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Feeding Goats: Everything You Need to Know About Goat Food

Feeding goats

It’s as clear as day that goats are herbivores as they feed mostly on plants. But if you’re a newbie homesteader, navigating their world, there’s so much more to their diet that you should know about when feeding goats.

So, in this guide, we’ll talk about:

  • what foods do these ruminal animals eat and how much do goats eat
  • the toxic foods they must avoid to keep your goat from disasters
  • and tips to keep in mind when feeding goats

This guide will help you make sure you’re feeding your goats the right way and optimize their health and nutrition. 

But first, let’s dive into the science behind a goat’s digestive system to understand its dietary needs.

best food for goats - tree leaves

Feeding Goats with Unique Digestive System

Goats are ruminant animals with unique four-chambered stomachs and two-toed feet. Their digestive system is similar to sheep, cattle, deer, elk, bison, and giraffes. 

The Goat’s Digestive System

Like most animals, the process of digestion in goats starts in their mouth. But there’s something interesting about these animals that you must be aware of before goat feeding. Let us give you a walkthrough of the goat’s digestive tract to understand why these animals can live off of grasses and other plants, starting off from their mouth to their intestines.

Mouth

Fun fact! Goats actually have no upper incisor or canine teeth. So what do they use when eating and chewing?

Well, they utilize the dental pad in front of their hard palate, their lower incisor, lips, and tongue to cut and bring the food inside their mouth.

EsophagusRuminant digestive system

This passage helps transport the gasses and cud from the mouth to the stomach, specifically, the rumen and reticulum’s junction.

Now, let’s get into the exciting part; the four stomach chambers which include the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum. 

Rumen (The Paunch)

This compartment is the largest among four chambers, with a capacity of 3 to 6 gallons (depending on the feed type).

The conversion of starch and fiber feeds into fatty acids takes place with the help of microorganisms like bacteria and protozoa. 

Another fun fact: These fatty acids are absorbed through the rumen walls and provide about 80% of your goat’s needs.

Reticulum (The Honeycomb or Hardware Stomach)

There’s a reason why this compartment is called a hardware stomach. Goats tend to swallow foreign objects that can injure them, like wires, nails, and screws. And it’s where this stuff goes, and its capacity is around 1/4 to 1/2 gallon. 

Omasum (The Manyplies)

This chamber, also known as manyplies, comprises folds or layers of tissue that digests feed ingesta and squeezes water from the feed. Omasum can carry around 1/4 gallon of feed.

Abomasum(The true stomach)

The final compartment, the abomasum, works similarly to the human stomach. That’s why experts refer to it as the true stomach. 

It is where the pepsin enzyme breaks down feed proteins before entering the small intestine, and it has a capacity of 1 gallon.

Small Intestine

In this compartment, the duodenum, the enzymes produced by the pancreas further break down the nutrients into simple compounds. 

Then, these compounds are absorbed into the bloodstream or lymph. It has a capacity of 2 1/2 gallons, so technically, it can carry more than the large intestine. 

Cecum

It’s a simple tube structure at the confluence of the small and large intestines also known as the blind gut. 

Feed ingredients that enter this compartment are digested by the bacteria that live there. The cecum of a goat has a capacity of about 1/4 gallon.

Large intestine

It is the final destination of undigested feed and unabsorbed nutrients, and it comprises the rectum and colon. 

This compartment can carry about a 1/4 to 1 1/2 gallons, and further water absorptions and digestion take place in this intestine.

Accessory glands

It refers to the salivary glands, liver, and pancreas that aid indigestion. 

The salivary glands produce saliva that’s important when the goat chews the cud, while the liver supplies bile aids in emulsifying fat to prepare for digestion. 

On the other hand, the pancreas secretes enzymes that help digest carbs, proteins, and fats in the small intestine. 

Rumination of Goats — Why Goats Always Chew

Have you ever wondered why do goats constantly chew? You may notice them chewing while lying down. That process is called rumination or the regurgitation, rechewing, and swallowing their rumen ingesta.  

Livestock with four stomach compartments regurgitate bolus or the cud when resting, which are ball-like masses of fibrous and gritty food. 

