Goat-feed and Nutrition

Goat-feed and nutrition is the absolute priority for herd health and productivity. Whether you are just starting out with meat goats or already have them, the greatest challenge is achieving the optimum nutrition plane for you’re animals.

There are several changing scenarios that must be considered and in a commercial Boer meat goat herd such as mine, with 400 breeders, the requirements often overlap.

Essentially the following are the principal nutritional phases that must be met when planning goat-feed, and your prize buck also has specific requirements that will be covered separately.

Goat-Feed Priorities

  1. Maintenance nutrition. The minimum goat feed nutrition required to meet a non-lactating does requirements and also maintain body condition.
  2. Pregnancy nutrition. Required to supply essential nutrition to both the doe and kids throughout gestation period.
  3. Lactation Nutrition. Required to ensure both kids and doe receive optimum nutrition, so that suckling kids grow at optimum rates (quality milk makes quality kids).
  4. Kid Nutrition. Minimum goat-feed required to achieve optimum growth when weaned.

Goat-Feed and Digestive Physiology

As we all know the goat is a ruminant and they possess 4 stomachs (the Omasum, Reticulum, Abomasum and the Rumen). The goat’s stomachs are essentially complex fermentation chambers.

These fermentation chambers are filled with a variety of bacteria. When a goat feeds it is supplying the bacteria within the stomach. The bacteria break down the feed and provide nutrition to the animal. A goat’s rumination system operates at optimum efficiency when it has a good balance of both fiber and roughage.

Even in other human controlled fermentation processes, in particular beer making and cheese making, control of bacteria is challenging, and they employ chemists to help them. In our goat rearing systems we have to use our animal husbandry skills to achieve the right outcome, and it’s all a bit of goat-feed farm chemistry.

Other ruminant animals such as sheep and cattle are essentially grazers and prefer a variety of grass pastures. The goat is more like the deer and has a preference for browse, and this includes a wide variety of trees, woody weeds and bushes. As you will have observed they spread through an area constantly sampling and eating a wide variety of material. Goats contrary to popular opinion will not eat all and everything, and sometimes die because they ate the wrong plant.

Goats will eat grass and as many meat goat breeders will testify, thrive on it, however when browse is on offer it is preferred. The subject of pastures I will cover separately. Goats on lush pasture will possibly develop grass tetany, and also they cannot live on grain alone as they must have roughage for good rumen activity and this includes either hay or grazing.

The term browse covers a wide spectrum of material, and my goats have shown superb efficiency in stripping bark off certain trees, go frantic with a bough of pine needles is on offer, wiped out my rose garden, and if they are being used in a sustainable weed reduction program, they just love brambles and blackberries along with thistles and all those plants we classify as weeds and that goats classify as gourmet feed. I will cover separately the factor of browse.

Goat-Feed – Striking a Balance

As all commercial goat herders know, the single greatest cost associated with meat goat production is goat feed costs. It also has a corresponding impact and an overall influence on herd reproduction, doe milk productivity and therefore kid growth. As we also know from experience, the periods of late-gestation and the following lactation are the nutritional critical periods and the subsequent kid growth rates that determine a goat meat income and profitability level are dependant on this.

Goats that do not receive adequate nutrition are more likely to suffer disease and also will fail to achieve their full genetic potential. It’s one thing to have good doe and buck genetics and another to reach the true potential and goat feed is the answer.

The prime object of the commercial meat goat breeder is to achieve the fastest and earliest animal growth possible and also achieve the highest fertility and weaning rates possible while spending the least money as possible. Not unlike any other business enterprise really. Getting this right is no easy feat and fortunately there is a wealth of research and these very valuable papers are easy to locate on the internet.

Meat goats require several important things out of the goat-feed, and this is energy, protein, vitamins and minerals, fiber and of course water. Energy (kilojoules or calories) is the most limiting and protein is by far the most expensive one. We need to achieve a balance and whenever there are imbalances, deficiencies, or an excess of vitamins and minerals, this can severely constrain animal performance and contribute or cause various goat health problems.

Fiber is a necessary goat food element to the maintenance of a healthy and efficient rumen environment within your goat. Last but not least is the often neglected element that is clean water. While it sometimes might be the cheapest element on paper it’s also in many dry goat rearing areas a premium element that posses many additional challenges, more so in drought conditions. All about goat-feed and goat nutrition .