance with minerals. Pregnant goats don’t need to be ‘loaded up’ with alfalfa—you can feed it at moderate amounts, such as anywhere from a couple cups to a quart or two a day depending on size and weight. You are welcome to offer free choice alfalfa hay, and some goats may do very well on this—but if you struggle with mineral deficiencies, feeding a smaller sum of alfalfa will still benefit your goat.
If you have balanced the diet (having mineral levels and quantity of alfalfa all working well with your goats’ body) the long waiting game of pregnancy isn’t too complicated from here until late pregnancy. In fact, I recommend taking this time to get EXTREMELY excited about the bouncy, adorable baby goats soon to hit your farm (and steal your heart)! Keep your momma goat happy and healthy with proper management, and support her in any ways necessary for overall health.
Approximately 1 month before kidding, things begin to change for your doe’s diet. While this is somewhat of a personal choice, you should ponder what feed options you would like to provide for your goat throughout lactation. You do not need to provide grain, your goat may do well on alternative feedstuffs (many owners prefer to be grain-free and rely on legume forages, seeds, and more). For purposes of keeping this post fairly simple, I won’t discuss EVERY option of what to feed, because that’s what my Natural Goat Care Academy is for (to find out what is best for you and your individual goats). Instead, I will discuss two great options. The first option for grain is a well-balanced, 2:1 calcium to phosphorus, 14-16% protein, unmedicated goat pellet. The second option is a homemade feed blend of mine:
2 Parts Whole Oats
1 Part Rolled Barley
1 Part Mixed Field peas
Top with 1-2TBSP Black Oil Sunflower Seeds or 1-2 tsp Flax Seed/Meal
Mix this half and half with alfalfa pellets.
Now, these feeds are intended for lactation, not for pregnancy. Feeding grain during pregnancy isn’t actually the best thing for your goat—it can result in metabolic issues if fed improperly, and affect kid size. Grain should be introduced in small amounts 1 month prior to kidding. Ideally only a cup or so just to get the rumen familiarized with grain again.
1 WEEK PRIOR TO KIDDING:
I include this section because at 1 week prior to kidding, I find it extremely important to increase natural deworming to acute dosing (at least 2x per day for 7 days) in preparation for kidding. Red raspberry leaves are also a very good herb to add at this time (between 1/2-2tsp dried depending on size of the goat).
Once a goat kids, you must work to swiftly but thoughtfully increase the amount of grain and alfalfa fed. I almost always recommend feeding your grain in a 50/50 ratio with alfalfa pellets as a baseline, though sometimes even more alfalfa is needed. Increasing too quickly can result in stomach issues, so make sure to do it over the course of a few days. Some like to follow the rule of 1lb of grain for every 3lb milk produced, or you could follow a general idea of 2 cups alfalfa, 2 cups grain twice daily for dwarf goats (total 1 quart alfalfa and 1 quart grain per day), and twice that for standard goats. I usually start unfamiliar milkers on these standards and then adjust up or down based on how much they consume, how their body condition is, and how their production is. Those starting points usually work very well, but you likely will need to increase depending on weight and milk production, or decrease if you feel they aren’t finishing their ration, or they cannot handle that sum of concentrates. Always listen to the individual goat’s body.
Throughout lactation, the diet should be what was discussed just above—adjustment as needed, sticking with the same diet idea. You should not need to add anything else or remove anything, unless, of course, your goat specifically needs extra weight and you start on a weight-gain program.
Always ensure your baseline diet remains: free choice hay, water, and minerals. Don’t be afraid to adjust and “edit” based on each goat’s needs. For kids, please see this blog post: Caring for Goat Kids: From Birth to Weaning.
Drying up is an important part of feeding, it’s just the absolute opposite thought process of lactation! More feed = more milk… therefore, less feed = less milk! To begin the drying up process (at a time deemed reasonable by your own intuition and the goat’s natural way of lactation) you should begin to reduce grain. Now, if your goat is hypothetically already underweight, this can be difficult and counterintuitive to do. That is why it is so important to keep a goat in good weight during pregnancy and throughout lactation. DO NOT wait until drying off time to put weight back on a doe. Put weight on during lactation, when you can actually appreciate the excess milk yield. So, assuming your doe is in good condition at the time of drying up, I recommend reducing grain first (keep alfalfa consumption normal). Feeding less grain will slow milk production, but the alfalfa will continue to help your doe hold good condition and maintain good health. If after a large grain reduction your doe’s milk quantity has not changed, you can slowly reduce alfalfa as well. After a period of reduction, your doe’s diet should return to mostly hay—low concentrates, and thus lower milk production. But reducing grain is only one step. You must also reduce the demand of milk. Lactation IS supply and demand. If you lower the demand, the supply will lower. There is no one-size-fits-all schedule for how to lower the demand, as each doe will react differently. The most important thing to remember is that we are switching from the mindset of getting all the milk out to the mindset of simply relieving pressure. If your doe is being milked twice a day, instead of milking her out completely, just milk enough to relieve substantial pressure. If you continue doing this successfully, you can back down to only doing your pressure-relieving milk once a day. Then perhaps only every other day… you get the gist, I’m sure! But never leave a doe with a full, tight, uncomfortable udder no matter what your schedule says. Relieve pressure to keep your doe comfortable and free of mastitis. Some does, especially those with strong milking lines, will be stubborn to dry up. It is always a good idea to add helpful herbs to dry up a doe. I use Sage, Peppermint, Parsley, and Thyme (do not use these herbs on pregnant does). Please contact me privately for advice on dosages and frequency for herbs.