The regurgitated cud is thoroughly chewed for about one minute before being swallowed once more. Depending on the type of feed, ruminant animals can spend up to 8 hours each day ruminating.

best feed for goats

Feeding Goats and Their Nutrition

Since goats are ruminant animals, they are primarily herbivores. They thrive by browsing for food and having a variety of fiber and roughage.

But their nutrient requirement varies depending on different factors, including:

  • age
  • sex
  • breed
  • body size
  • climate
  • physiological stage
  • production purposes (either dairy or meat)

Essential Nutrients for Goats

Here are the essential nutrient requirements of your goats that must be met to optimize their nutrition.

Carbohydrates

Goats can get carbs from sugars and starches found in grains and cellulose fiber from their foraging grass, shrubs, weeds, and other plants. The bacteria in the rumen then convert them into fatty acids which are the source of energy.

You have to need to maintain at least 12% crude fiber for most goats. But if you have dairy kids, you need to keep in mind that they need 21% energy which is a lot higher than the average.

Your goats may also need higher energy rations during breeding, late gestation, and most especially, at the time of lactation which they can get from fresh pastures and young plants.

Proteins

Kids, lactating goats, and those who grow mohair for fiber need more proteins than most adult goats. They get it from foods such as:

  • hay
  • alfalfa pellets
  • barley
  • peas
  • corn
  • oats
  • distilled grains and meals like soybean, canola, and cottonseed
  • and forages

If you’re feeding goats with quality hay, you won’t need much protein supplements for your ruminal livestock.

Here’s a table that sums up the nutrient requirements of your goats based on their production stage.

Nutrient Requirements of Growing Goat Kids

Production Stage

Nutrient Requirements, Dry matter basis

Dry Matter Intake, % of Body Weight % Crude Protein % Total Digestible Nutrients (Energy)
25 kg dairy doelings and castrates, gaining 100 – 150 g/hd/day

3.3 – 3.8

12

67

25 kg boer doelings and castrates, gaining 100 – 150 g/hd/day

3 – 3.4 

15 – 17

67

25 kg intact dairy males, gaining 

– 100 g/hd/day 

– 150 g/hd/day

3.2 – 3.7 

10 

15

67 

86

25 kg intact boer males, gaining 100 – 150 g/hd/day

3.3 – 3.7

15

67

Nutrient Requirements of Mature Does

Maintenance

1.8 – 2.4  7

53

Early gestation

2.4 – 3.0

9 – 10

53

Late gestation

2.4 – 3.0

13 – 14

53

Lactation

2.8 – 4.6

12 – 17

53 – 56

 

Vitamins and Minerals

Goats also need vitamins and minerals like humans. They need vitamin C for a stronger immune system and fat-soluble vitamins like A, DE, E, and K).

Check out the table below to get a grasp of your goat’s mineral requirements.

Acceptable Quantity of Macro and Microminerals in a Goat’s Diet
Macrominerals % Microminerals (ppm or parts per million)
Calcium (Ca)

Phosphorus (P) 

Sodium (Na) 

Potassium (K)

Chloride (Cl) 

Sulfur (S) 

Magnesium (Mg) 

0.3-0.8 

0.25-0.4

0.2

0.8-2.0

0.2 

0.2-0.32 

0.18-0.4

Iron (Fe)

Copper (Cu) 

Cobalt (Co)

Zinc (Zn)

Manganese (Mn) 

Selenium (Se)

Molybdenum (Mo)

Iodine (I) 

50-1000 

10-80 

0.1-10 

40-500 

0.1-3 

.1-3 

0.1-3 

0.5-50 

Fats

Goats can get their energy from fats as well. While browsing, goats absorb a small quantity of fat. Carbohydrates provide excess energy, which is deposited as fat, particularly around internal organs.

During times of increased energy need, such as during lactation, the goat’s body uses the stored fat.

what do goats eats

What Do Goats Eat? 

Here are the goat foods your ruminal animals find tasty when browsing and grazing.

Grass

goats eating grassCrabgrass, Bermudagrass, Sorghum-Sudan Grass, Ragweed, and Pigweed are among the favorite grasses of these ruminants.

But can goats survive on grass alone?

Goats can’t survive on grass alone. They need to browse to get more nutrients from other plants. 

And to maintain a healthy body weight and produce a significant amount of milk, they require hay and vitamins from other plants like Brambles.

