The Nature of a Browsing Ruminant and Importance of Forage and Hay
Because we raise percentage and full blood Boer goats, the information contained here is mostly directed towards that breed. However, much of this information is applicable to all livestock. Goats are browsers. Given a choice, they will eat bushes, leaves off trees and many weeds and nuts before they will eat pasture grasses. The Boer goat in particular has a higher tolerance level for the tannin found in acorns than do other breeds of goats and they can consume quite a few without any problem at all. Our goats love thistles just before they go to seed, multiflora rose, cockle burs, most weeds, pine and spruce needles, and most flowers in your flower beds. One of the best ways to avoid parasite problems with the goats is to keep them from grazing on grass that is shorter than 8 inches. This means they do best in situations where pastures are divided and rotated before the grass/forage gets shorter than that.
If pasture area is limited, supplemental hay and/or fiber products need to be fed. Goats are ruminants and their digestive system is designed for eating these types of feed. During heavy rain and growth periods it helps eliminate what we call the green grass shits to also offer free choice hay. This keeps their consumption of the high water content forage down to a level where they usually will not develop diarrhea. It also helps keep their mineral and vitamin levels in balance.
Before any decisions about number of goats per acre, type of forage, whether or not to feed commercial feeds and/or grain, it is important to know the breed, body-style, and maturity rate of your goats. When selecting feed and deciding on a total feeding program, it is best to know the soil type and health in your pastures. You can usually have soil samples done by Extension Services and sometimes by Soil and Water Conservation Districts. If the samples show low fertility, it pays off to have the pastures fertilized.
If you are in a situation like ours, and need to feed a commercial feed at least part of the year, it is important to learn what works best in your part of the country. We believe that feeding a well formulated commercial feed is best because it gives certain guarantees about what your goats are getting. When just grain is fed there is no guarantee, unless you have that grain tested every time it's purchased. We creep feed kids, and start our does on feed when we put them with the bucks for breeding. The does will receive a reasonable amount of feed in addition to free choice hay and pasture until we wean the kids off them at 60 days. Then the does are turned out on pasture and free choice hay.
During times of drought when pastures dry up and hay becomes scarce, there are a lot of fiber replacement products being sold that can be used. We've added soy hull pellets, cotton seed hulls, and/or oat replacer pellets to our goat feed rations to increase the fiber. We still limit feed hay to our goats, and have found that baled corn stalks enhanced with molasses work as a free choice fiber source.
The most important thing that goats need, though is clean, fresh water. Regardless of how they are housed, fed, or managed keeping their water clean and fresh will do more to promote growth and health than any other thing a producer can do. We use automatic water fountains because our water supply is limited. But, the advantage that gives us is our goats always have fresh water that is always within the same temperature range, and we can easily and quickly clean out the drinking area.
The importance of Mineral
We've run a feed store since 1989, and we tell all our livestock customers that if they do nothing else in addition to providing pasture - FEED MINERAL. And, we practice what we preach.
Goat mineral is extremely important and is becoming easier to find as the major feed manufacturers increase their attention to goats, and the Boer Goat, in particular. Most feed research programs are beginning to include Boer Goats in their research. We sell the Vitaferm Goat mineral which we believe is very good, and we also sell the Purina/Land 'O Lakes Goat Chow Mineral which comes in a convenient 25 lb bag with a handle, and the ADM Goat Mineral, both of which we believe are good. If you do nothing else, just by feeding mineral along with your browse, your goats will do well, will breed better and have stronger immune systems.
In the past 4 years the major manufacturers are figuring out that the meat goats need more copper than they've been using in the goat mineral and feed. There is also researched planned to study exactly how much copper goats need, as well as other minerals, particularly selenium. The minerals mentioned above have all increased the levels of copper that are provided.
It is easy, though, to be mislead when purchasing mineral. A lot of people will buy TM Blocks thinking they are buying mineral. These are actually TM SALT blocks and are 99% salt. Goats, actually all small ruminants, do best with a loose mineral. And after they've become accustomed to it, it is best to feed it free choice - keeping a little out all of the time. Goats should not eat a lot of mineral - about 1/2 ounce per day and often, if their pasture and hay is good, they won't eat any. If their consumption goes up either the pasture, or hay or both are lower quality than what they had before. There are also cheaper minerals out there that have a lot of molasses in them and people think that because the goats chow down on them it's good. That's a lot of sugar and not really a good source of minerals and vitamins. We believe that these protein tubs help with our ketosis-prevention program.
There are also protein tubs and blocks that can be useful. Mineral should still be fed, but the tubs in particular, if they are the ones that have had the moisture removed are great for pregnant does as a supplement and/or substitute for some of all of their grain. We use them to supplement and because they do have molasses the does will walk quite a ways to eat a little so we put them as far away from the water source as possible. They get more exercise which the pregnant does really need. And they drink more water which seems to help with everything, from health to birthing. Our does have to give birth on their own as we are only there a couple of times a day, so anything we can do to make sure they are in the best shape possible, we do.
