Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, Texas
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, TX
Lohn, Texas
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Why does a goat need high quality hay and forage, while cattle can survive eating coarse or dormant (temporarily stopped growing) plant materials?

Ignorance about goats is appalling. The belief that goats can live off anything, eating tin cans and cardboard, is still widespread, both by the general public and within in the livestock industry. It is one of the major reasons why so many people have such a difficult time raising goats successfully.

Ruminant nutrition is complex, so I am going to break it down into a format that is useful to goat raisers. It might be a bit overly-simplified, but it will be helpful.

Rumen passage rates directly affect what the ruminant animal can digest to obtain nutrition. The first thing you need to know is that goats (and deer) have very fast rumen passage rates, while cattle have extremely slow rumen passage rates.

The goat rumen passage rate is about 11 to 15 hours. Cattle take 1 to 3 days to digest their food. This is a huge difference and directly affects how the rumen is able to obtain nutrients from plant materials. Because of their fast rumen passage rate, goats have less time to break down complex compounds. They need to consume plants that can be broken down more rapidly by the rumen micro-organisms.

Goat raisers tend to focus on percentage of protein, but ENERGY and especially FIBER are important. All ruminants tend to put more emphasis on the fiber content of forages that they eat. This is because the more easily digestible plants require less energy from the micro-organisms to break down the complex compounds, leaving more energy for the animal to use for its body's requirements for maintenance and growth.

Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) is a measurement used in analyzing forages. The ADF number represents an estimation of the digestibility and palatability (tastiness) of plant materials. Goat raisers are primarily concerned with Acid Detergent Fiber's measurement of an indigestible fiber called lignin. Lignin is the material that gives plants the structural ability to stand upright to receive sunlight for growth. We refer to these plants and grasses as stemmy and coarse. Taller and older plants are less digestible and are lower in energy. This is why you should mow your pastures to a height that will stimulate new growth. Tall mature pastures are not quality forage for goats.

A high ADF measurement means that the plant material has a lot of indigestible material in it. For goats, an Acid Detergent Fiber measurement of 39 or higher is too high for them to digest. Because of the goat's fast rumen passage rate, there isn't enough time to process nutrients from coarse, fibrous, and (in winter or drought) dormant materials. Cattle, on the other hand, have a rumen passage rate of 1 to 3 days, providing their rumens more time to break down the complex plant compounds into useable nutrition. An additional benefit of a low Acid Detergent Fiber measurement is that the plant material is usually higher in ENERGY.

Another nutritional measurement that is critical to goats is NON-FIBROUS CARBOHYDRATES (NFC). A high Non-Fibrous Carbohydrate estimated value means that the plant materials have good levels of starch, simple sugars, and soluble fiber. High NFC numbers also indicate that the plants have higher amounts of cell contents which are more readily digestible than the fibrous cell walls, plus they also provide many vital nutrients and energy (calories).

The common belief that goats can eat and survive on anything is completely wrong and more accurately describes cattle than goats.

Hay testing is critical and very inexpensive. I use Dairy One Forage Lab in New York. Call 1-800-344-2697 and request their kit that includes quart ziplock bag for hay sample and a pre-paid mailer. Follow the instructions and put in your outgoing mail. Total cost of "Package 325 testing" is $22.00 in February 2019. If you are testing native or improved pastures (which by definition have multiple species of plants), then call and ask if a different test is more appropriate to provide the information you need. Turnaround is about one week. They will even call you with the results. You can't beat the service or the price.

My thanks to Kent Mills, goat nutritionist, Hi Pro Feeds, Texas, for his assistance with and review of this article for accuracy. Kent has been my goat nutritionist for nearly 20 years and teaches this topic at GoatCamp™ every year.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, ONION CREEK RANCH, Texas 2.5.19

Meat Goat Mania

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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.

The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)

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