NUTRITIONAL NEEDS OF GOATS
Whether you raise goats on small pasturage, large acreage, or in pens, their nutritional needs must be met in order to produce quality animals. Each circumstance dictates how the producer must structure his goat operation.
Most goat breeders are small operators on limited amounts of land. Adequate browse and forage is often not available, making supplemental feeding of protein necessary year around. Even those producers who run goats on hundreds or thousands of acres must provide supplemental feed during periods of drought or severe inclement and cold weather. Animals raised only on forage or pasturage year around generally are lacking in essential nutrients.
Today's goat market is primarily a breeder's market, as each of us strives to produce enough quality herd sire and dams upon which a meat-goat industry can be built. If every goat in this country were slaughtered today, the demand for goat meat would not be met. Producers of breeding stock want to keep their animals nearby to be able to evaluate their development and to determine if their breeding program is progressing as planned. For the short term, intensive management operations will likely prevail.
Goats are very picky eaters, but their attraction to anything containing fiber can cause problems for producers and for their own health. Tree bark, newspaper, feed sacks, foam pipe wrap . . . all are irrestible to goats. Some of these items, if eaten, can kill them. Try to "think like a goat" when designing pens, building fences, insulating pipe, etc. Goats are extremely curious animals; if they can get themselves in a life-threatening situation, they seem to do it! For example: When insulating water pipe with foam pipe wrap, sleeve it with PVC pipe which has been cut in half lengthwise and then tie the two pieces together with hard plastic telephone ties. It takes lots of Milk of Magnesia to get foam pipe wrap through a goat's digestive system. And it makes them "sick as a goat"!
Fresh, clean water is essential to the continued good health of goats. Keep water troughs very clean. Dirty water is a quick route to illness. Algae grows rapidly in water troughs which receive direct sunlight during hot summer days. An automatic chlorination system is best, but algae can be controlled by adding not more than one ounce of bleach to 15 gallons of drinking water. Take care. Too much bleach will kill the vital bacteria in goats' stomachs.
In addition to salt blocks, producers should provide, on a free choice basis, loose minerals containing 950 to 1250 ppm of copper. Loose minerals are better because blocks lose essential nutrients when they are heat shrunk. Plus, mineral blocks are hard on goats' teeth. Unlike cows, who lick blocks, goats will bite off small chunks with their lower front teeth. Don't use minerals labelled "for sheep & goats." Copper is toxic to sheep, so it won't exist in these products. Use a loose cattle mineral for your goats.
Goats are ruminants, so hay is essential to their diets. A broad-leaved sweet hay such as Haygrazer (a sudangrass) is preferred over the narrow-leaved coastal bermuda. Goats don't generally do well on Klein Grass hay, but they thrive on peanut hay and alfalfa. Alfalfa is high in protein and high in calcium, so control the usage of it . . . a little alfalfa goes a long way. A 70-pound bale of alfalfa will feed 50 adult goats.
Hay must always be fresh, clean, and dry. . . and available all the time (free choice). Many producers have experienced sickness and death from goats having eaten moldy hay. Hay must be baled dry and stored in a dry location. Goats can quickly contract Listeria, "goat polio," and other brain-stem diseases from moldy hay or sileage. They will lose control of their legs, stagger, have difficulty maintaining their balance, and in advanced stages of these illnesses, the neck will be both rigid and bent to one side while the eyes are not focused. The remedy (if it works) is usually thiamine injections (Vitamin B-1) over a five-day timeframe. Sometimes an afflicted goat will suffer blindness. Dexamethazone injections can reduce the swelling affecting the optic nerve, but Dex cannot be used on pregnant does; it induces labor and can cause abortions. Further, Dex is a steroid and should only be used under veterinary supervision. Both Vitamin B-1 (thiamine) and Dexamethazone are vet prescriptions. Blindness usually goes away after a few weeks, once the thiamine treatment has been finished.
Breeders in the southeastern part of the United States have lost lots of goats by feeding them sileage. NEVER FEED SILEAGE TO GOATS! Sileage is green chopped corn or grass or virtually any other forage that is cut and only partially dried, chopped into small pieces, and packed down tightly into a pit silo or airtight bag. Air tight is the key to producing useable sileage. Then it is allowed to ferment, going through an alcohol stage and then a pickled stage. When air gets to sileage, it molds, and that kills goats. Sileage is a real hazard in the warm South. It spoils faster than it can be eaten. Under the best of circumstances, sileage is fed to cattle at a rate that keeps exposure to air at an absolute minimum. Only really experienced producers, used to handling and feeding sileage, should feed it to goats. Many folks are very new to raising goats and don't know enough about sileage to warrant risking its disadvantages. DON'T TAKE CHANCES. DON'T FEED SILEAGE TO GOATS.
