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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
There were a couple of entries in the "Debunking Myths" thread that made me think this topic might need its own thread. In particular, this post by MadHouse caught my eye:

I had originally read, too much calcium was one of the things that can cause it. On TGS is then was told, that is old thinking, it is the opposite.
I've seen the thinking on this issue evolve over the last couple of decades myself. When I got my first wether in 2002, I was cautioned against feeding alfalfa due to concerns about stones. Articles on packgoat care urged owners not to make a habit of feeding regular grain or alfalfa due to UC concerns surrounding both. Thinking has changed on this in recent years. Early feeding of grain and lifetime feeding of alfalfa are now sometimes promoted for packgoats but without time-honored testing to find out if this is actually a good idea. Unfortunately I think these ideas might be a bad combination of dairy and meat production practices that may ultimately end up reducing performance ability and even shortening the lives of our packgoat friends and pet wethers.

So what has changed in the last 20 years? Prior to 2000, most goats in this country were dairy animals. Pack wethers came almost exclusively from dairy herds. Since most dairy herds are fed high amounts of alfalfa, it stands to reason that any wethers kept on a goat dairy would be fed alfalfa along with the girls. No dairy producer would waste expensive grain on pet wethers, hence most of the stones vets encountered in those days were likely due to excess calcium build-up.

Then Boers came on the scene in the 1990's and exploded in popularity. By the early 2000's, meat goat production came to the fore along with a big change in how goats were fed. In order to get the highest possible sale weight, grain was pushed on young Boer wethers at alarming rates and along came the prevalence of phosphorus stones. This in turn gave rise to the idea that stones are always caused by phosphorus and not calcium. Personally, I think this is just an illusion brought on by the recent prevalence of meat goats.

All of this is a just a theory I made up yesterday and it could very well be wrong so take it with a grain of salt. Much of our understanding comes from university studies, and for the last 20 years, universities have generally been concentrating on meat goats, so it stands to reason that they would rarely encounter calcium-based calculi. Almost no one studies long-term management of wethers since most are slaughtered within the first year. Since I raise packgoats, I am interested in the long-term health of these animals. The heavy early growth that is promoted by meat goat producers is sometimes now being promoted by packgoat producers and I think it is misguided. Obesity is one of the risk factors for stones of either type, which is why feeding either grain or alfalfa, which are both high-calorie and high-sugar foods, is not a great idea for wethers. Most wethers have slower metabolisms than does or bucks so feeding them energy-rich foods is not only unnecessary in most cases, but can even be dangerous if they are not getting enough exercise to burn off those calories.

Nowadays I generally recommend that pack wethers (even during peak growth) not be fed grain or alfalfa. If the goat gets ribby, a little grain and alfalfa can be added to the diet, but I say no more than 25% of his hay ration should be alfalfa. Once a packgoat is grown, if he is being worked hard and regularly, a high-calorie diet that involves grain and alfalfa may be recommended. In that case, he's working as hard as any doe or buck. But during his growth years and during the off-season, I don't think alfalfa is a good choice for most wethers. I find it cautionary that all of the wethers I know whose front legs ended up posty or even bowed were being fed alfalfa when they were 1-2 years old. It doesn't happen to all of them, but I think it happens to enough of them that it's important to be careful.
 

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I may be doing wrong then but I feed 2 wethers and a buck alfalfa pellets and oats half and half daily. I use to use ammonium chloride daily on them but quit that after a discussion 2 years ago. What should they be getting? They are very healthy and approach the 200 lb Mark I would imagine. Age is about 5 years maybe.
 
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Isn't it the proper balance of calcium to phosphorus in the entire diet?
Yes, proper balance in the entire diet is key. However, unless they are on a strictly managed diet and all feed is regularly tested, it can be absolutely mind-boggling to try to figure out the exact calcium/phosphorus ratio in every single thing our goats eat. Even different cuttings of alfalfa can have very different calcium/phosphorus ratios! It can keep you up at night worrying about it, and that's what I've done sometimes in the past. This isn't healthy for anyone! I think any time we provide a nutrient-packed food source, balance issues come into play a lot more than if we are feeding a more spartan diet (if that makes sense).

One thing almost no one talks about is that even if you achieve the exact right Ca/P ratio, feeding too much sugar or a high calorie diet to animals that don't need it can be detrimental to their health. Both grain and alfalfa are high calorie. What are your wethers using those calories for? With does and bucks it's usually pretty obvious where the calories go, but with wethers it's an important question to ask because if they're taking in more than they're putting out, you're going to have metabolic issues beyond just the simple Ca/P ratio in their diet.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I may be doing wrong then but I feed 2 wethers and a buck alfalfa pellets and oats half and half daily. I use to use ammonium chloride daily on them but quit that after a discussion 2 years ago. What should they be getting? They are very healthy and approach the 200 lb Mark I would imagine. Age is about 5 years maybe.
Sorry, I don't remember a discussion about ammonium chloride two years ago. I have never fed AC and have never had issues, but we use city water and have a water softener. Other folks may need to do differently.

