What Do Goats Really Eat?

Written By Janice Spaulding, founder of Goat School

Volumes can be written about this subject alone. This article will cover basic information on feeding and minerals.
A few years ago we lost a beautiful doe in her last few weeks of pregnancy. Opting for a necropsy was one of the wisest decisions we have ever made. The necropsy gave us “inside” information on how a goat makes and distributes fat throughout their body. The outward appearance of a goat is not always informative on the inside condition.

This was a large doe, though not one that would be considered “fat”. As it turns out, her problem was the internal fat storage she had developed throughout her life. We had only owned her for about six months, so, we were not privy as to how she had been fed in her early life. This fat, which packed her internal body cavity, was a major contributing factor to her demise. Her liver had caramelized and her systems had shut down.

It is difficult when those big, beautiful caprine eyes are looking at you with the “please feed me, I’m melting away to nothing” look.  Don’t give in to it!  Over feeding can eventually kill your goat. Under feeding will do the same thing.  So how do you reach a happy medium?

Hay, hay, hay, lots of good quality hay is a major component to raising healthy, happy goats. A goat needs four percent of its body weight in dry matter per day. That’s what they will actually eat; it does not include the other two or three pounds that they spilled on the ground trying to get to that little choice morsel that they see in the very center of the pile. Of course, once it’s on the ground, it has gotten stepped on, peed on, and pooped on, so don’t expect to ever see your goats bend down and eat it!

Now, let’s talk water.  It doesn’t matter what kind of container you use, but you have to KEEP IT CLEAN! Goats will not drink dirty water. With the bucks, you can run into problems with urinary calculi from not drinking enough water to balance the phosphorous and calcium they ingest. Angora goats are even fussier than meat or dairy goats are! One little piece of poop and they will avoid that water like the plague.


If your water containers start building up algae, you are doing a poor job in your management program. Washing with a little bleach, swished around with a brush and rinsed with water will keep your containers clean. Goats are not dirty animals, don’t treat them that way. If you wouldn’t drink out of it what makes you think your goats will?
Salt blocks are a necessity!  Our motto has been “keep your goats thirsty”, especially your boys, so that they will drink plenty. Just like humans, the more water they drink; the healthier they will be! A red salt block, also known as mineral blocks or brown blocks is a good choice because they contain not only salt, but also trace minerals such as iron, manganese, copper and iodine.

Now you get my “feed sermon”, sheep feed is for sheep, goat feed is for goats, cattle feed is for cattle, and etc.
If you buy a bag of feed that says it is for sheep or goats, you are buying health problems for your goats.
There are so many great goat grains on the market, why jeopardize your goat with a grain formulated for another type of animal?

Having the tags from several different brands of grains and comparing them, I noticed that one of them specifically says “Do not feed to sheep, product contains copper”, another states “this feed contains supplemental copper, do not feed to sheep” and still another says it’s a Sheep and Goat Feed and it’s for “growing, breeding and lactating sheep and goats”. What do you see wrong with the third one?  Could it be that there is something missing in it that goats need but could poison sheep? Your right, it’s copper. GOATS NEED COPPER. Excess copper will kill sheep.

An interesting disclaimer that one of the brands listed was: “Results from use of this product may vary based upon differences in customers’ management, health and sanitation, breeding, genetics and feeding”. Even the grain dealers understand about health, sanitation and feeding!

Copper is necessary for the absorption and utilization of iron in all goat breeds.

Copper deficiency in a goat is an ugly thing! It causes the goats bones to become brittle  just like a human’s bones when they have rickets.

Without iron the goat will rapidly develop anemia.  Iron also helps oxidize other vitamins for muscle growth, formation of red blood cells and bone structure. It is stored in the liver and is supplied through the intestinal walls.

The daily ration should be approximately one pound per doe and one to two pounds per buck (depending on size).
Another factor in keeping a healthy goat is plenty of “outside” time. Remember vitamin D comes from sunshine and it helps utilize other vitamins in the system properly. You need to get those “barn potatoes” outside! A good indication of lack of vitamin D is “ring around the eyes”. Sometimes the hair actually falls out in this area.

Kids need proper nutrition too!

Creep feeding is a means of providing feed for your kids. If you notice your kids at feeding time, they try desperately to get to the feed and keep getting knocked to the side by the bigger stronger goats!

Adult meat goats are very possessive about their feed and will not let kids other than their own near the feed. Angoras on the other hand are much more laid back and share the feed. Of course, your dairy goats are being fed at milking times, so they will always get the feed they need.

A separate area that adult goats cannot access will help grow the kids really quickly. They will be in and out of the creep feeder almost constantly snatching little snacks throughout the day.

Why creep feed?
It will increase weight gain, kids will reach a target market weight and can be marketed at a younger age. Creep fed kids will have a greater weight per day of age. The conversion of creep feed to body weight gain is a very efficient process.
Kids begin to nibble hay and feed at a very early age. Some kids may have a functional rumen and be chewing their cud by two weeks of age.

A creep feeding areas should be located near water, in the shade if possible and near the place where the kids like to loaf. Make sure the feed in the creep is dry and fresh. Never let it run out of feed completely. Clean it out in a timely fashion.  Remember, kids are incredibly fussy and will pick through the grain to find what they are interested in eating.

Lastly, and, most importantly, for peace of mind, is a good mineral supplement. If you are feeding your goats anything but a well formulated goat feed please make sure you are adding a good supplement to the feed, otherwise you are doing a great disservice to your goats.

If your goats are on a browse based nutrition program, please remember that a supplement becomes a critical component to their well-being. While the nutritional value of browse often reaches its peak in mid-summer; other times of the year it may not contain enough nutrients to provide your goats with a balanced diet to meet all of their needs.

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