The Feeding Of Goats

                             by  Robert L. Johnson 

This article will address the subject of dairy goats primarily, since their nutritional needs are more critical, though the basics discussed here also apply to all other goat breeds–Pygmy, Nigerian Dwarf, Angora, etc.

If nutritionists could engrave on the brow of every animal raiser ‘You Are What You Eat’–much animal and human disease could be prevented. The arguments about heredity versus environment have gone on for years–but if we consider feeding to be an environmental factor, we must realize that it affects heredity also, for the nutrition of the sire and dam are important–faulty nutrition there can be just as detrimental to the growing fetus as it can later in life to the kid, and to the adult animal it becomes.

Humans are monogastric, a term scientists use to mean ‘single-stomached.’ In humans, the food we eat is directly digested and absorbed in our stomach and intestines. Thus there is a rapid cause-and-effect relationship in the way food affects us. Drink too much coffee and shortly thereafter you get the ‘jitters’–coffee nerves. Eat a heavy meal with a rich, sweet dessert and you get that stuffy feeling caused by your stomach trying to process a food overload. We have no mechanism for storage of large quantities of food. The goat, on the other hand, is an herbivore, a ruminant with four separate ‘stomachs’, and the mechanism it has for processing its food is quite different from that of carnivores (meat-eaters) and omnivores (meat and vegetable eaters, including people.)

When you feed a goat, you are feeding bacteria, and the bacteria in turn feed the goat. Ruminants are so named because everything the goat eats goes first to the rumen, a large pouch that is a combination storage tank and mix-ing vat. In the rumen, bacteria break down, and consume the huge variety of foodstuffs that the goat ingests, many of which are very high in cellulose, and convert them to a nutrient ‘soup’ that is further processed in the other three stomachs–the reticulum, omasum and abomasum. The goat’s 4th or last stomach in the processing sequence is the abomasum, and it functions like the human stomach or the simple stomach of the carnivore.

The rumen in an adult dairy goat holds several gallons; it can hold a very large supply of roughage, browse, forage plants, and grain, and the goat is therefore equipped by nature to take in a considerable quantity of food at one time, and then later reprocess it by bringing up and chewing the cud. This has evolved over tens of thousands of years–it is a defense mechanism; for the wild goat can quickly fill its rumen at opportune times, when there are no predators about, and then retreat to a safe area and chew its cud at its leisure.

So remember, you’re feeding bacteria, when you feed your goats. There are other considerations:

(1) No goat is native to the U.S. It has been here since the early Dutch settlers in the 1600′s, but 300 years is only a tiny fraction of the time required for a species to evolve and adapt to a new habitat. The only native goat-like animals we have are not true goats–the Bighorn sheep, and the so-called Rocky Mountain goats which are really goat-antelopes. These are far-northwestern animals; the point is that no goat is native to the majority of the United States, especially the humid southeast, where soils are thin and acid, and their mineral content quite low.

(2) For tens of thousands of years, no goats ate grain or concentrates. They subsisted solely on plant matter–browse, brush, grasses, weeds, trees and bushes. Through natural selection they evolved the large rumen capacity and ability to utilize a greater variety of plants than any other animal (the goat can safely consume and utilize 450 of the 540 native American trees, shrubs, and grasses.) They evolved the ability to produce just enough milk to raise a kid or two to an early weaning age. Most of the food a wild goat eats, after basic maintenance, goes into providing energy for long-distance foraging, flight to escape from predators, and to making horns–their social mechanism–and hair, for protection from the extremes of weather.

Then along came mankind, who started tampering with this natural lifestyle of goats. For centuries he did little to change this–early man herded them in flocks, leading them from pasture to pasture over large land areas, taking such excess milk that was available, culling some kids and old animals for meat and skins. Then recently in terms of evolutionary time, Man began to make more major changes. We learned to grow grains for feeding to animals. We learned to breed selectively, and then to feed for the greater production. We penned the goats in stalls and small pastures for convenience in handling them and for feeding them concentrated rations. These are very recent developments–today in many parts of the world, goats are still fed no grains or concentrates, and are herded so they can forage for their food. We must remember, however, that the goat is a creature that is adapted by centuries of evolution to long-distance foraging, diverting of surplus rations into kid, hair and horn production, and the con-suming of the bulk of its diet in plant matter. We have taken the goat away from its natural regime, which means that the proper feeding of high-production dairy goats is now totally in our hands, and thus their life and health.

