Feeding Goats

What to Feed Goats: Ultimate Guide to Goat Nutrition

 

Quick Start Goat Feeding Guide

(FREE DOWNLOAD)

Print this Quick-Start Goat Feeding Guide and keep it posted nearby as a reminder of the proper nutritional needs of your goats as you feed them on a daily basis. Includes the different critical foods your goats need every day, and even a day-by-day feeding schedule for new-born goat kids.

Introduction – What Do You Feed Goats?

What to feed goats? You probably know the old story that goats will eat anything. Cartoons depict them eating tin cans, and there are even songs about goats eating peoples’ shirts.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Goats are very picky eaters, only going for whatever is the most nutritious option. If you put some generic, low nutrition feed in their feeders, they’ll simply play with it.

Why do they grab at your shirt when you go into the goat pen? They’re not trying to eat it. It’s because they’re curious, playful creatures. If you see a goat with a tin can, he’s probably trying to get something tasty out of it, or possibly eating off the paper label, not eating the can itself.

So, how do you avoid buying something that your goats won’t eat? How do you know what to feed goats?

Answer: By understanding how their digestive system works, how they eat, and what works best.

After studying this article, you will be able to do the following:

  • Tell someone the key foods and minerals goats need to stay healthy
  • Know what to feed goats
  • Know when and how much to feed your goats
  • Recognize common goat digestive problems and know how to treat them.

So, let’s get started.

How a Goat Digestive System Works

Goats are ruminants – animals with a 4-compartment stomach. Other ruminants include cattle, deer and sheep. The 4 parts in a goat’s stomach are the reticulum, rumen, omasum and abomasum, or the “true stomach”. Understanding how these work can help you better understand what to feed goats.

what to feed goats: goats eating hay
Trapping hay between pen walls makes a great temporary hay feeder during the state fair

When they eat, food first goes through microbial digestion in the reticulum and rumen. Then, it goes through an acidic breakdown in the abomasum. Finally, it undergoes enzomatic digestion and absorption in the intestines.

Interestingly, when a goat is first born, it has 3 stomach compartments. This is so they can absorb the antibodies in colostrum and develop the microbes and bacteria needed for digestion. They then develop the 4th part when they start eating high-fiber foods.

There are a lot of benefits to a ruminant’s complex digestive system. The microbial digestion makes it possible for them to eat a high-fiber diet and digest grass, hay, leaves, etc. They can also eat bark, weeds and woody plants that cattle and sheep can’t. This is because the bacteria in their rumen detoxifies anything that isn’t nutritious and even helps to detoxify some poisons.

In that way, they’re able to eat small amounts of what are ordinarily poisonous plants. When you were wondering what to feed goats, you probably didn’t realize it could include poison ivy, did you?

Not only are they semi-poison-resistant, goats are resistant to bloat. They can even safely graze alfalfa after an adaptation period to get them used to it.

The bacteria also utilizes and absorbs all of the B vitamins that they need, which is something that’s hard to do, even for humans.

You’re probably wondering how they get their protein if they eat an extremely high-fiber diet. The short answer is: not from what they eat. The bacteria in their stomachs convert nitrogen into protein, which is a handy feature to have considering they don’t naturally eat much protein on their own.

Now that you understand a little about a goat’s digestive system, let’s look at what to feed goats if you want to give them their favorite and healthiest foods.

Goats Favorite Food

what to feed goats: nigerian dwarf goats eating browse
The best food for goats is natural Browse, like leaves, shoots and bark of various plants and trees which are high up away from the ground where parasites live.

Browsing vs. Grazing

There are two basic types of herbivore eating styles: grazing and browsing. Goats are browsers, which means that they eat leaves, bark, green stems, buds, vines and shrubs. They eat parts of plants, rather than eating the whole plant itself.

A browser’s food tends to be easier to digest, and it’s generally higher in nutritional content. The reason for this is that browsers are picky. Instead of eating huge clumps of leaves all at once, they pick the tastiest, best-looking ones.

Grazers eat mostly grass. They eat the entire plant, usually down to the ground or very close to it. They have wide muzzles so that they can pick up and eat large clumps at once.

Grazing can be hard on the animal’s teeth. Not only is grass tough, but in order to get the grass, they tend to get dirt and grit in their mouths, which wears down their teeth.

So, if you’re wondering what to feed goats that will be the healthiest, then browse is the ticket.

Avoiding Worms

Conventional pasture rotation ensures that your goats will constantly be moved to areas that have food high in nutritional value. Typically, pasture rotation takes place every 30 days or so. However, this is also the same amount of time needed for parasites to become the most infectious.

So, while you’re moving your animals to more nutritious food, you may be moving them to parasite infested areas, as well.

Here are some tips on how to avoid worms with pasture techniques.

Graze a contaminated pasture with another species of livestock. Goat parasites don’t survive in the guts of other herbivores. (Except sheep. Don’t try this method with sheep. They can share and spread parasites with goats.)

