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What to Feed Your Goats

Before you get your goats, you need to make sure you have all the feeding equipment they need, as well as a stockpile of food. All goats need certain kinds of feed, but they have differing nutritional requirements depending on their gender and what stage of life they're in.

Goats are browsers, like deer, which means they prefer trees, bushes, and woody weeds; rather than standing still and eating grass down to the roots, they like to stay on the move, eating a bit of this and a bit of that. Goats can learn to graze a pasture, but don't expect it to be "mowed." The grass helps supplement the goats' diet, but low grazing also can spread parasites.

Goats have specific nutritional needs, only some of which are met by the plants on your farm that they browse on. You have to provide feed for the needs that can't be met by browsing. Unless you have a lot of property with a variety of browse, feed will be your biggest expense in raising goats. Don't scrimp on goat feed — it will pay dividends in good health, milk production, and lower veterinary bills.

Feeding hay and alfalfa

Hay is the main source of nutrients for goats in non-grazing seasons, or all the time if they don't have access to browse. Grass hay provides a moderate amount of protein and energy for the goat diet. Legume hays, such as clover and alfalfa, usually have more protein, vitamins, and minerals, particularly calcium, than grass hays. This varies depending on the maturity of the hay or alfalfa and the way that it's cured and stored.

Each goat needs 2 to 4 pounds of hay each day, although some of this need can be met by available pasture or other forage. Make it available free choice throughout the day when pasture is unavailable or feed twice a day when goats are also browsing.

You can feed alfalfa (and some grass hays) in pellet form if you don't have storage or if you want to mix it with grain. The goats don't waste so much alfalfa when it's in pellets, and you can limit who gets it by combining it with their grain.

Using chaffhaye instead of hay and alfalfa

Chaffhaye is forage in a bag and substitutes for hay. To make chaffhaye, producers cut early alfalfa or grass, chop it, mist it with molasses, add the culture bacillus subtillis, and vacuum-pack it into 50-pound bags. The treated hay ferments in the bag, adding good bacteria that's easy for goats to digest. It provides more energy, vitamins, and minerals than dried hay.

Goats need up to 2 pounds of chaffhaye per 100 pounds of body weight when you feed it as an alternative to hay. The nutritional value of one 50-pound bag of chaffhaye is equivalent to an 85- to 100-pound bale of good-quality hay.

Feeding grain

Grain or pelleted grain mixes add protein, vitamins, and minerals to a goat's diet. Some are formulated specifically for goats. Grain options include the following:

  • Whole grain: This is the whole, unprocessed grain seed head.

  • Pelleted grain: A product made from grain or grain byproducts milled into small pieces and then made into pellets by adding a binding agent.

  • Rolled grain: Nutritionally identical to whole grain, rolled grain is simply rolled so that it's flat.

  • Texturized grain: Similar to rolled grain, texturized feed mixes usually have other ingredients added to improve nutrition.

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