Composition Of Feeds

All feeds provide one or more of the following: Protein, Energy (carbohydrates and fats), Vitamins, Minerals, and Water. All of these are necessary to life; to the survival of  the individual cells that make up the animal. No animal, nor man, can live without a supply of all of these; the problem is to find the quantity and the balance that is needed. So let’s first look at these individually:

A–Protein. The building-blocks of the cells, protein is necessary for growth, for repair, and for production. Hair, horns, and hooves (fingernails) are mostly protein; and the manufacture of milk requires protein. Protein if supplied in excess can be used for energy–work and fattening–but usually this excess is not provided. In feeds, protein is always in shortest supply and is the most expensive component of purchased feeds.

B–Energy (Carbohydrate and fat) is the major component of feeds–and the major need of animals. All life requires energy–to maintain body heat, metabolism, and allow growth plus fattening, as well as to provide the ‘fuel’ for work. (draft animals, for instance.) In cold weather, energy requirements go up. In human diets, carbohydrates and fats are discussed separately, but in animal diets, usually the two are combined and referred to as Energy.

C–Vitamins are nutrients needed in minute amounts, but these are critical, for they function as catalysts and regulators in critical bodily processes.


D–Minerals function in the same way, although in addition, some of them like calcium and phosphorus are the main components of bones. Iron and copper must be present to form red blood cells. Cobalt must be present to allow the animal to make one of the essential B-vitamins (B-12). They are closely linked to vitamins in many functions.

E–Water  You may not think of this as a nutrient–but life cannot exist without it. The body of a doe weighing 160 lbs. is made up of over 55% water–88 lbs. This does not count the amount in her milk (which is mostly water). Water has so many functions in the body that we could devote the rest of this article just talking about them–it transports the minerals, vitamins, and amino acids throughout the system, carries waste materials out of the body, etc., etc.

F–Oxygen is listed as a nutrient, for actually it is–fortunately, you don’t have to worry about how much is in the feed. But just as you can’t build a fire without it, so the manufacture of bodily heat is also a process of combustion.

Functions Of Nutrients

What does the animal do with its nutrients? We can best think of the uses of feeds by putting them into five categories: (l) Maintenance  (2) Growth (3) Reproduction (4) Production, and (5) Regulation.

(1) Maintenance. Animals, like people, are never idle. They use nutrients every minute of every hour of every day of their lives, whether they are resting or asleep, or hard at work making milk, pulling a plow or running a race. Maintenance is the combination of nutrients needed by an animal to keep its body functioning without any gain or loss in weight, and no production activity. These nutrients must be in balance. Even at a minimum level, all proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, water & oxygen must be present. An animal asleep with bodily processes at a minimum has what is called the Basal Maintenance Requirement. Just standing up takes 9% more nutrients than lying down. There are only a very few times in its life that a goat would actually need this minimum number of nutrients–it is approached by bucks not in service, and mature, dry, non-pregnant does. But many factors affect the BMR – weather, stress, exercise, body size, temperament, production level (high-producing does have higher maintenance needs even when not producing), etc.

(2) Growth is influenced mainly by nutrient intake. Dairy goat breeders that breed does every year starting with yearlings or younger does are putting tremendous demands on them that can only be met by adequate nutrient intake–the demands of growth coupled with development of a fetus and the laying up of a reserve for lactation. Dairy goats should double their birth weight in 22 days–and should reach 50% of their adult weight in 6 months–if they do not achieve that, we must look to inadequate nutrition as well as parasitism and/or disease problems. Larger goat breeds grow more rapidly than smaller ones and have a higher nutrient requirement. There is such a thing as compensatory growth–that is, after a period of illness or reduced nutrition, animals may compensate by a period of very efficient growth and gain–a surge of growth. However–growth does not mean fattening! Memorize this: build bone, not tissue in the kids. Breeders–if you want long-lived high-producing animals–don’t over-grain kids!