Use a first-grazer, second-grazer system. If other herbivores graze the pasture first, there won’t be parasites there that goats can contract.

If you have a lot of land versus a small number of goats, let them browse the large pasture. They’ll forage from plants that are higher off the ground and therefore they’ll be less likely to pick parasites up from the ground.

Use control grazing. Control grazing allows your goats to graze for a limited time. Then, you move them before the plants get too short. (You don’t want them under 4 inches.) If you don’t control their grazing, goats will go straight to their favorite plants every time, leaving the area heavily infested.

Cut pastures for hay in between grazing periods and rotations. Studies have shown that this can decrease the parasite population significantly.

Use plants with high tannin levels, like black locust. Tannins prevent the growth of parasite eggs, and therefore lower the gastrointestinal parasite numbers.

Put a pasture to rest. It takes a long time for parasites and their eggs to simply die off. It may seem impractical, but it requires the pasture to be left alone for a whole year, or at least a whole grazing season.

What to Feed Goats

Here is a list of what to feed goats, aside from what they eat while browsing:

what to feed goats: round bale of hay
We get round bales of grass hay from a nearby farm and gradually pull it off as we feed our goats. A wooden pallet keeps it off the damp ground. And a tarp keeps the rain off so it doesn’t get wet and moldy, which can make goats sick.

Hay

Hay will be the main source of nutrition for your goats. It’s good for feeding your goats when browsing season has passed, or if you don’t have access to a pasture.

Best Hay for Goats

There are a few choices of hay to choose from, but the most common is grass hay.
You can feed them hay freely, or twice a day.

Alfalfa is a great source of protein and can be fed to your goats twice a day along with foraging. It’s got more proteins, vitamins and minerals than grass hay. It’s a good choice for milk goats, as well, because it’s high in calcium.

what to feed goats: alfalfa pellets for goats
Alfalfa pellets are great because alfalfa is healthy for the goats and being pelletized means less gets wasted.

Alfalfa Pellets for Goats

Alfalfa pellets are great because they avoid waste. With regular alfalfa, goats drop a lot of it on the ground and it gets wasted. When goats eat pellets instead, there isn’t so much waste. Just keep in mind that goats need a certain amount of long grains like regular hays, so never feed them just pellets alone.

Grain Feed

This comes in 4 different varieties: whole, pelleted, rolled and texturized.

  • Whole Grains:  Natural and unprocessed seed heads.
  • Pelleted Grains: Milled grains or byproducts that are shaped into a pellet form and mixed with a binding agent to make sure it keeps its form.
  • Rolled Grains: Natural and unprocessed, much like whole grains, but they’ve been rolled flat.
  • Texturized Grains: Similar to rolled, but with other grains mixed in for added nutrition.

How Much Grain to Feed a Goat

It doesn’t matter a lot which variety you choose to use. What does matter is how much you feed your goats. Only give them about 1 cup per adult or ½ cup per kid.

Overfeeding grain feed to your goats can be very detrimental to their health, causing health problems, making goats fat, causing illnesses and even death.

Medicated Goat Feed

Medicated goat feed is a feed that includes a coccidiastat which helps prevent coccidiosis in goat kids. If you’re wondering what to feed goats when they have coccidia, this is it. Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease which affects a goat’s intestinal tract, and young kids are especially susceptible to getting it.

Some goat farmers automatically treat their kids with medicated goat feed during the early months of life to be safe. Others hesitate to use medicated feed on a regular basis because they feel they shouldn’t introduce unnatural medications until they know their goats have a specific problem that needs to be treated. Many people wait until they see their goat has coccidiosis and then treat them. Either way, you want to avoid drinking milk from a goat while they are being treated with certain medications.

Organic Goat Feed

If you’re wanting to know what to feed goats for a healthier grain option, there are many varieties of organic goat feed you can choose from, most of which are made from grains that were grown without being genetically modified or treated with chemicals. There are also a lot of recipes online that you can follow to make your own organic goat feed.

 

what to feed goats: goat feed in aluminum trash can
A clean aluminum trash can is perfect for storing goat feed where it can stay dry and the goats can’t get to it. Otherwise, they could gobble up too much of it and make themselves seriously sick with Bloat. You can see this particular brand has Black Oil Sunflower Seeds mixed in – good for the does but not for bucks due to greater risk of urinary calculi.

Best Feed for Goats

Goat farmers will argue over which feed is the best for goats. However, the “best” feed for your goats is something that only you can determine. You know your goats and their environment better than anyone else. The “best” feeding strategy is to learn about your goats nutritional needs, know any deficiencies in the soil and water in your area and study the ingredients in feeds that are available to you. Then, you can determine which feeds are best to meet the nutritional needs of your particular herd.

What to Feed Goats in Winter

In Winter there may not be as much natural plant life available for browsing or grazing. So you will definitely need to make sure your goats have plenty of hay and alfalfa. They need roughage to keep their rumen functioning properly.

