GETTING GOAT NUTRITION RIGHT
The single most difficult part of raising goats in any sort of managed environment is getting goat nutrition right.
National and regional feed companies employ trained livestock nutritionists to formulate *full feed* rations. Do not try to mix feed yourself. Do not add anything to a balanced feed, because you will mess up the nutritional balance produced by the nutritionist who developed the formula. Proper nutrition is a complex matter. Most of us, this writer included, don't have the knowledge needed to formulate a quality feed ration. Do not rely on persons experienced in cattle or sheep nutrition. Goats are not "little cows" and sheep have different nutritional needs from goats.
Think of goats as *first cousins* to deer. They are not "little cattle," and "sheep" should not be used in the same sentence with "goat." Sheep are grass eaters. Goats are foragers/browsers like deer. In their natural habitat, goats free range over many acres while consuming a wide variety of high-quality forage and browse. Having the fastest metabolism of any ruminant (except deer), goats must eat frequently, concentrating on the choicest weeds and leaves available to them. Sacked grains, whether pelleted or textured, are not their natural diet. Ruminant herbivores (plant-eating animals using a rumen for digestion) eat low-protein plant materials continually; they cannot safely digest high levels of protein. Illnesses such as urinary calculi, laminitis-founder, ruminal acidosis, ketosis, hypocalcemia, and bloat are often the result of feeding protein levels that are too "hot." Incorrect levels of protein, vitamins, minerals, and nitrogen can also cause breeding and kidding problems.
Roughage is essential to the goat's diet to maintain good health. Dry matter roughage (long fiber, also known as grass hay or dry forage/browse) is critical for proper rumen function. Goats digest their food using live bacteria. The interaction of live bacteria and long fiber keeps the rumen functioning and the goat's body temperature in normal range (101.5*F and 103.5*F). Long fiber rubbing the walls of the rumen causes contractions and aids in food digestion.
The rumen is on the left side of the goat's body. The size of the rumen expands as the day passes. A large rumen is not an indication of a fat goat but rather is evidence of a good digestive factory. The rumen is a fermentation vat, producing foul breath and distinctive noises.Note: While bloated goats also have large rumens, bloat makes the rumen wall hard and tight to the touch, while the healthy goat's rumen feels spongy.
The producer can field test for fat by pinching the flesh where the chest wall meets the front leg. If an inch or more of flesh is "pinchable," there is a good chance that the goat is fat. Goats layer fat around vital internal organs (heart, liver, kidneys) rather than marbling fat through the meat. Excess body fat can prevent pregnancy, cause dystocia (difficulty in kidding), and a host of other health problems.
Repeated over-feeding of grain products can also damage the goat's bones and break down the entire skeletal system by putting too much weight on a frame that cannot support it. High-calorie diets can cause bone growth that cannot keep pace with massive body weight. Gout-like symptoms are not uncommon in such goats.
It takes about eight pounds of sacked grains to produce one pound of weight gain in the goat.This is an inefficient conversion ratio. Goats convert plant materials to muscle (meat) much more efficiently. It is neither healthy for the goat or for the producer's bank account to push grain on goats. Supplementation is necessary under certain conditions (bad weather and does raising multiple kids, for example), but forage/browse is where goats need to be most of their lives. For producers without adequate forage/browse, horse-quality grass hay is an acceptable alternative. (Never tell a hay seller that you are buying for goats; they think that goats eat tin cans, so they can sell junk hay to you.) Always have it tested for nutritional values.
Illness and death can and does occur from improperly feeding goats in managed herds. If, because of limited forage/browse, the producer must regularly offer sacked grain to goats in conjunction with providing top-quality grass hay, then do so in limited quanitities, remove any feed that is left after 15 minutes, and offer less the next day. Do *not* free choice sacked feed on a multi-hour basis. Most bags of sacked grains recommend feeding far more than a goat needs. Feed companies are in the business of selling feed rather than keeping goats healthy.
Protein percentage is only one of many factors to be considered in choosing a grain mix. Some prepared feeds are too high in protein. Soluble (digestible) and bypass (indigestible) are two of the most important types of proteins fed to goats. When reviewing the label on a sack of feed or a protein block or tub, find out precisely what the protein is derived from. Urea (also known as non-protein nitrogen) is not easily digested by goats, and the typical producer should not feed it. There is a Rule of Thumb about feed ingredients: *cheap* generally means less bio-available (useable) to the goat's body. Properly formulated rations are the cheaper route in the long run, because the goat's body can better process and utilize its nutrients. You cannot starve the profit out of a goat.
Along with protein, nitrogen levels in many prepared feeds are too high for goats. Both ammonium chloride and urea are non-protein nitrogens and are overused in goat feed. Ammonium chloride is added to try to prevent urinary calculi, but its over-use can cause excess urea in the kidneys and liver. Textured (horse & mule) feed should not be fed to goats because it molds easily, setting up the environment for hard-to-cure diseases like Listeriosis to occur.
Along with proper levels of roughage (long fiber) and correct amounts of vitamins and minerals, bacterial microbes are added to keep the rumen functioning efficiently. Goat nutritionists know which minerals in what forms bind up other minerals and prevent their absorption. Energy is another essential part of a properly-formulated full-feed package which goat nutritionists are trained to know how to supply.
Not all mixed feeds available for purchase are formulated by trained livestock nutritionists. Livestock feed labeling laws are somewhat lax because prepared feed is considered a supplement to foraging/browsing/grazing animals. Labels don't always tell the entire nutritional story. Salt in most livestock feed products is not iodized.
Begin your search for the right feed ration by having a soil analysis done on your property to determine mineral and vitamin availability. Have your livestock nutritionist use this information when formulating your grain supplement. Recognize that long fiber is the foundation of all that you feed to your goats. Top quality forage/browse and/or top quality hay should be your first purchase.
Loose minerals made for goats should be offered free choice. Blocks or tubs that contain a combination of protein and minerals should not be fed. This is one of those situations where two different products are better that one combo product. Feed protein tubs or blocks separate from loose minerals and feed both products free choice. Combination protein and mineral blocks/tubs reduce consumption by using the minerals as "limiters" (think of trying to eat over-salted food) and the goat doesn't get enough to eat. Always have hay tested for nutritional values. Employ a qualified livestock nutritionist familiar with your area and have him formulate a pelleted ration for you for use during weather conditions that require supplementation. There will be plenty of opportunities to feed sacked feed. Use it wisely.
If you feed top-quality hay, you can cut down on the amount of sacked grains that have to be fed. Your goats will be healthier and your financial "bottom line" will improve. It is a win-win situation.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto
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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.
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