(3) Reproduction. Liberal feeding makes for early sexual maturity. Underfeeding cause temporary sterility. Excessive thinness results in low birth weights and weak young, as well as poor lactation. Low energy levels during the last trimester of pregnancy have been shown to have adverse effects on cycling and rebreeding next season–fewer females will come in heat. Low protein causes the same thing, as does low phosphorus, iodine and vitamin A.

(4) Production. Lactation is really a by-product of the reproductive process. Production requirements are much more rigorous than those for maintenance or pregnancy. A doe in milk is doing very hard work, even if it is not obvious. Milking does, more than cattle, have the ability to store up reserves for lactation in advance of kidding–but if they do not store these reserves, production will be adversely affected. Nature decrees that the mother will be sacrificed to the benefit of the young. That is, she will milk ‘off her back’ and draw from her own bones and tissues to further the species, and she can be stunted, even sicken and die of metabolic diseases (ketosis, milk fever, etc.) if she is really underfed. Remember–a heavy-milking doe is doing harder work than a horse running a race–the latter gets to rest between races; the doe does not! During early lactation, there is NO WAY a high-producing doe can eat enough to match her production, and even those that have been very well fed will milk off their bones for a period of time. They require extra nutrition later when milk production may have tapered off, to replace their reserves.

(5) Regulation refers to the needs for vitamins, minerals and other micro nutrients which play a great number of roles in the body mechanism, many of which are poorly understood, or not understood yet. Iodine, for instance, controls the activity of the thyroid gland which in turn controls many bodily functions, including the production of milk. (The dairy goat has been called a ‘glandular’ animal.) Vitamin A is essential for maintenance of the epithelial tissues, which are the body’s first line of defense against the introduction of disease-causing bacteria and pathogens–and for the phenomenon of vision, to mention just two things.

Utilization Of Nutrients

In dealing with animal feeds, you’ll encounter the term TDN, or Total Digestible Nutrients. This is the way that the nutrient values of feedstuffs are given and compared commercially. TDN is the sum of the digestible protein, (or 70% of the crude protein,) digestible fibre, nitrogen-free extract, and fat x 2.25. Let’s first look at how feed energy is used.

No system is 100% efficient, whether it’s an electric motor, a gasoline engine, or a living animal; there are energy losses along the way. The engine in your car is actually only about 15% efficient–that is, of the total energy con-tained in the gasoline, only about 15% of it is available at the rear wheels–due to losses in the engine (heat, friction, auxiliaries needed to make the car run, such as fuel pump, generator, fan & water pump, etc.) plus losses in the transmission system, friction, the slippage of the tires on the road. Thus it is with animals. The same is true of proteins–the sacks of feed you see in the store all list crude protein content, but they do not–they couldn’t–list the amount of protein that is usable by the animal. We talk of the biological value of proteins–that is, the amount of the protein that is actually usable, after digestion, and every breed, every individual animal, is different. If the amino acids in protein match those needed by the specific animal, the biological value is high–but a protein can be high in some or many amino acids that are not usable; thus its biological value is low and the surplus will be excreted by the kidneys. Animal proteins are high in biological value; much higher than plant proteins, (on a scale of 1 to 100, eggs are 94, milk is 85, whole corn 60, navy beans, cooked, 38, etc.) but they are really not digestible by goats.

When you look at sacks of animal feeds you will note that they will list three things:

Crude Protein

Crude Fat

Crude Fibre

The higher the fibre, the less digestible the ration in terms of usable protein and energy, although for goats (and all ruminants) some fibre is essential. The higher the fat–the higher the energy. Next; the ingredients are listed in order of their quantity in the feed, so if corn is the first thing listed, there is more corn than anything else in the feed, and so on. At the bottom of the list of ingredients you will see the vitamins and minerals (if present) listed.