Snacks

Goats eat several times a day, and they love snacks, just as we do. If you want to know what to feed goats when they simply need a snack, here are a few popular snack choices…

Sweet Feed for Goats

Goats love sweet feed. It doesn’t have a lot of nutritional value to it, though, and goats have a tendency to develop a sweet tooth for it if you feed them too much of it. So, be sure to limit this to only an occasional treat.

If you want a healthier alternative, you may be able to buy it from a local feed mill. They add extra grains to it at the mills, which makes it more nutritious.

Human Foods

Goats can eat many of the same foods as we do. You can feed them fruits (both raw and dried), vegetables, graham crackers, cheerios and corn chips.

If you want to know what to feed goats that humans also eat, ask yourself whether or not you could put the food item in a compost pile. Goats can eat most fruit and vegetables, whole, or their skins.

What Vegetables Can Goats Eat

The vegetables your goats can eat are healthy things like bananas, carrots, celery, grapes, lettuce, peaches, pears, pumpkin, spinach, squash and watermelon. When feeding vegetables to your goats, you’ll want to cut them up into bite-size pieces to make sure they aren’t a choking hazard.

Weeds

If they don’t get to forage, weeds are a delicacy for goats. It doesn’t seem like a treat, but in a pasture, weeds are what they would go right to. So, you can forage for them and bring them weeds by the bucket full.

Goats for Weed Control

Because they love to eat weeds, many goat farmers use their goat herds for weed and brush control. In fact, some rent their herds to other land owners for this purpose. It’s amazing how quickly a herd of goats can strip down an overgrown area and clear out a lot of brush so the area is more manageable for people.

Supplements

No discussion of what to feed goats is complete without considering the key supplements that should be part of a healthy goat diet. Keep in mind that none of these are intended to or ever should replace food.

what to feed goats: loose minerals in goat feeder
Loose minerals encourage goats to eat more minerals, compared to a solid block they have to lick.

Loose Minerals for Goats

These are the equivalent to us taking a multivitamin. They can be bought in loose form, or in a brick form. With goats, loose is usually better. They will eat more loose minerals compared to what they get just from licking a block, which can be hard on their tongues.

Copper Supplement for Goats

Copper is one mineral in particular that many goats are deficient in, which can cause serious health problems. Some goats don’t eat enough copper. You can protect against this by making sure any goat feed you use includes a certain amount of copper added. Also, if your goats eat certain other minerals that counter-act copper, that can cause a copper deficiency. If you wonder what to feed goats to make up for a copper deficiency, many goat farmers supplement their goats with extra copper by treating them with copper boluses inserted into the goat’s throat with a balling gun.

Baking Soda for Goats

Giving goats baking soda helps to aid digestion and prevents bloat. It’s what to feed goats if they have a sudden case of bloat (painful and dangerous condition involving trapped gas).

Baking Soda for Goat Bloat

If your goats ever get the condition called “Bloat” (excessive trapped gas in their rumen – outside is bloated and tight – goat in pain), then you definitely need to try to get your goat to eat some baking soda. This condition is serious and life threatening, so it needs to be treated quickly. There are other steps you can take to treat bloat as well.

Baking soda acts as an antacid. It can help balance the pH level in your goat’s rumen and it stops the gas from building up further.

Baking Soda Balls for Goats

Some goat keepers will make a baking soda ball and have the goat eat it if the goat has bloat. To make baking soda balls, add enough water to some baking soda to make a dough, and you then roll it into a ball. Place the ball at the back of the goat’s tongue to get them to swallow it. This should be repeated every 3 to 4 hours until the goat is better. The idea is to get the baking soda into them quicker than if you just offered it to them in a bowl.

For younger kids, some people make the baking soda into a “slurry” instead, rather than balls, which means you add enough water to make the baking soda runny and you squirt it down the goat’s throat with a syringe.

Mineral Oil for Goats With Bloat

Many people say to give your goat mineral oil for bloat. But it’s better to use vegetable or peanut oil instead. This is because mineral oil is tasteless so the goat doesn’t swallow and it can then get down into their lungs. If mineral oil is used anyway, some experts indicate that it should only be given with a feeding tube.

Beet Pulp for Goats

If you wonder what to feed goats for quick energy, this is a great source. Beet pulp is high in fiber but is low in protein. It provides a lot of energy to the goats. It’s a great choice if your goats are getting bored with their normal feed.

Nutritional Value of Beet Pulp for Goats

The nutritional value of beet pulp is that it’s high in energy and fiber, but low in protein. Also, it is easily digestible which makes it unique. It’s not really considered a balanced diet for goats, and is mainly used for energy. So it needs to be balanced with other foods that can provide the protein a goat needs.

Beet Pulp for Dairy Goats

Beet pulp is also great for dairy goats. Many dairy goat farmers report a boost in milk production when feeding beet pulp due to the fiber, some natural sugar and the fact that it is easily digested. Another practical benefit with dairy goats is that the beet pulp can fill up a doe while she’s on the milking stand to keep her quiet, and it’s better for her than filling her up with extra grain.