A note on metabolic disorders in pregnant or lactating does:
If a goat is fed an improperly balanced diet throughout pregnancy and lactation, metabolic disorders can occur. You may have heard of the illnesses Pregnancy Toxemia, Ketosis, Hypocalcemia, or Milk Fever. There are many names used to describe these issues that can often confuse goat owners, so here is a simplified guide to them! Pregnancy Toxemia & Ketosis are the same problem, the difference is that one occurs during pregnancy (Pregnancy Toxemia) and one occurs after a goat has kidded (Ketosis). Similarly, Hypocalcemia and Milk Fever are the same issue, but usually the term Milk Fever is used if it occurs after a goat has kidded during lactation. Symptoms of either Pregnancy Toxemia/Ketosis or Hypocalcemia/Milk Fever include:
The doe going off feed, becoming lethargic, wobbly, staggering, twitching, going down/inability to stand, and more. Often when dealing with Hypocalcemia, the doe’s temperature will go to a sub-temp, lower than normal. There may also be swelling/edema present in legs or ankles. Legs, especially the back legs, and the udder, may feel cool to the touch. With Ketosis, the doe may have a strong sweet smell on her breath, and ketone strips will alert you to the presence of ketones in the urine. Ketosis/Toxemia is essentially a low glucose-caused illness. The goat’s body will eventually break down its own fat reserves to supply nutrition to the kids, and this leads to the breakdown of ketones, which causes ketosis. It is more common in goats carrying a larger number of kids. It often occurs in late pregnancy, during the last month. It is not an extremely common issue, but it can be fatal if not treated properly. While it is essentially a lack of carbohydrates and glucose (which can be supplied by feeding high carbohydrate grains), most goats on a diet consisting of little to no grain during pregnancy (and instead are fed a balanced ration with a fair sum of alfalfa) are not at high risk for developing this issue. In fact, I have observed that the goats who are fed large amounts of grains and carbohydrates during their pregnancy are often the ones to suffer most from metabolic issues. This is closely tied into a goat’s weight. A very overweight (which will occur if grain is overfed) or very underweight goat is more susceptible to metabolic issues. For this reason, you should follow the directions in this post for keeping a pregnant and lactating goat healthy. If you have reason to believe based on past experiences that your goat may be prone to this issue, only then should you enlist a carbohydrate/glucose boosting program (please contact for individual consulting if you need to start one of these programs to do so safely and correctly) in the last month of pregnancy. To treat Ketosis acutely, you must provide the doe with adequate glucose. In a pinch, 30cc of molasses mixed with 30cc of water dosed 2-4 times a day works well. Backups are maple syrup, honey, karo/corn syrup or agave, but these are not as preferred. Propylene Glycol can be used, 60cc given twice daily, which works very well but is also hard on the kidneys. Dextrose syrup (50%) is a safer alternative, given at a dose of 30cc mixed with 30cc water.
Hypocalcemia/Milk Fever is caused by a lack of calcium, and this is common in very late stages of pregnancy and early lactation. In pregnancy, the doe’s calcium will be used to go to her growing kids. This can result in low calcium for her own body. In lactation, her calcium will go to her milk supply. Preventing this is best done by feeding large quantities of alfalfa for calcium—the amounts of alfalfa listed in this post for feeding should be completely suitable, but it is still important to keep a calcium drench such as CMPK/Cal MPK/Goats Prefer Calcium Drench on hand in case of a problem.
Treating both issues if only one occurs can also be a good idea to fully protect your goat metabolically.
As always, please feel free to contact me via email, Facebook Messenger, or Instagram for any emergency assistance or questions. My Natural Goat Care Academy can also provide you with a complete nutritional analysis for any pregnant or lactating goats and assistance forming short-term and long-term regimens.
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.