Do not ever take healthy goats off hay or browse. Many show-goat people are being taught to feed only grain to try to add weight quickly and to reduce the size of the stomach. A goat must have roughage to survive. Hay and browse are that roughage.
Goats are a species of animal who are uniquely adapted to thrive on sparse land in dry climates, and they can digest only a limited amount of protein. Feeding them too much processed feed can kill them. Adult goats need no more than 1.5 pounds of sack feed daily, and kids need even less. Of course, free-choice access to appropriate hays is assumed here. It is difficult to overfeed a goat on hay. And during times of really cold weather, do not feed extra sack feed; instead, feed extra hay. This is particularly true of lactating does. The bulk in their stomachs provided by the hay will keep them warm. Too much grain in the stomach of a cold, inactive goat at night equals big trouble.
When feeding processed grain, remove all feed left after 15 minutes and feed a lesser amount the next day. If goats leave feed in the trough, they are being fed too much. And this grain should ideally be fed in the morning; if an overeating problem is going to occur, it will be discovered before nightfall. Additionally, the carbohydrates in the sack feed will permit goats to better cope with any browse that they encounter that might be toxic to them.
Lots of grain mixtures that contain coccidia preventatives are commercially available. Acco makes one called Cocciban that is 16% protein. There is some recent evidence that this intestinal parasite is developing a resistance to such feed additives. During dry weather and/or when there are no small kids in the herd, consider switching to an unmedicated feed for several months. Acco's Goat & Kid is 13.5% protein and quite adequate for hot-weather use, since goats tend to be less active under very hot weather conditions. The 3/16th inch pellet (rabbit-pellet sized) is best, as small kids can eat it more easily.
Goats can overeat and die. Shell (deer) corn is a favorite with goats . . . it is goat "candy"... and should be fed very sparingly and only as an inducement to bring the herd into the barn area. Pour water on a bowl of shell corn and watch it swell. That is precisely what occurs in a goat's stomach when it eats too much shell corn. Sack feed already has a proper amount of corn product in it.
Goats suffering from almost any illness, and particularly from anemia (usually related to severe worm infestation) should be given access to fresh green leaves daily. This natural goat food is unsurpassed in healing ability. A sick goat will eat fresh green leaves when it will eat nothing else! Oral drenches of Red Cell (WalMart) and injections of Vitamin B-12 (vet prescription) are also advisable in such circumstances.
Producers are encountering urinary calculi in goats. Male Boers kept penned and lavishly fed are prone to this problem , ahthough urinary calculi is definitely not limited to the Boer breed. Urinary calculi is a health problem directly resulting from improper feeding. Never feed goats milo, maize, or horse & mule (sweet) feed,all of which have an improper calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. The proper ratio of calcium to phosphorus is 2.5 to 1.
Urinary calculi prevents urination and breeding in males. It can also affect females, but the urethra is straight in females, so blockages usually don't occur. A male goat with urinary calculi should be taken immediately to a good goat vet. If the vet is able to remove the blockage, usually by cutting off the tip of the penis, the goat should be taken off all feed for 24 hours, penned with lots of fresh water and a salt block, orally drenched daily with two (2) tablespoons of ammonium chloride dissolved in 60 cc of water, and carefully watched. If he is urinating without straining after 24 hours, give him access to hay and browse, but continue to drench him orally with this ammonium chloride solution for at least two weeks.
Urinary calculi is very preventable. Just feed goats properly. Urinary calculi is often a problem in wethers. This can be largely prevented by waiting until the male goat is five to six months old, when the diameter of the urethra has grown to full size, before removing his testicles (under a sedative, by a vet, of course). Some feed manufacturers add ammonium chloride to their products. Read all labels carefully.
Although ammonium chloride is inexpensive, it is difficult to find in small quantities. Pipestone Vet Supply (1-800-658-2523) has four pound packages for about $3.50 plus shipping. But first of all . . . CUT BACK ON THE AMOUNT OF GRAIN BEING FED.
A brief mention about grain receptacles (feeders): If a goat can't destroy a trough, it will urinate in it, drop goat "pills" into it, turn it over, or sleep in it. Troughs made from either schedule 40 or schedule 80 PVC pipe cut in half length-wise and mounted either on fences at head height or on a frame for placement on the ground work best. Drill small holes along the bottom for water to drain out. Six-inch diameter PVC pipe makes good troughs. Kids need to be considered, both in terms of the height of fence-mounted troughs and in diameter of ground-based feeders so that they don't sit/sleep in them.
Goats are voracious eaters and efficient brush clearers. Since goats like to eat "from the top down," areas where goats forage will have a "browse line" below which virtually everything is cleared off. Because they are both more cost effective and environmentally sound than heavy machinery, goats are used in many places by forest services to clear fire breaks. If you are fortunate enough to have land covered with good forage, goats will be cost effective for you.
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