Beet Pulp Pellets for Goats

Beet pulp pellets are convenient because they take up less space than loose or shredded beet pulp and are less expensive. They are usually dehydrated, so you will need to soak them in water before feeding them to your goats. Many people soak them overnight before feeding. They will tend to swell up several times their original size when soaked in water.

Beet Pulp Shreds for Goats – Shredded Beet Pulp for Goats

Beet pulp shreds are simply beet pulp that has been shredded, as opposed to beet pulp that has been pressed together in pelleted form. Shreds are usually in greater demand and are a little more expensive. Part of the reason is that most goat farmers soak the shreds or pellets in water before feeding them to their goats, and shreds will soak up the water more quickly, which saves time.

Benefits of Beet Pulp for Goats

When feeding beet pulp to their goats, many goat farmers report better coats, and fuller, healthier bodies, not to mention the fact that goats seem to love eating the beet pulp with no problem.

what to feed goats: goat grain feed with boss black oil sunflower seeds mixed in
You can see the Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (BOSS) mixed into the feed here. They’re great for goats. BOSS contain Vitamin E, zinc, iron and selenium. They make a doe’s milk creamier and their coats shiny. On our farm, we don’t feed them to our bucks. Bucks can get urinary calculi (stones) if they get too much phosphorus and BOSS has phosphorus in it.

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (“BOSS”)

When considering what to feed goats for extra minerals, a good option is Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (“BOSS” for short). Black oil sunflower seeds are high in zinc, iron and selenium. They’re also high in vitamin E, which is good for your goat’s muscular and reproductive health. Additionally, BOSS will make their milk have a higher fat content and give them a healthy, shiny coat.

Kelp Meal

If you’re raising goats for milk, you’ll find kelp meal very helpful. It increases milk production. It’s also high in iodine.

Apple Cider Vinegar

You’re probably looking at this and wondering what vinegar has to do with goats. It’s full of minerals that help boost their immune system and it has a lot of enzymes in it that aid their digestion and help maintain a healthy digestive system. To get these benefits, just add a bit of apple cider vinegar to their water daily.

what to feed goats: nigerian dwarf goat eating chaffhaye on milking stand
Our goat here is eating chaffhaye on a milking stand at the state fair. This will give her some extra nutrition and “good” bacteria in her rumen (stomach) to help counteract the stress and upset goats experience when they change environments and routines.

Chaffhaye

Chaffhaye is alfalfa that’s been cut early, formed into small chunks and then sprayed with molasses. They add bacteria cultures to it and then vacuum seal it in a bag where it then begins to ferment.

It sounds disgusting, but it’s a great way to add good bacteria to your goat’s diet. It’s super-concentrated nutrition. One 50 lb bag of chaffhaye is equal to one 80-100 lb bag of hay.

Goat Feeding Schedule

Besides knowing WHAT to feed goats, it’s equally important to know WHEN to feed them. When it comes to scheduling the feeding of your goats, a cardinal rule is to never make sudden, significant changes in their diet. If you need to change something, do it slowly and gradually to give your goat’s rumen time to adjust so they won’t get sick.

Some things your goats eat don’t have to be scheduled and can be given to them “free choice”, which means you just put it out and let them eat it as often as they want. This applies to trees, plants and grass available in their area for browsing and grazing, as well as hay, minerals and baking soda.

Scheduling is more important for any grain feed you give your goats, which must be limited or they could get bloat, and for bottle feeding kids that are still on milk. Some farms feed their goats once per day, while others typically feed twice per day.

When feeding grain to your goats, you will need to feed more to a milking doe than to other goats, due to the high nutritional needs she will have. Some farms feed grain to a pregnant doe in her final weeks of gestation, gradually increasing up to as much as one pound twice per day at kidding time.

For other goats, grain is not required, but if your goat’s diet needs to be supplemented it’s typical to give them about 1/2 pound or so per day per goat. For a buck in rut, you may want to triple that amount per day due to extra exertion on him during rut.

For kids that are being bottle fed you typically want to feed them milk that’s around 10 to 12% of their body weight and spread it over 3 or 4 feedings per day. If they are being dam fed (drinking milk directly from a doe’s udder) then you don’t have to schedule it. The doe will naturally take care of that.

Nutritional Requirements

As I’ve mentioned, goats require a high-fiber diet, with most of their food consisting of hay and forage. But, they also require a slew of minerals and vitamins that most people are unaware of. Goats need calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, salt, potassium, iron, iodine, zinc, copper and selenium.

That seems like a lot, but don’t worry. If you’re not sure what to feed goats that will provide all of this, rest assured that loose minerals or mineral blocks will cover it. Goats also need 7% of their intake to be crude protein. This is easily attained by feeding them some alfalfa or chaffhaye.

Pregnant Does

Pregnant does don’t have any additional nutritional requirements until the last 2 months of pregnancy. This is because kids do 70% of their growing during the last 2 months.

