Goats are ruminant animals and must eat the proper ratio of roughage each day to avoid bloat – which can be a death sentence if not treated both properly and promptly. A healthy goat feeding plan must include a solid hay base with limited grain feed rations and only safe treats given in small amounts.
A ruminant animal has four stomach chambers, the first being the rumen. Goats, sheep, cattle, elk, and deer are all ruminant animals. When a goat does not eat a proper diet, too much of an approved dietary item, or experiences a rapid dietary switch, the rumen does not function properly and can cause bloat and other digestive tract problems.
Examples Of Rapid Dietary Switches
- Introduce multiple new safe and healthy treats at one time.
- Switch of grain feed brand.
- Offering a larger grain feed ration due to seasonal changes.
- Eating too many natural items that are high in sugars or starches – this often occurs during the spring when new growth is consumed after a winter spent on hay.
Always introduce new foods or changes in amounts and brands slowly to avoid rumen upset. It is best to limit free ranging in the early spring as new growth comes on by making sure the goats have eaten their fill of hay or a small typical grain ration before heading out in the pasture. Goats will become gluttons when the first sweet clover appears and this should be avoided as much as possible.
Always keep natural homemade of commercially manufactured goat drench solution and supplies on hand so you can treat this condition yourself if necessary or are ready for a livestock vet to arrive.
Providing free-choice goat supplements to the goat herd will also help ensure they are getting the proper amount of nutrients on a daily basis as well as helping to prevent bloat and parasite infestations in the process.
- Salt and Mineral Blocks – Providing these blocks (on a clean surface) allows the goat herd to lick them when they feel the need. Not all mineral blocks include sodium. Keeping a salt block in the barnyard during the warm weather months will permit the goats and other livestock to replenish the salt they lose more frequently during the hottest months of the year. You can purchase mineral blocks specifically for goats or use equine blocks as a share supplement if you also keep horses. Sheep mineral blocks are fine to use also but they typically do not contain any copper compounds, which goats need infused into their diet.
- Baking Soda – There should always be a feed tub containing baking soda in the goat pen. Ingestion of the baking soda will help both prevent and treat goat bloat. Goats typically like the taste of baking soda and will be instinctively drawn to it when their rumen is out of whack. If you have a goat that does not want to eat the baking soda, simply get into the habit of mixing a little bit into feed on a regular basis.
- Diatomaceous Earth – The agricultural grade version of Diatomaceous Earth can be sprinkled over feed or mixed into it inside of the feed storage tub to help prevent and treat parasite infestation and to use as a general natural detoxifying supplement.
Grain Feed Rations
Grain feed should only account for roughly 10 percent of a goat’s diet. While they love the taste of a sweet mix – especially if it contains molasses, eating too much is not good for their health or proper rumen function. Hay should be the primary base of a goat’s diet.
Some goat keepers offer a slightly higher percentage of grain feed to dairy goats due to a belief the added rations may increase the quantity of milk produced. Likewise, when a nanny goat is pregnant or nursing she too is often provided with additional grain feed to provide the extra calories and energy she needs to provide nutrients and plenty of milk for her kids. Using a grain feed with a boosted molasses percentage is often recommended for pregnant and nursing nanny goats due to its high fat count and possible healing properties.
Unlike horses and cattle, goats do not graze for their food – they browse. A goat will eat grass that grows on the ground, but are naturally conditioned to eat twigs, tall brush, leaves, brambles, and other types of foliage that grows in the woods.
Even during cold weather months a goat can browse for a significant portion of their diet providing they have enough room to roam on a homestead that is at least partially wooded.
On average, a goat consumed between two to four pounds of hay each day. This amount fluctuates based on the age of the goats, if the goat is pregnant or nursing, and slightly to take into account goat size – standard or miniature.
A goat can eat any type of agriculturally produced hay, but the quality of a hay variety depends upon the nutrients of which it is comprised. The best type of hay for one type of livestock may not best fulfill the dietary needs of another livestock breed.