Minerals: 18 are known to be required by animals, divided into two types: those that large amounts are needed-called MACRO or MAJOR–and those needed in only tiny amounts, called MICRO or TRACE. Remember that the trace or micro minerals are not any less important–just that they are required in smaller amounts. They are:

Major or Macro Minerals                                              Trace or Micro Minerals

Sodium (Na)                                                      Chromium (Cr)                                       Selenium  (Se)

Chlorine (Cl)                                                      Cobalt (Co)                                           Silicon   (Si)

Calcium (Ca)                                                     Copper (Cu)                                          Zinc  (Zn)

Phosphorus  (P)                                                Iodine (I)

Magnesium   (Mg)                                             Iron   (Fe)

Potassium   (K)                                                 Manganese (Mn)

Sulfur (S)                                                          Molybdenum (Mo)

Calcium accounts for 49% of the total mineral composition and requirement of the body, and Phosphorus 27%; all the rest together account for only 24%.

Minerals have many functions, not all of which are known, but it is known that they:

  (1) Give rigidity to the skeleton

  (2) Serve as components of the organic compounds that make up muscles, organs, blood cells, etc.

  (3) Activate enzyme systems

  (4) Control fluid balance & excretion

  (5) Regulate acid-alkali balance

  (6) Control the tone, or ‘irritability’ of nerves and  muscles

  (7) Work in relationships with the vitamins

Actually there are an additional 50 minerals that are believed to be needed in extremely minute amounts. Most of these are found in plant foods, though there is great variation according to plant, stage of growth, composition of the soil and water, etc. Increasingly, we are coming to understand why the majority of the sheep and goat families come from mountainous lands in Europe and Asia – their soils and water are much higher in mineral content, and so are the plants that take up these minerals.

Vitamins:  16 are known to be essential in animal nutrition. Others have been identified and more are still being found, but their functions are not all known. The known ones are:

(1) Fat-Soluble                                      (2) Water-Soluble

  A (Carotene)                                        B1-Thiamine                                          Choline

  D                                                        B2-Riboflavin                                        Folic acid

  E (the tocopherols)                              B3-Niacin (old designation)                    Inositol

  K                                                        B6-Pyridoxine                                       Pantothenic Acid

                                                            B12                                                      PABA (Para-aminobenzoic acid)

                                                            Biotin                                                    C (ascorbic acid)

The fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the liver and the supply drawn on over long periods, as much as 6 months or more; the water-soluble ones cannot, and must be replenished daily. Vitamins are VERY potent substances; only tiny amounts are needed and excesses of some few can be toxic–(vitamins A and D, and some minerals.)

Now we get to a very important, if ‘loaded,’ subject–the ‘MDR’ or Minimum Daily Requirement of an animal (or a person) for each of the different vitamins and minerals. The MDR is a statistical mean–an average, set up to give basic guidelines to manufacturers and animal owners as to the supplements that should be included in feeds. It does not apply to every animal, or any given animal or human–all are individuals, with a great range of differences in requirements for nutrients. Goats are genetically endowed in a great variety of ways–some are very efficient in absorption and utilization of nutrients, others much less so. Different times of the year and different periods of life bring great differences in requirements. Age lowers absorption capabilities, and stress, growth, pregnancy, produc-tion, bucks in rut, cold weather, all call for higher levels of all nutrients. Minimum requirements are those that have been determined to keep an animal alive and prevent the onset of obvious symptoms of deficiency diseases. Many of the MDRs were determined years ago, and much recent research into nutrition and the functions of individual nutrients have indicated that the MDRs are woefully inadequate. A diet that has just enough vitamin A in it to allow a goat’s night vision to function might be inadequate to protect that same goat from an attack of bacteria.

A great number of animals are underfed in energy a great deal of the year; this is probably the most common deficiency next to protein, and usually accompanies protein deficiency. During times of energy shortage, the body withdraws energy from its fat reserves. Often the mobilized fat is not completely metabolized and ketosis develops. Ketosis throws animals off feed and thus starts a vicious cycle that aggravates the problem. Cold weather increases energy requirements 20% or more. Protein deficiency also depresses appetite.


Before you design a feeding program you need to consider several things:

(1) What do you expect from your goats? Do you want high and constant production, kids every year, and don’t particularly care if the productive life of the goats is only 6-8 years? Do you want to concentrate on top-quality breeding stock, and are you willing to let this take precedence over a steady milk supply? Do you go in for showing, and want big, bright, alert, healthy-looking animals that will catch the judges’ eyes? Do you want a small herd for family milk, where the animals are all loved pets and you want them to live long and healthy lives and don’t care if they don’t set the world on fire as far as milk and show records are concerned? Each set of goals requires a some-what different approach to feeding.