Early Pregnancy (First 3 Months)

The doe only needs enough feed to maintain body weight and health, or to fatten up a thin doe. If a doe is thin, now is the time to do something about that. You can feed her some additional grain, plus hay or forage. However, never feed a normal, healthy doe extra grain so early in the pregnancy.

Throughout: Adjust for increased water consumption. A pregnant doe can drink up to 4 gallons of water a day. Other than that, just feed them normally.

Late Pregnancy (Last 2 Months)

Not sure what to feed goats during late pregnancy? Start increasing grain feed by 1 handful a day until the doe is eating up to ½ lb of grain a day.

It is important to note that you should never overfeed a pregnant doe with grain. It can make the kid grow too much too quickly and can lead to birthing difficulties.

You should also start feeding your doe while she’s on the milking stand. This will get her used to milking while providing extra nutrition that she needs. Grains are typically what is fed to does on the milking stand.

-Milking Does: Continue to feed her extra grain, up to a few pounds a day. Your doe’s nutritional needs are higher while milking, so she will need extra food to make up for milking.

New Kids

 

what to feed goats: bottle feeding a baby goat kid
When a baby goat (kid) is not getting enough milk from its mother, we bottle feed it. In Winter, we sometimes have to feed a kid in the house if the kid is too small or weak to maintain their body temperature during extremely cold weather like fully grown goats can do.

What to Feed Baby Goats

Goat Colostrum

A newborn kid needs to drink colostrum as soon after birth as possible. Colostrum has antibodies in it that kids need, but can only be absorbed properly during the first 18 hours after birth. They also need to drink a lot of it in the first 24 hours.

Colostrum is the first thing the doe will produce from her udder before she starts producing milk. She will produce it in the first 12 hours after kidding. From 12 to 24 hours she will produce milk with some colustrum. But after 24 hours she will mostly be producing milk only.

Colostrum Replacer for Goats

If you can’t have your new kid dring colostrum from the doe for some reason, be absolutely sure to feed the kid colostrum by purchasing a colostrum supplement or replacer.

Kids need enough colostrum to equal 10% of their body weight. To effectively make sure they’re getting enough, bottle feeding is recommended.

Goat Milk Replacer

Sometimes it’s a problem knowing what to feed goats when they are first born and they can’t get raw milk from their mom.

If your new goat kid can’t drink milk from a doe, one option is to buy goat milk replacer. Some goat owners love using milk replacer and some advise against it. This is probably because there are some replacers that are good for your baby goat, and some aren’t.

Stay away from any that contain soy. You want a replacer that is specifically designed just for goats. Make sure it has a good amount of crude protein and crude fat. And you want the proteins to mostly be milk-derived proteins rather than a plant protein. Look for crude fiber to be at or below 0.15%. The more the crude fiber is above that percentage, the more the protein is probably from a plant source rather than milk-derived.

If you’re unsure what to feed goats, as far as  milk replacer, then you can simply use regular whole cow’s milk. Lots of goat farmers use this, and often swear it’s a lot better than milk replacer.

pritchard nipple for goat baby bottle
The nipple you use on a baby goat’s bottle makes a huge difference between drinking and not drinking. This is a rubber Pritchard nipple which is used by many goat farmers. You can see where we snipped off the end to open the hole before using. Be careful not to buy the imitations which look just like this one, but are made out of plastic. A goat kid will refuse to drink on it at a time when nutrition is critical.

Bottle Feeding Baby Goats

Usually when a new kid is born, you will need to help the kid find the doe’s udder and teats. It helps if you squeeze some of the colostrum from the teat into the kid’s mouth. Once the new kid gets a taste, then the kid will usually start finding the teats on their own and drinking with no problem.

But sometimes a new kid just isn’t getting enough nutrition the natural way. Sometimes the doe may reject a kid and refuse to feed it for some unknown reason. Sometimes a doe has some problem which keeps her from producing milk. Whatever the reason, if the kid is not getting enough nutrition, then you will need to bottle-feed it.

Baby Goat Feeding Schedule

While bottle feeding, you’ll need to stick to a strict schedule. It’s also really tempting to give them more food than they need because they want it. But, it’s imperative that you don’t give in to that urge. Overfeeding can have catastrophic effects, such as diarrhea, bloat and death. Knowing what to feed goats when they are first born involves carefully studying the exact amounts and timing of the kid feeding process.

How to Bottle Feed a Baby Goat

The nipple you use on a bottle for a goat kid is important. With the wrong nipple a goat kid can refuse to eat, or not get enough milk.

The best bottle nipple by far, according to most goat keepers, is a Pritchard Teat Nipple. It’s soft and dark red, with a tip that usually needs to be trimmed a little to allow enough milk to flow out. Be careful because there are many nipples on the market that look just like a Pritchard nipple, but which don’t work nearly as well. In addition to this type of nipple, some people have had luck with regular human baby bottle nipples, or even the larger nipples that are designed for sheep. Having the right nipple can make the difference between your kid getting enough to eat versus not thriving due to lack of nutrition.