A goat’s dietary needs are best fulfilled by eating a legume style of hay. This variety of hay is most often comprised of clover, alfalfa, vetch, and soybeans. Goats have a far smaller mouth than horses or cattle, and even sheep if you are keeping miniature breeds. Because of this size difference, the texture or legume hay is far easier for goats to chew than other more coarse varieties of hay.
Varieties of Hay
- Legume Hay – Alfalfa style hay has a higher protein county that other types of agricultural hay. Legume hay is comprised of approximately 15 to 22 percent crude protein. It also contains 34 percent of crude fiber. When consuming alfalfa legume hay varieties a goat can garner roughly 120 percent more energy than they would acquare if eating other types of hay.
- Cereal Grain Hay – this style of hay does not produce as much protein as either legume hay or orchard grass style hay. But, cereal grain hay does offer a higher percentage of both fiber and protein. This type of hay is both softer and more sweet than other hay varieties. But, cereal grain hay lacks the nutrients boasted by legume or orchard grass hay and would not fulfill all of the nutritional needs of goats on its own. It has a 9 percent crude protein ratio but does have more substantial amounts of phosphorous, calcium, and manganese.
- Orchard Grass Hay – This type of hay has a higher fiber percentage than alfalfa hay, but is comprised of a reduced amount of protein – about 7 percent. Orchard grass hay has approximately a 30 percent ratio of crude fiber.
- Timothy Hay – This type of livestock hay has a 32 percent ratio of crude fiber and a 7 percent ratio of crude protein. Timothy hay, like orchard grass and cereal grain hay is good to mix with legume hay for goats but should none of these varieties should solely comprise the hay intake of the herd.
Nursing nanny goats, as well as goat kids, should especially be fed on a diet legume hay due to its nutritional properties. More mature goats are best served by a mixture of easy to digest orchard grass and legume style hay.
Goat Safe Treats
Treats, even healthy ones, should only be provided in small to moderate amounts. Healthy goat treats are especially helpful when used as training aids to establish trust between keepers and the animals and to teach them their ranging boundaries. Once a true level of trust or report is developed between the keepers and the goats the animals are more likely to come when called and be compliant when medical treatment, shearing, or milking is necessary.
Top 55 Safe Treats For Goats
- Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
- Sow Thistle
- Squash – all varieties
- Honeysuckle Bush
- Red Clover
- Echinacea Flowers
- Calendula Flowers
- Bananas – or Banana Peels
- Lemon Balm
- Corn – fresh or cracked
- Peaches – pitted
- Cedar – needles, leaves, and bark
- Queen Anne’s Lace – Wild Carrots
- Black Raspberries
- Rose Hips
50 Things Goats Can’t Eat
Contrary to popular belief, goats do not eat everything … or tin cans. The items on this list are dangerous to deadly for goats to eat.
- Horse Nettle
- Goat’s Rue
- Rhubarb Leaves
- Dog Hobble
- English Ivy
- Castor Oil Plant
- St. John’s Wort
- Mountain Laurel
- Calotropis Plant
- Dumb Cane
- Fireweed Plant
- Iceland Poppy
- Cherry Trees
- False Tansy
- Japanese Yew
- Morning Glory Flowers
- Lily of the Valley
- Potato Weed
- China Berry Trees
- Ponderosa Pine Trees
- Blue Lupin
- Elderberry Trees
- Plum Trees
- Burning Bush
- Chokecherry Trees
- Garden Iris
- Water Hemlock
- African Yew
- Bracken Ferns
- Lilac Flowers
- Japanese Pieris
- Red Maple Trees
Goats may be the only living creature on the planet that can consume poison hemlock and survive, but it really is not good for them – or perhaps their keepers. The deadly hemlock spores can live on surfaces for up to three years – including the fur of the goats your children hug and you come into contact with on a daily basis.
Bread items are not necessarily unsafe for goats to eat, but they should be given in only very small amounts on rare occasions, if at all. When goats consume too much bread they will become bloated and experience other rumen health problems.
The healthiest diet for goats mirrors the most traditional and natural that can be provided. Commercially manufactured feeds and treats are not a necessary part of a goat’s diet and should remain only a very small portion of what they consume on a regular basis.
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