(2) What types of goats do you keep? In dairy goats we have two distinct physiological types–the Swiss breeds, (Alpine, Oberhasli, Saanen & Toggenburg) and the Desert breeds, the Nubian and the LaMancha. Their basic requirements are similar but their abilities to ingest, process and utilize feedstuffs are somewhat different.

The Dairy Herd requires a lot of goats that milk well with a minimum of individual attention, which the busy dairyman can’t afford to give. One must standardize on a feeding program, pour high-quality grains and roughages to the goats to get maximum production, and cull out those that don’t produce up to standard, or that are always plagued with some problem.

The Breeding Herd is built around a small nucleus of goats of top quality whose kids pay their way. Most breeders feel they must show heavily as well as advertising, and on such a regimen, the animals have more opportunity to pick up diseases and are stressed more than the dairy herd that stays on the farm eating and milking. Such a herd should receive top-quality nutrition to assure a multiplicity of healthy kids and good stress and disease resistance.

The Show Herd must conform to the show season first and foremost. Big, growthy kids are wanted by show time, as well as does that peak in production at the same time. The show-goat owner must feed and breed accordingly. Such kids will not live as long nor milk as well, as a result of being fed much grain early in life to condition them. It is a known fact that applies to all animals–fast early growth leads to shorter lives.

The Family Goats are often much-loved pets, and there are probably not a lot of them in the herd. This is a situation where goats can be individually bred and fed according to their needs. If the doe kids are not really up to breeding size in the fall, as a result of the correct feeding of little grain, much milk and browse for rumen development, the owner doesn’t worry about that; he carries them over to the next year. They may be bred and kid every second year so that they are not in the continual stress of heavy milking or pregnancy. Such goats are likely to live and milk and kid for 12-14-16 years, sometimes longer.

This is not to say that these approaches cannot overlap to a considerable degree; in fact they usually do. Given the time and money, a dairyman theoretically could individually feed and supplement a herd of 100 or 500 goats, but in practice this is not likely to work out unless the dairy is not required to pay its way. There are many ways to feed goats, and obviously there is not just one right way (thank goodness!) But since there has been little research into the needs of dairy goats compared with cows, horses, pigs, and even Angora goats; some of what has been written about goat feeding is nonsense, a lot is myth, or is based on practices that work for the person who wrote the article or book, but that may not work elsewhere. The best research that has been done indicates the following:

(1) The goat produces more milk than the cow from the  same quantity of nutrients.

(2) The goat uses less food for maintenance, but more for digestion and metabolism than the cow. (In proportion to body size, of course)

(3) Goats are extremely fastidious feeders. They require clean water and feed.

(4) Goats have much higher requirements for minerals than the cow. Their metabolism is higher, and their glandular systems are larger in proportion.

(5) Goats can ingest and utilize a greater variety of forages than any other ruminant. One of the reasons they have this ability is to support their higher mineral and vitamin requirements. Also, the digestibility of forages varies with age, cutting time, fertilization, soil, etc.

(6) Goats require exercise. Appetite and production will be improved; they are less successfully kept in total confine-ment than cows are.

(7) The calcium-phosphorus ratio is important, and it should not vary much more than 1.25 to 1. Alfalfa and other legumes are high calcium; most concentrates (grains) are high phosphorus. A balance is required between grains and forages.

(8) Goats require much more iodine than the cow.

(9) Unlike cows, goats cannot tolerate much urea, which is found in many dairy feeds–beware.

(10) Goats lack the mechanisms to digest and assimilate animal proteins very well. The amount of animal fats in dairy rations should be very low. This is because of goats’ faster throughput of nutrients and higher metabolism.

(11) All grains–corn, oats, barley, millet, milo, rye, etc.-should be flaked, crimped or rolled. This increases digest-ibility and assimilation.

(12) Horse feeds should not be fed. They contain too much molasses, are too low in fiber and protein, and too high in calcium.