Commercial Feed Versus Grain
Why not just feed grain? First, there is no guarantee so you don't know what you are feeding unless you test it. And the nutrients change over time and with each new batch. And, there's always the scary things like aflotoxin, etc. It's also easy to get things out of balance and then you get to deal with bloat and other deficiency and nutrition problems. If you're going to feed just grain, remember that it's necessary to always feed a good goat mineral and forage. Then, purchase a ration-balancer program (or there are some available free on the internet) - these let you enter what you're using and at least get an idea of what kind of nutrition you're providing for your goats.
There are many manufacturers of goat feed in the USA. And with the decline of small livestock operations during the past few years, the major feed manufacturers have delved into the show feed market and also offer many high quality show feeds. When deciding on a feed program it is most important to determine whether you are going to be a commercial operation, show goat operation, breeding stock operation or a mixture of operations. It is also very important to know the body-style and maturity rate of your goats when selecting feed and deciding on a total feeding program.
It is pointless to waste money on a show goat feed if you aren't showing your goats. We only use a show goat feed for the goats we are going to show and then, usually only start feeding it a month or so before the first show. It is also pointless to use a high protein feed - 16% is plenty because goats will get more than adequate protein from the forage they eat. In this goats fall somewhere between sheep and cattle - with cattle it's common to feed a 16% calf starter and than switch to a 12% grower. With sheep it's common to feed a 18 to 20% starter, go to a 16% grower and then if ewes are fed, it is usually a 12% feed. Sheep grow faster than goats. Goats grow faster than cattle. And while they gain more pounds per day, cattle take longer to get to their finished weight because they are larger.
For show feeds, one of our personal favorites is the N'Timidator show goat feed, but while it has been readily available in the Southwest, it has not been available in our area on a reliable basis. The Show Rite Duncan Goat Grower, and other goat feeds have worked well for us, and for wethers mixing the goat grower with the Honor Show Lamb Creep pellet has worked well for us and many our customers. ADM Alliance Nutrition manufactures the Show Tec Elite goat feed, which many find works well also. Show feeds will cost more because they have a lot of "special" ingredients. Sometimes they are worth the cost, and sometimes they are not. This is something each producer has to determine for themselves. A feed that works well in Kentucky may not work so well in Oklahoma. And we found that several feeds that worked well in Texas did not work so well for us. And, if you are going to feed a show goat feed, be sure you know whether you should feed alfalfa hay (many show feeds are designed such that alfalfa hay really reduces their performance). The manufacturer can tell you what kind of roughage to feed.
To survive as a commercial producer, input costs have to be well controlled. This makes it very important to know what works best and not feed any more high dollar products than absolutely necessary. Even a show stock producer can put themselves out of business by over spending unless they have other income to subsidize their operation.
We formulated our own standard 16% goat feed that is pelleted and similar to the Duncan goat grower without the show ingredients. We have our goat feed pelleted because it eliminates sorting and, although we also feed free choice mineral, it insures that all the goats are getting the minerals and vitamins that have been put in the feed. It is medicated with Rumensin which controls the levels of the parasite that causes coccidiosis. Generally by the time a goat reaches the age of 1 they have become immune to the intestinal problems caused by coccidiosis, but this disease can quickly kill kids. Fortunately in all of our years of having small ruminant livestock, we have never had a goat develop cocciodosis.
Our kids are fed this feed as a creep feed (if we are pushing them we'll mix this half and half with the show feed). We start our does on this feed when we put the bucks in to breed, generally at about a pound per head per day along with their free choice hay and pasture. Bucks usually get fed a little year round, and we increase what they get when we put them with the does. We have to remove some of our bucks in the morning so they will eat and then we return them to the does as soon as they've finished. The does that we're pretty sure are carrying singles will get this feed at the same amount until after they kid and then we may increase it depending on how much milk they're producing and their body condition. Does carrying twins and triplets will have their feed increased before they kid only if their body condition and/or age dictates the need. After they kid their feed will be increased - does with twins may be increased up to 2 1/2 lbs per head per day, and does raising triplets could get as much as 4 lbs per head per day depending on their age and body condition. We wean all kids at 60 days, and market most of the wethers at 120 days or so. Keeper does, the 1 or 2 buck kids we keep intact and show goats will get fed the creep mixture until they are yearlings.
All goats at our place get free choice hay, along with pasture if it is available and we are letting them out.
Substituting for High Cost Feed Products: When some products are in short supply, and/or grain prices get so high that it becomes a problem , many breeders search for alternative feed sources. It is important to be very careful when experimenting with different grains, etc - it is best to involve an unbiased nutritionist and/or experienced producer in your area to help analyze different products and what can be used in what combination.