Brambles

Brambles are prickly plants that belong to the rose family and include blackberries, dewberries, boysenberries, and loganberries. These plants and twigs are safe for goats to eat.

Christmas trees

Goats enjoy nibbling and playing with the branches and needles of the Christmas tree since it is tasty to them.

Pine needles are high in antioxidants, vitamin C, and other nutrients, and the sap can be used as a natural dewormer at some petting zoos.

Nettles

Stinging nettles with pointed leaves and white to yellowish blooms can be eaten by goats. They do, however, strive to chop and wilt them for a day before eating them.

Japanese Knotweed

This plant has bamboo-like stalks and small white flowers and they’re safe for humans and goats.

Parsnips

Goats are browsers by nature, but they might like some parsnips. When consumed in moderation, it is both safe and high in protein.

 

do goats eat grass

What to Feed Goats When They Can’t Forage

Goats can’t forage at night and during winter, so you may need to provide for your goats. Here’s a list of the best feed for goats that you can choose from.

1. Hay

Do goats eat hay? Hay is one of the primary sources of nutrients for goats asi

de from their range. But what is the best hay for goats? Let’s get to know each one of them to know which is the best goat food choice for you. 

best hay for goats

Types of Hay:

1. Legume hay

Legume hay includes alfalfa (lucerne), clover, and birdsfoot trefoil. Alfalfa is one of the best goat hay for milking goats since it contains more protein, vitamins, and minerals like calcium than grass hays. It contains a crude protein content of 15 to 22% and crude fiber content of 34%.

2. Cereal Grain Hay 

This type of hay is softer and sweeter than legume hay, has higher fiber content, but a lower crude protein ratio which is around 9%. But the good news is it contains minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, and manganese, which is good news.

3. Orchard Grass Hay

The crude fiber content of this hay is over 30%, however, the protein content is just around 7%.

4. Timothy Hay

Hay, for example, has a crude fiber ratio of 32 percent and a crude protein ratio of 7%. 

Like cereal grains, timothy hay doesn’t provide sufficient nutrients for your goats so they’re best mixed with legumes. 

Do goats need hay at night?

Goats will need hay at night especially during cold nights because they usually munch on their hay to generate their own heat and stay warm. 

They also need constant access to hay during rainy nights.

Do goats need hay if they are free-range?

A goat’s diet primarily consists of hay, grass, pasture, and other plants. Even if they’re free-range, they may still need hay if they can’t get enough nutrients from browsing. 

2. Chaffhaye

Chaffhaye is a premium Non-GMO Alfalfa produced by cutting young Alfalfa grass and chopping it and then mixing it with molasses. They also add a probiotic called Bacillus subtilis and vacuum-pack it. It’s one of the best food for goats.

However, they’re more expensive than ordinary hay.

Do goats need Chaffhaye?

Chaffhaye is more nutritious than hay so it’s ideal for ensuring your goat’s maximum health. In fact, a 50-pound bag of chaffhaye is equal to around 85 to 100 pounds of hay. 

What happens when a goat overeats grain

3. Grains

Grains contain protein, vitamins, and minerals but you should feed them to goats in moderation. The most suitable types to use when feeding goats are wheat, barley, and oats. 

What happens when a goat overeats grain?

Beware when feeding goats with grain because if they overeat, it can lead to acidosis or grain overload/poisoning, slowing of their gut, dehydration, and often death. That explains why you must limit your goats’ intake of grains.  

So, how much grain should I feed my goat?

Grain must only be 20% of your goat’s diet. One cup of grain is enough for adult goats but limit your kids{baby goats) intake to ½ cup of grain.

How Much Should a Goat Eat a Day?

It could vary depending on how much they forage, but if you’re wondering how much hay does a goat eats, each goat consumes 2 to 4 pounds of hay every day.

To know how much to feed a goat, you need to consider its weight. These animals’ daily food intake is around 3 to 4% of their total body weight per day as expressed in pounds. 

They eat more as they grow older and bigger and especially if they’re kidding or lactating. But they’d consume less hay if they can forage and it can also save you a considerable amount in the long run. 

raising Goats definitive guide

How Often Do You Feed a Goat?