What does a good dairy goat need? First we should ask–what is a good dairy goat? Well–despite the many ads you see in the magazines for 3,000, 4000, 5000 lb. milkers–a good practical dairy goat is one that will give a ton of milk–2,000 lbs.–in a 305-day lactation. That is quite a reasonable goal to shoot for; there are not really many goats that will perform that well and meet our other requirements for health, stamina, and long life. 2,000 lbs. of milk is an average of 6.5 lbs./day. More likely, a doe will freshen at 8-9 lbs. and drop off to 4 lbs. by the end of lactation. Don’t let the ads fool you –if you counted every goat advertised that milked 3000 pounds or more, you might tally about 100 or 200 goats–but in 1989, 54,000 goats were registered by the ADGA alone.

As production increases above this amount, more problems begin to appear. The doe will need to be very large; and the feeding will become more of an art, as she walks a thin line between acidosis and ketosis. The large mammary system in full production is more prey to mastitis. The stress on the animal is greater and thus the chance she will contract disease, or succumb to parasites, increases. Which would you rather have–2,000 lbs. of really good milk from a trouble-free animal, or 3,000 lbs. of undrinkable, unsalable milk, coupled with worry, expense for vet bills, three-times-daily milking, etc. from a goat that you are always having to ‘baby’ and who is short-lived?


Does can consume 2.5-3 pounds of forages and/or hay per 100 lbs. body weight, as an average–or 5-11% of body weight of all dry feeds.  Goats being ruminants, fibre is essential in the diet; they cannot be fed all grains, like pigs can. Lack of adequate fibre will depress butterfat and predispose to acidosis. The dairy goat requires, for maintenance:

  .9 lb. TDN per 100 lbs. body weight

  .09 lb. digestible protein per 100 lbs. body weight

and for production:

  3.25 lb. TDN per gallon of milk   (.4 lb. per lb. of  milk)

    .5 lb. digestible protein per gallon of milk  (.0625 lb. per lb. of milk.)

Let’s take a 150-lb. doe that is giving 8 lbs. (one gallon) of milk of 3.5% butterfat. Her requirements are:

   for maintenance: l.5 x .9 =        1.35 lbs. TDN

           and               l.5 x .09 =     .135 lbs. protein

   for production:                        3.25 lbs. TDN

           and                                   .5 lbs. protein

for a total of 4.6 lbs. TDN and .635 lbs. protein

On poor grass hay of low nutrient content, where the goat gets its nutrients from concentrates, it would need about 4 pounds of a concentrate ration with 16% digestible protein–not to be confused with 16% crude protein. A Nubian doe giving the same quantity of milk at 6.5% butterfat would need 25% to 50% more protein and TDN; such a doe might eat 5 to 6 pounds of grain per day. As the hay quality improves in TDN and protein, decrease the amount of grain.

For most of us, using the above data as a rough check on how well we are feeding our goats is the practical procedure, and then following up on the animals’ performance according to some guidelines, including:

(A) Don’t attempt to judge flesh or degree of fatness by the width of the goat. That bulge you see may be a full rumen (and it can be full of poor quality forage as well as of top-flight alfalfa hay) or kids, water, or gas, or all four. Feel the goat’s chest, the top of its backbone at the hips and the rump slope. A thin quilt of fat over these areas is desirable–so you can still feel bone. Goats can starve to death on rumens full of indigestible forage–the coarser the forage and the poorer the quality, the more protein required to process it. Shortages of protein limit milk production, and lower the goat’s ability to utilize the forage it eats.

(B) One good system is challenge-feeding. You increase the quantity of the goat’s grain until milk production peaks, then back off 1/2-pound and feed at that level until again, milk production declines, which will be several months later in a good doe. Meanwhile you feel periodically for extra fatness. If the goat is putting on excess flesh on the quantity you are feeding, try increasing the protein content of her ration and decreasing the energy or total grain fed. (Add soy bean meal and/or the other oil meals to her ration.)

(C) If your doe has gotten fat (no milking animal should be fat) don’t decrease her grain drastically or remove it; feed her a wet and bulky diet. This will direct liquids to the udder and forces her to milk some off her back. Try various systems of getting her to increase her consumption of water.  Add a little salt to her feed. Try feeding wet feeds such as cooked cereals. Offer water warm. Feed her a proportion of wet crops such as carrots, beets, kale, apples, pears, citrus, etc. Keep her supplied with protein. If you were feeding 16% dairy feed, try switching to 18, 20, even 24% and feeding a much smaller quantity of it, while giving her a bulky, sappy diet. Satisfy her appetite with high-roughage, low-energy feeds like beet pulp.