Baby Goat Feeding Schedule / How Much to Feed a Baby Goat

Here is a guide to show what to feed goats in their first days of life:

Day 1
10% of body weight in colostrum

Days 2-10
4-6 oz.
4-5 x per day

Days 11-21
7-12 oz.
3-4 x per day

Days 21-until weaning
12-16 oz.
3x per day

 

orphan goat adopted by new doe mom
This is an orphan goat being adopted by a new mom. Peanut was rejected by her own mother. When this other doe was in the middle of kidding, we rubbed her amniotic fluid on Peanut and put her next to the doe. The doe smelled Peanut, thought Peanut was her own and immediately “adopted” Peanut by licking and cleaning her. The rest was history. The doe nursed Peanut with her other kids, which saved us from a ton of extra bottle feeding.

What to Feed an Orphaned Baby Goat

With an orphaned kid, if the kid is almost a newborn, you can sometimes trick another kidding doe to accept and feed the kid, even if the kid came from a different doe.

Recently, we had a newborn kid that had just been rejected by its own mother. It was going to be a lot of work to bottle-feed it.

We happened to have another doe in labor and, when she was in the middle of kidding we got the orphaned kid from another doe, we rubbed the kidding doe’s amniotic fluid on the orphaned doe, and we placed the orphaned doe in with the kids that were just being born. The kidding doe sniffed the orphaned kid, smelled her own smell on it, and then started licking and cleaning the orphaned kid as if it was her own.

This is a great way to feed an orphaned kid without having to go through the effort of bottle feeding multiple times per day. When you’re wondering what to feed goats when they are orphaned like this, don’t forget this simple trick for having another doe adopt an orphaned kid.

Also, with orphaned kids, remember that many kids learn to eventually eat hay and other foods by watching their mother. An orphaned kid won’t have a mother to teach them. So you may need to coach the orphaned kid to eventually eat hay, or put it in with other kids that are eating hay so it can learn.

How Long Do You Bottle Feed a Baby Goat

Weaning

You’ll see different opinions online about the proper age for weaning a kid, which can be pretty confusing. If you’re wondering which opinion is correct, the answer is “it depends”.

Some goat breeders are raising lots of goats commercially for resale, and they will tend to push toward weaning kids earlier so they can be grown and re-sold faster. Plenty of breeders wean new kids anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks, but at that early age you’re probably looking at bottle-feeding because the kid most likely hasn’t had time for it’s digestive system to fully adjust to solid food yet.

Early weaning like that may be okay with a breed of goat that is growing pretty fast, like with some meat goats. The downside to early weaning is that it will cost you more time and money to raise the kid when the dam is no longer raising the kid herself. Also, the dam will have a greater risk of mastitis when she continues to produce milk without kids available to constantly use it.

On the flip side, if you’re not in a hurry, most goat keepers like to take a little longer to wean their kids. This usually means waiting anywhere from 2 to 6 months before weaning a kid from it’s dam. A couple of upsides to late weaning is that it’s generally healthier for the kid to be dam-fed longer, and it costs you less when the dam provides the food rather than you having to provide food for the kid.

As far as downsides to late weaning, it puts a big nutritional drain on the dam, which can be a problem especially if she’s older or has health issues. Late weaning delays the time when the dam can return to production and get pregnant again later. Also, it’s been determined that kids who are weaned late will have greater risk of parasites and risk from predators, due to being out in the pasture longer with the dam.

A good guideline for when to wean is when your kid is a healthy weight and has adjusted to eating lots of dry food and drinking water with no problems. Generally, it’s most common to wait at least a couple of months minimum to allow this to happen.

Don’t worry too much about all of the conflicting advice you see online about weaning. Just educate yourself on the “why” of early weaning versus late weaning, and then make an educated decision about what you feel is best for your own goats.

What to Feed Baby Goats When Weaning

What to feed goats at weaning time? They’ll start eating hay or foraging when they’re around 2 weeks old. This helps to jump start the development of their rumen. Because of this, they can theoretically be weaned when they’re a month old, but it’s better to wait a couple of months until they build up the good bacteria they need in their stomachs and their rumen is more developed. Gradually reduce the milk or milk substitute given to the kid as the weaning date nears.

Feeding Baby Goats Grain

A new kid starts off eating only colostrum and milk. At first, its rumen isn’t developed, so it can’t yet digest solid foods. However, after one week you can start offering the kid some grain.

A kid can be fed up to one pound of grain per day (3 cups) but, like with any other goat, grain should be limited. Kids should also be fed a good diet of hay, minerals and water.

Baby Goat Feeding Video

Credit: Low Carb Inspirations

Feeding Equipment

what to feed goats: goat hay feeder
A good hay feeder protects against rain, keeps goats from pulling hay out too quickly and wasting it on the ground, and it catches hay below so it doesn’t hit the ground where it can get moldy and unusable.

Hay Feeder

These are essential because goats won’t eat hay after it’s been trampled. A feeder will ensure less waste.

