What Should You Feed Goats?

What Should You Feed Goats?

Often times we get asked what types of feed should be given to goats. This is especially the case for new homesteaders who are raising goats for the first time. So I thought I’d use this blog as an opportunity to talk about the diet of our goats and why we feed them specific things. Before we get into this, let me clarify that I’m not a vet or a vet assistant. I’m just a guy who has been raising goats for a long time and understands what works and what doesn’t work. Hopefully this will help you determine what you should be feeding your goats to maintain a healthy herd.

Do Goats Like Pasture? 

Let’s start by talking about pasture. When most folks hear the word “pasture,” they’re thinking a lush green field of grass. But pasture could be a variety of things. Pasture could be a section of a wooded area with trees, leaves, and not much actual grass on the ground.

It’s important to note here that goats are much different than sheep. Goats are also much different than cows or horses. Goats are browsers and prefer to eat with their heads upright. This is why they’ll usually choose hanging leaves over grass.

Will goats eat grass? They will most certainly eat grass, but it’s not their preferred food source. In our pasture, we keep a dry paddock. Our vets have recommended that because it keeps the goats from eating off the ground. As a result, we get fewer parasite issues. Goats that eat off the ground all the time will usually have a higher chance of parasite issues.

A lightly forested area is perfect for a goat. They’ll walk through those areas eating hanging oak leaves and more. Fresh green leaves are their favorite. Goats will eat grass, but they’re not ground grazers like sheep. Put them in an area with hanging leaves and they’ll be much healthier and happier.

What Kind of Hay Do They Like?

The primary food source for your goats should be hay. A quality hay should comprise approximately 50% to 75% of their diet. You’ll want to make sure you feed them a high quality grass hay. We prefer to use coastal Bermuda, but we’ve also used rye. Rye is higher in sugar content and will actually keep the goats happier much longer, but coastal Bermuda is easier for us to get.

Legume hay is another type of hay that you can feed your goats. The one thing to note about legume hay, specifically alfalfa hay, is that is has a very high protein percentage. These high protein percentages, upwards of 16%, are not great for goats to be eating all the time. Compared to alfalfa hay, Bermuda or rye hay will typically have a protein percentage around 6% to 7%.

Alfalfa hay can be considerably more expensive than Bermuda hay. We’ve also found that we do not like the taste of the goat milk after they’ve been eating alfalfa hay. If you’re not drinking the goat milk, this would obviously not be a concern.

Hay is the most crucial part of their diet because of the “roughage.” Goats need that roughage for their rumen, which is the first portion of their stomach. A healthy rumen promotes good bacteria in their gut and aids in digestion. A happy gut means a happy goat!

Feeding Pellets or Grain Feed

It is okay to give your goats store bought pelleted or grain feed, but it should not be their primary food. Most goat feed has a protein content between 12% to 16%. That can be good for your goats if they are breeding or producing milk. But a high protein percentage can be harmful to goats if they’re getting it all the time.

Constantly providing high protein feed to goats can cause them to get bloat. And specifically with the males, it can cause something called urinary calculi. This is a very painful urinary tract disease that can eventually kill your goats. As a result, we recommend using grain feed sparingly as needed. We feed it to our girls when they are in milk and give it to our boys when they are breeding. They’ll get it twice a day (morning and evening) to keep their weight right during those seasons.

What’s Best for Your Goats?

As a goat farmer, it’s your responsibility to maintain a healthy herd. You should be testing their fecal samples regularly with a local vet or lab. You should be checking around their back tailbone to make sure they have enough weight on them. You should be looking at the overall health of each goat to determine what they need.

If your goats are underweight, you may consider adding more high protein sources into their diet. But a fat goat is not a good thing. Goats will overeat if you feed them too much. This will cause them to get bloat, which causes one side of their abdomen to be distended. Over time, this can kill your goats.

You have to decide what’s best for your goats in their current stage of life. If they are breeding or being milked, they probably need more food. If they are not, they’ll probably be fine with a diet of hanging leaves and hay. Just be careful not to fall into the trap of feeding them store bought goat feed and thinking that is all they need. A goats rumen is crucially important to the overall health of the goat. To see this blog in video format on our YouTube channel, click the play button below.


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