If you’re using hay, you can offer it as a free choice or twice a day, giving around 2 pounds of hay in the morning and another two pounds in the evening. It depends on your goat’s needs and the availability of pasture, weeds, grasses, and shrubs in your area. 

what not to feed goats

What Not to Feed Goats

Goats have the reputation of eating everything they see. But that’s not always the case. Some foods are harmful to them. So, what should you not feed goats? 

Here’s a list of harmful food for goats.

Finely-milled grains

Goats can eat whole grains, including barley, wheat, and oats but in moderation. Finely milled grains are undesirable and may cause indigestion, as their digestive systems are not designed to handle grains.

Meat

If you’re thinking, “do goats eat meat”? As we said earlier, goats are herbivores, so they cannot eat meat or dairy products. They can’t digest meat in the same way that vegetables are digested, and they lack incisors and canine teeth to grind meat. So, it can only cause indigestion and discomfort.

Avocado

Avocado fruit, seeds, leaves, and even peels should not be fed to your goat since they contain persin, a toxin that is safe for humans but highly harmful to goats.

Cherry pits

Cherries’ small and hardened pits that surround the seeds are harmful to goats because it contains amygdalin, a cyanide or chemical compound that can poison a goat.

Potatoes

Potato leaves and stems are harmful to goats and other livestock because of their toxic steroidal alkaloid contents like solanine and chaconine. Green potatoes also have chaconine, so it’s safe for goats.

Azaleas

Don’t let these flowering shrubs deceive your goats because they contain grayanotoxin. Ingesting fresh foliage as little as 0.1% of a goat’s body weight is enough to make your goat feel sick.  

Kale

Goats can eat kale in small quantities, but too much or frequent consumption will cause the accumulation of oxalates and glucosinolates that are potentially toxic to goats.

Chocolate

Your goats should not consume chocolates too because it has theobromine which is toxic.

Garlic and Onion

Garlic is rich in selenium which helps keep the goat healthy. Roasted garlic is delicious for goats. However, too much onion and raw garlic can upset your goat’s stomach, so these should be fed in moderation.

What is toxic for goats to eat?

Below are other plants that are toxic to goats that can cause either weakness, lethargy, vomiting or even diarrhea, and other health problems. 

  1. Black Locust 
  2. Buckwheat
  3. Cherry Trees
  4. Crotalaria, Rattlepod
  5. Desert Baileya
  6. Flax Plant
  7. Horse and Bull Nettle
  8. Houndstongue
  9. Japanese Pieris
  10. Jimsonweed
  11. Johnson Grass
  12. Kochia
  13. Laurel
  14. Lambs Quarter
  15. Leafy Spurge
  16. Lupine
  17. Milk Thistle
  18. Milkweed
  19. Nightshade
  20. Monkshood, Aconite
  21. Onions
  22. Oleander
  23. Pigweed
  24. Orange Sneezeweed
  25. Poison Hemlock
  26. Ponderosa Pine
  27. White Snakeroot
  28. Tall Buttercup
  29. Tansy Ragwort
  30. Water Hemlock
  31. White Snakeroot

These groups of plants are also dangerous for goats.

  • Carolina and Yellow Jessamine, Evening Trumpet Vine
  • Goats Rue, Professor Weed, and French Lilac
  • Jimmy and Burrow Weed, Rayless Goldenrod
  • Leucana, Whiteland Tree, Guaje, Huaxin and Koa Haole
  • Nolina, Bear, and Brunch Grass
  • Serviceberry, Saskatoon Berry, June Berry
  • Snakeweed, Broomweed and Turpentine Weed
  • Sophora, Texas Mountain Laurel, Coral Bean, Mescal Bean, and Frijolito
  • Spiny Plants such as Burs, Thistles, and Needle Grass

best treat for goats

Feeding Goats the Best Snacks and Treats 

Goats like snacking too, but what do goats eat for treats? If you’re looking for healthy snacks and treats for your goats, here are some of the best options for you. 

Lettuce

The hydrating nature and vitamins like A, C, K lettuce provide are why it is an excellent treat for goats. 

These vitamins do not just strengthen their immune system. It also enhances their skin and eyesight. 

