What do goats eat?
“Anything!”, I can hear you yell at your screen.
Tin cans, newspapers, old license plates…they’re basically nature’s garbage disposal. Right?
This is a common misconception about goats. Unfortunately, it is also a dangerous misconception as many people believe this way which can lead to serious injury or even death for some goats.
Here is how we determine how much it will cost to feed our goats.
You want your goats to be happy and healthy. So if they aren’t a biological dumpster, what can goats eat? I’m glad you asked.
So, what DO goats eat?
Goat feed and nutrition can be broken into three categories; Base diet, supplemental feed, and additional nutrition.
What do goats eat? The short answer is grass and hay.
A goat’s base diet is exactly what it sounds like. It is their primary source of nutrition. The source, that without it, they would likely have a pretty miserable life.
There are two components to a goat’s base diet; primarily Pasture and secondarily hay. Both of these components keep a goat’s rumen functioning properly.
Pasture feeding is THE primary source of a goat’s nutritional needs. When a goat is in their pasture, they are free to eat as much as they want. This is why you will want to make sure you have plenty of space per goat. The amount of space varies from goat to goat depending on breed, size, and temperament.
Goats that are in their pasture can be divided into two categories.
Browsers Vs Grazers
Browsers like to pick around and eat a little bit of whatever they can. They love to eat leaves off of trees, bushes, the tops off of long blades of grass. Essentially, they like a wide variety in their diet. They are exceptionally good at clearing brush on overgrown parts of your property.
Grazers primary source of foraging is grass. They don’t spend a lot of time looking for much more than the grass on the ground. If it’s too high up, they probably won’t bother with it.
The secondary part of a goat’s base diet is hay. There are three types when choosing hay; grass, legume, and cereal.
Grass hays include orchard grass, timothy, bluegrass, and brome.
Cereal hays are things like oats and barley.
Legume hays include alfalfa, vetch, lespedeza, variations of clover, and many others.
We have found for milk producing Nigerian Dwarf Goats, that alfalfa hay has the best nutritional value.
You can also find a mix of grass and legume. You can try out different variations until you find something that meets the needs of your hard.
In addition, or as a supplement, to a standard hay diet, you can also feed your goats Chaffhaye.
Chaffhaye is a fermented alfalfa hay. We like to use it as a supplement because it is easier for the goats to digest and they tend to waste less of it.
With regular hay, the goats will scatter it across the ground and use what they don’t eat as bedding. Just like when you were in college and fell asleep on that pizza (I can’t be the only one, right?), they don’t want to eat something that they have just slept on.
We use a bulk hay feeder now since we have a larger herd. When we were starting out and had a smaller herd, we used a corner hay feeder to keep the hay off of the ground.
Additional hay info
The only hay we try to stay away from is fescue. Because it has a type of fungus that can grow on it called an endophyte. This fungus has been known to cause fertility and birthing issues with many types of livestock, not just goats.
You will also want to make sure that your hay is completely dry and free of mold. Moisture, or even being stored in a moist environment, can lead to mold growth. If goats eat hay with mold, it can cause them to become very sick.
You may ask again, “What do goats eat?” That depends on what your goat goals are.
The supplemental part of a goat’s diet is to help with any number of issues.
If you have some girls that look under weight, give them a small amount of grain or black oil sunflower seeds.
Want to give your milkers a little bit more oomph in their milk production? We like to use these alfalfa pellets mixed with black oil sunflower seeds. We mix them in this metal feed bucket. We prefer this bucket over others, like plastic ones, because they are so durable.
You can use kelp, beet pulp, or whatever other type of supplemental goat feed you like as a treat. Treats work great to keep a goat occupied on the milk stand or when trimming their hooves. These are the hoof trimmers we like to use.
One thing to note with supplemental feeds. For the most part, you will want to monitor how much your goats will be consuming.
For example, black oil sunflower seeds are pretty high in fat, which can cause problems if left unchecked.
If a goat has free choice with grain, they WILL overeat. This can cause them to bloat which can become a serious problem.
Ready to raise your own herd of goats? Here’s how to get started!
Once you have your base diet and your supplemental diet covered, you can turn to additional nutrition. The two pieces of additional nutrition that we use with our herd are minerals and baking soda.
We offer both of them free choice and keep their mineral feeders topped off at all times.
You will want to research what minerals you may need in your area depending on regional and local deficiencies you may have. However, we have found that MannaPro and Sweetlix both make good all around goat minerals.
For baking soda, you can use any brand you like. You can often get great deals on large packages.
It is easy to look at additional nutrition as less important. This can be a terrible mistake. A lack of minerals can lead to poor birth rates and other problems. Baking soda helps keep a goat from becoming too gassy and bloating. Both of these are essential to your goat’s health.
What do goats eat for treats? The most common assumption is that they will eat anything. But as we discussed earlier, they do not. In fact, this belief can be dangerous.
Goats need to stay away from anything moldy. Mold can cause lysteriosis, which can lead to neurological health problems. They also need to avoid some plant-life like azaleas and mountain laurel, just to name a few.
We foten get asked can goats eat chicken feed? This is another thing on the no list for goats. Excess chicken feed or grain of any type can lead to bloat which can injure, or even kill, your goat.
So, want to know what you CAN give as goat treats?
Goats love fruit. So if you have any produce in the house that you can spare, your goats will be super happy with apples, blueberries, strawberries, grapes. Our goats are especially partial to watermelon, watermelon rinds, banana slices and banana peels.
They also like a little veggie action too so give them your extra carrots, pumpkin, squash, and lettuce when you can. They can also eat bread, but feed it sparingly as the grain is not super great for them.
If you want to know even more about goats, check out The Ultimate Guide to Nigerian Dwarf Goats.
What have you been feeding your goats?
Let us know in the comment section below.