DIY Hay Feeder for Goats

A hay feeder doesn’t have to be fancy. There are many free designs online which you can follow to make your own, inexpensive hay feeder. The most important considerations are to make a hay feeder that protects the hay from getting wet and moldy from rain, keeps the goats from eating too fast and minimizes the amount of hay that is dropped by your goats and wasted.

There are some good, inexpensive examples of DIY hay feeders you can make yourself.

Check them out HERE.

what to feed goats: goat creep feeder
A “creep feeder” like this keeps your goats from eating too much too fast. Your can pour feed in the top and it only drops down a little bit at a time as goats eat it. This also keeps goats from dumping or spilling it and wasting feed on the ground.

Grain Feeder

Using a grain feeder will reduce waste. Goats won’t eat grains off the ground. A galvanized steel tub will do the trick.

Goat Feed Trough

A long goat feed trough is convenient when you are feeding a number of goats. Just make sure you don’t place it on the ground where it can get knocked over and where there’s a higher risk of your goats picking up parasites.

It’s best to mount your goat feed trough on a fence, so it’s up off of the ground. Many goat keepers will hang a goat feed trough on the side of a fence opposite from the side where the goats are standing. This forces a goat to reach its head through the fence to eat food in the trough hanging on the other side.

The reason for this is avoid having goats rushing, crowding and bumping into you when you’re bringing them some feed. They can’t do that if you’re feeding them from the opposite side of the fence.

mineral creep feeder for goats
With a mineral creep feeder like this, the goats have free choice to eat some minerals whenever they feel they need them, and the minerals don’t get spilled on the ground and wasted.

Mineral Feeders

They type of mineral feeder you use depends on whether you’re using loose minerals or blocks.

A block holder is square-shaped and simply holds a mineral block. Mineral blocks are not ideal for goats since they have soft tongues and may not get enough minerals by licking a block.

Mineral feeders resemble a bowl, sometimes with multiple compartments to hold loose minerals. Loose minerals, offered free choice, is a better option for goats than a mineral block.

With loose minerals you can choose to use different types of minerals in the same feeder to make sure your goats get the minerals they need, and not just what’s in a pre-made block. Goats tend to get more minerals when they eat loose minerals versus licking a block.

Also, you can add loose minerals to your goat’s grain or feed, ensuring that they get enough to meet their nutritional requirements. If you don’t, and you simply make a feeder of minerals avaiable to your goats “free choice”, they may not eat enough of them to sustain their dietary needs.

Goat Water Trough

There are lots of options out there to water your goats. Whatever you choose, make sure that your goats can’t kick it over and that they can’t get feces in it.

Some people use a galvanized steel tub, others collect rain water in a large drum.

automatic goat waterer
This automatic goat waterer saves a lot of trouble filling water buckets constantly. When goats drink, the float valve turns on water from a standard garden hose to fill the bucket back up again. When the bucket is full, the valve turns the water off.

Automatic Goat Waterer

Goats drink a LOT of water. So, if you don’t want to be constantly re-filling and changing their water, you should consider an automatic goat waterer.

With an automatic goat waterer, you simply connect a garden hose or water line to it. Then, as goats drink, a float valve opens and let more water in to refill the waterer. This saves you a ton of time constantly filling water buckets.

Goat Food Storage

Learning what to feed goats, and learning how to store that food to keep it fresh, go hand in hand. There are a few things to keep in mind when storing goat food. First, you need to keep it in a dry place so that it doesn’t get moldy or damaged.

You’ll also need a lid that seals tight to keep your goats out of it. And, lastly, you’ll need to keep the container up off the ground.

Metal trash cans on a wooden 2×4 platform work well. And, to make extra sure that your goats won’t get into it, you can attach some tie down straps.

Goat Feeding Guidelines and Goat Parasite Control

What to feed goats is important, but the WAY you feel them is important, too. The way you feed your goats can have a drastic impact on their health. They’re not only picky, they’re prone to parasites. So, make sure to follow these simple feeding procedures.

  • Feed your goats in a clean environment.
  • Make sure that your feeders can’t get feces in them.
  • Don’t overpopulate or overcrowd a pen or pasture.
  • Make sure that the lot or pen that you keep your goats in is dry to prevent parasites.
  • Avoid sudden changes in what and/or how much you feed your goats.
  • Never feed your goats on the ground. They won’t eat food off the ground, so it’s wasteful. Plus, they’re more likely to catch parasites this way.
  • Check pregnant does for worms before they give birth to see if they need deworming.

What NOT to Feed Goats

One thing that is just as important as knowing what to feed goats, is knowing what NOT to feed them. There’s a nasty myth that’s been circulated that says goats can and will eat anything. However, some things are bad for them, and can even kill them. Here’s a list of some things you should never feed your goats.