Bell Pepper

No matter what the color of the bell pepper is, they’ll make great treats for goats because they’re packed with vitamin A, potassium, and beta-carotene. However, we suggest getting rid of the seeds before feeding them to your goats.

Carrotscan goats eat carrots

Can goats eat carrots? Like bell peppers, carrots also provide vitamin A, beta-carotene, and fiber to prevent constipation. So, yes, it is safe and edible for goats. 

Bananas

Bananas are rich in potassium and fiber, and some goats like their sweet taste. Others may be picky, but they can eat both the fruit and the peel.

Pumpkin

Goats can also eat pumpkin and its seeds, but not the leaves. This treat provides fiber, potassium, and vitamin A and has a delectable sweet taste.

Some goat owners even add pumpkin to their goat’s food as a natural dewormer. So, aside from providing vitamins and minerals to your goat, it can also serve as a supplement that helps fight off parasites.

ApplesGoat food: Can goats eat apples

Can goats eat apples? Yes! They’re an excellent source of carbs, fiber, and protein. It may sound cliche, but an apple a day really keeps the vet away. 

Watermelon

A watermelon is a great option if you want a hydrating treat filled with vitamins and antioxidants for goats. Goats can eat the fruit, seeds, and rind of this fruit, but you shouldn’t feed it regularly. Otherwise, it’d cause indigestion.

Pears

Feeding your goats with pears occasionally is beneficial because they provide potassium which aids in metabolism, and vitamin C, which helps build a stronger immune system.

How often should you give your goats some treats?

The treats mentioned above are healthy and nutritious, but treats must only be 5% of your goats’ daily diet or less.

That is because overconsumption of those foods can affect the calcium to phosphorus ratio of these ruminal animals, which may lead to the development of urinary calculi.

So, make sure that treats are fed in moderation. Your goats’ diet should primarily be grass and other foliage they get while browsing. But what if they lack some nutrients?

That’s where supplements come in handy. Let’s see what supplements you should prepare for your goats. 

Best Supplements for Goats

Like humans, goats also need supplements to improve their health and nutrition. These are the vitamins and other nutritional supplements you need to keep in your barn and supply cabinet to keep them in shape.

Loose minerals

You can offer loose minerals free choice for goats at all times. Some brands need salt to be more palatable, but others like Sweetflix magnum already provide complete formulation. 

It’s perfect for lactating dairy goats because it can help promote optimal nutrition.

Probios 

This probiotic supplement is the key to helping your goat recover its good rumen function. 

Sodium Bicarbonate/Baking Soda

This is the go-to solution for goats suffering from bloat, so it’s a staple on most barns. 

Most people use it as a free choice because goats can self-medicate. 

Selenium/Vitamin E

If you’re in an area that lacks selenium, a trace mineral found in soil, it’s best to provide your goat with a selenium supplement. You’ll know if the soil is deficient in selenium if there’s less than 0.5mg of selenium per kg of soil. 

This mineral is crucial for their reproductive health and muscle function. 

Vitamin B Complex

Goats need vitamin B1 or Thiamine for better metabolism and neurological activity, and those who suffer from anemia need vitamin B12.

Since Thiamine deficiency can lead to life-threatening conditions, it’s best to provide supplements like Fortified Vitamin B Complex.

Nutri-Drench

If your newborn kids and lambs are weak, this oral supplement filled with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and glucose is the holy grail for them. 

Furthermore, it also boosts your goat’s appetite and ilk production. 

Copper supplement

Poor coat quality and growth in kids are sometimes due to copper deficiency, so goats need this mineral.

Copper is often present in loose minerals, but most goats need additional supplements 1 to 3 times a year in a copper bolus. 

Iron Supplement

This supplement is also a must-have in your kit, especially if your goat suffers from anemia. It can help increase their red blood cell count, and it’s available in pellets and injectable iron supplements. 

Kelps

Kelps are an excellent source of iodine which aids in regulating metabolism. You can add around 1 pound per 50 pounds of goat feed.

goat feeding with hay

Feeding Goats Tips

Before you feed the goat in your backyard, here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure their health and safety.