If your goats are healthy, that's great! I'm not criticising anyone's particular diet. What works well for one person (or in one part of the country) is not necessarily a good fit across the board. I choose not to feed any grain or alfalfa to my wethers except as a rare treat. They're fat enough already on grass hay and pasture, and if Finn had any more calories in his diet he'd be wired 220!
 

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Sorry, I don't remember a discussion about ammonium chloride two years ago. I have never fed AC and have never had issues, but we use city water and have a water softener. Other folks may need to do differently.

If your goats are healthy, that's great! I'm not criticising anyone's particular diet. What works well for one person (or in one part of the country) is not necessarily a good fit across the board. I choose not to feed any grain or alfalfa to my wethers except as a rare treat. They're fat enough already on grass hay and pasture, and if Finn had any more calories in his diet he'd be wired 220!
May I ask out of curiosity if you could list everything your wethers eat (including mineral brands etc. and any other supplements)? Thanks!!!!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
My boys have eaten a variety of things over the years, but every one of them has done best on less. I have 40 acres of pasture and scrub oak and dotted with pine trees. We have fir trees on the north slope. The pasture is mostly brome but the rocky hills have buffalo grass. We also have a variety of weeds (mostly in the mustard family), but also gumweed, thistle, mullen, burdock, etc. I try to keep the weeds in check and have eradicated most thistle, locoweed, and burdock plants, but they still grow in the rockier areas where I can't mow. The goats have access to the entire property during the day and they roam around picking and choosing what they eat from spring through fall.

I've discovered that I have to be careful about feeding alfalfa during the spring. It is high in molybdenum and my goats have suffered from molybdenum poisoning in the spring despite doing well on alfalfa through the winter. I think this is because my pastures and/or browse are also high in molybdenum in spring so letting them eat more than a little alfalfa when the grass and leaves are coming out has caused a molybdenum crisis. Molybdenum toxicity presents as copper and selenium deficiency, but adding copper and selenium to the diet does not work. The molybdenum binds to it and prevents them from absorbing it. The only thing to do is reduce the molybdenum intake, which has prompted me to be wary about feeding too much alfalfa, especially to my boys. The girls get some when they are pregnant, but I have to be careful of them too. I fed a lot of alfalfa for a couple of years and both times I had copper and selenium deficiency problems which culminated in difficult births. The worst year, not one single kid was in the proper position and all of them had some degree of crooked legs. Thankfully the legs corrected over the summer, but it was disconcerting when they were born and I had to splint a lot of them that year.

One thing I know I have in my pasture is selenium. There is no reason why any goats on my property should ever have a selenium deficiency unless something is blocking their uptake. This year I'm providing a sulfur block because my horses started showing signs of selenium poisoning. This happens every few years if we have a particular weather pattern that is conducive to drawing out an abundance of selenium-carrying weeds. I have to remove my horses from the pasture and offer sulfur to help bind the selenium. Luckily goats seem to be less susceptible to selenium poisoning than horses (although it can still happen).

During winter my boys get straight grass hay. Usually I buy local brome, but once in a while I have to buy outside my area and it's usually timothy with some clover. My goats are all provided with a copper-fortified trace mineral block from Redmond, a cobalt block, and this year I put out a Nutribeef cattle mineral block that the goats all seem to love. I used to feed Ranch-Way loose goat minerals but they've gotten too hard to find so this past year I switched to Sweetlix Meat Maker loose minerals. They ate a lot of all these minerals in winter and spring, but since our pasture came in most of the minerals have lain untouched. I usually give a copper bolus in spring. That's when the molybdenum content in our pasture is really high and the copper helps offset this a little. I feel like this past year I really hit the nutrition nail on the head. All the goats look really good. Coats show almost no fading. Tails look good. Everyone is in good flesh. We haven't had parasite problems at all. And happily all the kiddings were very easy this year. No one needed help and all kids presented normally.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Lovely information... I too have excess molybdenum but I do not feed alfalfa... and I still cannot correct it. Any thoughts? :):)
Adding more copper and selenium to the diet should help I think. Just as molybdenum binds to copper/selenium, so copper/selenium bind to molybdenum. We have very high selenium in our pastures which I'm sure helps balance out the high molybdenum content unless I tip the scales by feeding too much alfalfa. I feed my pregnant and lactating does alfalfa every morning while we take our wethers for a walk. That way the girls can have the benefit of added calcium and calories in their diets while the boys have to make do with whatever they can scrounge in our pasture (poor things!).
 
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