Contrary to popular opinion, goats do not eat trash, and especially not tin cans! In fact, goats are among the most finicky of all farm animals and will not drink dirty water or eat contaminated feed unless forced by extreme thirst or threat of starvation. The myth about goats' eating habits comes from their innate curiosity which is not unlike that of human infants, who put objects into their mouths in order to explore them. Goats will nibble at labels, jackets, zippers, gate latches, hair, and fingers, among other things, but not because they are yearning for a snack!
In Alberta, meat and fibre goats are usually turned out to pasture during the summer months and confined to a yard (dry lot) in winter. Most dairy goats and pets are kept in dry lots year-round. In either situation, goats need supplemental minerals and salt. These important elements are usually supplied loose in weatherproof containers or as lickable blocks.
Unlike grazing cows and sheep, goats prefer to browse for their food, similar to deer. Diet favourites include the weeds and shrubs often spurned by cows and sheep, as well as leaves and twigs from trees such as willow and poplar.
Hay for goats in the dry lot should be of good quality and free from mould, which can cause respiratory problems. Hay should be green and leafy, and not so dry that it crumbles. Alfalfa hay is the best choice for high-producing milking goats. Grass hay or a grass-alfalfa hay is a good choice for most other types of goats, although requirements do vary with age, growth, stage of pregnancy, and environmental conditions.
Most goats require grain at certain ages, at certain stages of production, and in the winter to provide extra protein and energy. Goat grain rations are available, however a good cattle ration will do, provided it does not contain urea, which is toxic to goats. Grain is often fed in troughs hung outside the fence to minimize contamination from dirty feet.
Adapted from Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants. National Research Council, 2007. Actual
requirements will vary depending on breed, productivity and environment. DMI–dry matter intake,
BW–body weight, CP–crude protein, TDN–total digestible nutrients.
Sugars, starches (found in grains) and fibre (cellulose) are the carbohydrates that convert into volatile fatty acids (energy) by rumen flora (beneficial bacteria). Normal goat diet (browse, forbs, and grasses) is high in cellulose and requires digestion by rumen flora to be converted into energy. Fresh pastures and young plants may have highly digestible fibre and provide high energy compared to older plants. Higher energy
levels come from lower fibre feeds. Energy is represented as total digestible energy (%TDN) in feed analysis reports. It is important to supply half of the goat ration in the form of hay or pasture to avoid high energy related problems. Maintain at least 12% crude fibre in the diet.
Energy requirements for different physiological stages -- maintenance, pregnancy, lactation and growth -- vary. The maintenance requirement for energy remains the same for most goats except dairy kids; they require 21% energy higher than the average. It is important to feed high-energy rations at the time of breeding, late gestation and lactation. Lactating does have the highest energy demand.
Proteins are digested and broken down into amino acids and are eventually absorbed in the small intestine. Those amino acids are building blocks for body proteins (muscles). The rumen plays a major role in breaking down consumed protein into bacterial protein through bacterial fermentation. Feeds like forages, hays, pellets (alfalfa), barley, peas (screenings, whole, split), corn, oats, distilled grains and meals (soybean,
canola, cottonseed meals) are common sources of protein for goat rationing.
The protein requirements are higher during growth (kids), milk synthesis (lactation), and mohair growth. Producers may need to supplement protein sometimes during the year, especially in late fall or winter. It is very important for a commercial goat operation to do cost-effective rationing as proteins can be an expensive feed ingredient. Good quality hay does not need much protein supplement for goats. If the hay has about 12-13% protein content then provide ½ lb of protein source in the form of corn, barley, peas or oats (with 20% protein in total). In case the hay is of average quality, add one pound of protein as supplement.
Minerals and Vitamins
Goats need certain minerals and vitamins for their maintenance as well as proper functioning of their physiological systems. Feeding of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) must be insured in a goat’s diet due to its inability to make these vitamins. Rumen flora can make vitamin B in enough quantities needed for goat metabolism. Vitamin C is essential for the immune system to work efficiently. Minerals can be classified as macro and micro minerals. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur and chlorides are a few of the macrominerals needed in a goat’s diet. Microminerals usually supplemented in goat rations are iron, copper, cobalt, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium, molybdenum, and others. Feed tags report microminerals as parts per million (ppm) and macrominerals on a percentage
Feeding of calcium and phosphorus (2:1 ratio) is recommended for better structural
and bone strength, while other minerals are necessary for other systems like nervous
and reproductive. Minerals should be added into the feed keeping in mind the quality
of forages as some forages can be high in some of the minerals and low in others. Free choice supply of loose minerals and salts always works well. If the supplied minerals include enough salts then the producer should be careful in providing
separate free choice salt. It is important to feed enough copper (10-80 ppm) to goats as they have a tendency to be copper deficient. High levels of molybdenum in a goat’s diet can easily offset the copper levels in the body. Goats are not sensitive to copper, whereas in sheep even 20 ppm of copper can be very toxic. Selenium (0.1-3 ppm) is another mineral required for goats. Most of the soils in Manitoba are deficient in selenium, and forages from those soils may need selenium supplementation in the form of mineral supplements.
Fats can also be a source of energy for goats. Goats do consume some amount of fats while browsing. Excess energy produced by carbohydrates is stored in the form of fat especially around internal organs. The stored fat in the body is used during high energy needs, especially the lactation period. Supplying fats may not be a cost-effective idea for goat production.