  • Determine your goat’s health condition and nutritional requirements and ensure they’re all met. 
  • Store the goat food in a safe place to keep its nutritional value and away from rodents, dampness, and contamination risks. A goat’s diet must come from forage, so it’s best to have enough area for them to browse and graze.
  • Observe proper hygiene when feeding goats.
  • Make sure the hay is of high quality.
  • Avoid changing your goat’s habit and diet suddenly. DO it gradually instead.
  • Add colostrum when feeding goats that are newly born.
  • Place the formulated and chicken food out of goats’ reach.
  • Lastly, provide accessible clean and fresh water sources to prevent dehydration.

Feeding Goats Equipment You’ll Need 

Putting the goat’s food like hay directly on the ground is not ideal when feeding goats because they tend to poop on their feed. And when their meal is saturated with their manure, they won’t eat it already.

So, that could waste a lot of hay. 

It’d be better to have containers for their feed and water to ensure that the goat food is clean. 

You may also need the following when feeding goats:

  • feed storage containers
  • food and water buckets
  • hay manger
  • mineral feeder

goat feed

Feeding Goats Frequently Asked Questions 

What should you not feed goats?

Your goats shouldn’t consume garlic, onion, kale, avocado, finely milled grains, cherry pits, chocolate, and other foods that contain caffeine.

How do you feed goats cheaply?

If you want a cheap goat feed alternative, weedy hay is among the suitable options for you because it’s inexpensive and contains sufficient amounts of nutrients your goat needs.

Do goats need salt blocks?

Goats crave salt, and they would love it if you’d provide them with salt or mineral blocks. 

Salt helps meat and dairy goats to grow faster and produce more milk. It also aids in maintaining their healthy appetite and body weight.

Can goats have whole corn kernels?

Corn is safe for your ruminal animals, but goats must only eat crushed corn or cracked ones. 

Remember that goats have no upper front teeth, so they’ll struggle in grinding and digesting whole corn kernels. 

Is Cracked corn good for goats?

Corn can be a good diet option for goats, and it is easier to grind and digest if it’s cracked, but it’s low in proteins. The advantage of it, though, is it contains a generous amount of calcium that is good for animals, especially those suffering from urinary calculi.

Can goats eat chicken feed?

Goats like to eat chicken feed, but you need to keep it away because it can disrupt their rumen’s flora. It can also cause bloat if eaten in large amounts. 

Is sweet feed OK for goats?

Sweet feed is safe and okay for goats. In fact, they love to eat, and there are specifically formulated sweet feeds for goats.

What do goats hate?

Goats hate the scent of several herbs, including lavender, sage, hydrangea, and cayenne pepper. They also dislike animal dung and peppermint oil. 

Is alfalfa good for goats?

Yes. In fact, many goat owners prefer to use alfalfa for goats because it’s a high-protein goat feed that also contains vitamins and minerals like calcium than grass hays. That explains why it’s popular for dairy goat owners, especially during the lactating and kidding season.

How do you get rid of the bloat in goats?

The best thing to do if your goat is suffering from bloating is to call a veterinarian since it is a life-threatening condition, and the treatments for the bloat vary depending on the type and cause. 

How much corn do you give a goat?

The number of grains you provide to your goat daily, like corn, must not exceed 1% of their body weight. Lactating can consume a higher percentage which is 1.5%. 

How many goats can clear an acre?

Most goat keepers say that it takes about 8 to 12 goats to clear one acre in one month. 

Do goats eat grass?

Goats are ruminant animals, so they’re herbivores, and they eat grass and woody shrubs. However, they’re browsers, which means they prefer browsing on shrubs and weeds overgrazing on grasses. That’s what sets them apart from other livestock. 

And even if they nibble some grass, weeds, and shrubs, they still need nutritious food sources like alfalfa hay.

Feeding Goats Our Final Thoughts

When feeding your goats, remember to take note of the foods that are toxic to them and minimize their grain intake to 20% of their diet to prevent bloating.

Your goat can consume 2 to 4 pounds of hay per day or 3 to 4% of their body weight. But you can save more if they can forage to browse for food.

Since they can’t forage during winter, we recommend giving your goats the best goat hay even at night because gorging on it can help keep their body warm.

Make sure to provide clean, fresh water for them too so they can stay hydrated.

If you’d keep these tips in mind, goat feeding must be a piece of cake.

READ NEXT: Best Goat Feed – A Helpful Buying Guide 2021

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