Goat Dietary Needs
At one time or another, we've all heard a wisecrack or two about how there is nothing a goat won't eat. While it is true that goats have pretty diverse appetites, there are definitely many items that are firmly off the menu. There are actually quite a few misconceptions out there about how and what goats eat as well as how that food is processed, and it is most definitely not the case that 'anything goes.'
The first rule of thumb when feeding goats is that you must remember that what they eat will directly impact you. If you drink goat's milk or use it in the making of items such as cheese, then you will essentially be absorbing what your goats absorbed. For this reason among others, you want to be particular about what goes into your goats so that the milk they provide is as healthy as possible, so it is important to remember this correlation when feeding goats.
The next thing to remember when feeding goats is that they should have access to foods that are appropriate for them and in the appropriate quantities. Grain, for example, should make up no more than 10% of a goat's diet or else constipation and/or acidosis can result. Although grain will boost milk production and energy, it is actually not even necessary to sustain a goat, but pasture and/or hay access is. A lot of people think of a pasture as a lush, green field of pristine grass, but something to remember is that goats love weeds. You may find that goats actually ignore the grass in favor of weeds, bushes, and tree bark, and this is perfectly normal. Also important is hay but not just any old hay. Goats should be fed alfalfa, bermuda, or timothy hay either via pellets or from actual bales. Also important are minerals as some soil is depleted from those that goats need. In order to compensate for this, a salt mineral block and a trace mineral block should be given free choice. Remember, too, that if you plan to give goats treats from the kitchen that they are herbivores and will reject food items that to not fall into that category.
Goats can generally be relied on to not eat plants that are unsafe for them but it is possible that they may still run into danger. Plants that can cause physical injury, such as the thorny honey locust, should be removed. Also cause for concern are photosensitizing plants consumption of these can lead to increased risk of sunburn and heat stroke. Other plants to avoid include:
Alkaloid Containing Plants
Cyanogenetic Containing Plants
Saponin Containing Plants
Resin Containing Plants
Although we've talked about toys for goats in the past, there is not much need to worry about danger of consumption when it comes to tire toys, for example. Goats will gravitate to natural items and may nibble on those, but things like plastic and rubber should not appeal to the appetite of a goat. However, if you do have a goat that has taken to eating everything in sight, a medical evaluation as well as a diet evaluation is necessary because it is likely that a deficiency exists that the goat is trying to fulfill.
The bottom line when feeding goats is to not overcomplicate things. If you keep grain to a minimum, such as for use only during milking or late in pregnancy, and keep a constant supply of hay, pasture, or forage accessible along with perhaps an occasional black oil sunflower seed treat, things should be just fine. Keeping it simple should keep your goats happy and healthy with minimal stress on you as a caretaker and decision maker.
What kind of feeding guidelines have you implemented with your goats? What are some of their favorite snacks? Let us know in the comments!