Poisonous Plants for Goats (and other harmful stuff)

goats eating plants
Be sure you know what plants your goats are eating to make sure it’s not something that may be harmful for them.
  • Avocado
  • Azaleas
  • Chocolate
  • Oxalate-rich plants, like kale
  • Any plant from the nightshade family
  • Holly (tree or bush)
  • Lilacs
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Milkweed
  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Wild cherry leaves (when wilted)

The above list is just a few examples of things that are bad for your goats. Knowing what to feed goats includes recognizing those things that are toxic for them. You can get more information about things your goat should not eat by going HERE.

Can Goats Eat Poison Ivy?

Yes! Not only can goats eat poison ivy, but they usually love it. Also, ignore the rumors that poison ivy will affect a doe’s milk – not true. She can eat all the poison ivy she wants, and it won’t affect her milk.

There is one problem with poison ivy and goats, though. When goats eat poison ivy, keep in mind that they are also probably touching it. This means that the oil from the poison ivy will be on the goat’s hair. If you’re sensitive to poison ivy, and you touch the poison ivy oil on a goat’s hair, you’re going to be miserable.

If you want your goats to eat up some poison ivy, just make sure that whoever handles the goats afterward is someone that isn’t affected by poison ivy.

Recognizing and Treating Goat Digestive Problems

Goat Bloat Symptoms and Treatment

As mentioned earlier in this article, bloat is a fairly common malady among goats. It’s a condition that renders goats unable to pass or release gas. Because of their complex digestive systems, goats burp a lot. Knowing what to feed goats is critical to help avoid bloat.

It can be caused by obstructions in the throat or by sudden changes to their diet.
It’s easy to identify. It’ll look like your goat swallowed a basketball, having a large bulge on the left side.

The most common treatments for bloat are baking soda (as an antacid) and mineral oil. Feeding goats mineral oil settles frothing in their rumen by popping any little bubbles and allowing the trapped gas in them to escape. Be aware that many people suggest vegetable or peanut oil as a better alternative to mineral oil. Mineral oil is tasteless. When a goat can’t taste it, the goat may let it settle into their lungs and create problems. In light of this, some vets suggest that mineral oil should only be administered by using a feeding tube.

If baking soda and oil doesn’t work, a veterinarian may give your goat a stronger surfactant.

You can prevent bloat by keeping your goats out of food sources they’re not supposed to be eating free-choice (like grain), and by not making sudden changes to what or how much your goats eat.

Enterotoxemia in Goats

Enterotoxemia is commonly referred to as overeating disease or pulpy kidney disease. It’s caused by Clostridium perfringens type D. Being referred to as the overeating disease, it makes you realize how important it is to consider how much and what to feed goats.

This type of bacteria is naturally found in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy goats. It’s also found in the soil.

The bacteria can quickly reproduce in the intestines under the right conditions. There they make lots of toxins that build up quickly.

Young goats are most at risk for enterotoxemia. It causes sudden deaths and has a high mortality rate.

Adults can also get it, but they build up an immunity due to natural, prolonged exposure to the bacteria and toxins.

Things That Make Goats More Prone to Enterotoxemia

  • Overeating milk or grain (important to consider in deciding what to feed goats)
  • Compromised immune system due to illness, recovering from illness, or stress
  • Heavy parasite infestation
  • Eating food that’s high in carbohydrates and low in fiber
  • Reduced mobility of the gastrointestinal tract

Signs and Symptoms of Enterotoxemia in Goats

  • Loss of appetite
  • Discomfort in the abdominal area
  • Lots of diarrhea that’s watery and may contain blood

Treatment of Enterotoxemia

  • Clostridium perfringes C and D antitoxins
  • Antibiotics
  • Antacids
  • Anti-bloating medicines
  • Pain reduction-Intramuscular injection of B1
  • Corticosteroids
  • IV fluids to combat dehydration
  • Probiotics after antibiotics to repopulate good bacteria in the goat’s GI tract

Prevention of Enterotoxemia

Vaccines are available commercially. All of your animals should be vaccinated, except for those who are ill.

Kids should be vaccinated at 4 weeks old, and again a month later. Adults should be vaccinated once a year. Be sure to keep vaccination records to keep track of them and ensure they get vaccinated on time.

Congratulations! – What to Do Next

Congratulations! You’re ahead of 90% of the people out there since you’ve taken action to read this article and to learn the important aspects concerning what to feed goats.

To help you feed your own goats properly we’ve created a two-page, bullet-point summary of this article which you can easily print and keep nearby as a reference.

Quick-Start Goat Feeding Guide

(FREE DOWNLOAD)

 

Wrapping It All Up

If you studied this article, you now have accomplished the following:

  • You can tell someone the key foods and minerals goats need to stay healthy;
  • You know what to feed goats
  • You know when and how much to feed your goats;
  • You can recognize common goat digestive problems and you know how to treat them.

Remember – Although goats don’t actually eat anything they come across, they are fairly easy to feed. As long as their food is nutritious, tasty, given in balanced proper amounts and in a clean area, they’ll happily munch away.

So where should you go from here?

In addition to knowing what to feed goats, here are some other important things you’ll want to check out to become an educated, successful goat farmer…

 

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