(D) If you have a doe that produces heavily and goes out of condition, becoming thin as her lactation peaks, you need to increase both the quantity of feed, and the energy in her feed. You can decrease the protein content of her rations (and give her more grain) by adding corn and oats. Change to a top-quality alfalfa fed free-choice and alternate that with lower-TDN hays. Many such goats are the small, very dairy-type does that have the will to milk but don’t have the body capacity to sustain their lactation. Such does are at risk; it is best to dry them off, and feed them heavily all throughout the dry period, to build them up. Make sure they are eating well, but not fat, before re-breeding.

(E) Many breeders dry up a goat that is not producing up to expectations soon after kidding, and breed her back quickly. This is very poor practice. First, this encourages the doe to go dry early in later lactations. Second, there are reasons why she is not doing well, which should be sought–it might be that the breeding didn’t work out as hoped, but it could be any number of other things including shortages of some vitamins or minerals, or a subclinical illness. A goat that won’t eat may be suffering from a painful mouth due to misplaced or damaged teeth–it’s not always illness. Especially, one should not hastily dry up first fresheners. Even if they give only a squirt or two at a milking, it is good practice (if frustrating) to keep on milking them through their first 300-day lactation.

We Americans are impatient people, but few other fields require the patience that animal breeding does. Sure, it is easier to dry up a poor producer, breed her back and hope, rather than take the time and effort to try a lot of feeds and feed combinations to see what her individual requirements are. It’s easier to buy grain and hay and feed all the goats the same way, changing only the quantity of grain you feed each goat, than to try keeping on hand various feeds and mixing them while feeding each animal, for top performance. It’s easier to feed more grain and skimp on the hay, which due to its bulk is harder to handle and store. But in goats, the milking doe should get her production ration from hay and her maintenance ration from grainnot the other way around. This is feed-ing in sympathy with the evolution of the goat–with its natural characteristics. The easy way out is never the road to success in animal husbandry and breeding.

Dairy cow formulations should not be used–they indicate 1/3 ration in roughages and 2/3 in concentrates which are too low in minerals and roughages for goats.

As to feeding practice: we’ll start with the minimum  requirements and move on up.

It is definitely possible to feed goats on nothing more than browse (the diet of the wild goat) with access to water and salt. (No ruminant can live without salt.) Many thousands of goats are so kept, and unfortunately there are few records on such animals, to determine how long they lived, what number of kids they had and what number they raised, how they milked, etc. The closer that goats live to wild (natural) conditions, the more natural selection is operative; i.e. the weak will die off and the strong survive, and eventually, one would wind up with a herd of very rugged goats, though they would be poor producers without selection and feeding for production. Many such goats live without much shelter, and we have known of some that stayed out in the rain as happily as cattle, at least in summer, believe it or not! Under these conditions the life, the health and fecundity would depend solely on the quality and quantity of the forage the goats had access to. In this country, many brush goats are kept this way.

Owners of such goats would do far better by them with a few additions, such as the provision of a shelter for incle-ment weather, loose salt, baking soda and loose trace mineral mix, and a bit of hay, particularly in winter and spring. To assure high birth rates and survival of the greatest number of kids, giving a bit of grain during the last two months of pregnancy; when the does begin to “show”, and for a month after kidding, would be quite beneficial.

Dairy goat nutrient requirements are considerably higher, since they are bred for producing milk for more than the month or so that the wild goat nurses its young. Given the land area of sufficient quality to provide a selection of forage plants including legumes, they can be kept on a diet of browse with only a little supplemental grain. Some dairies do this successfully; the does only get grain at the end of pregnancy and early lactation. You don’t get earth-shaking milk records this way, but this is real goat-farming–as opposed to goat fancying, which is what most of us do. Given suitable soil, one can cultivate crops for goats to graze–alfalfa, rape, kale, clover, sunflowers, etc.-and let them graze the crop edges on running tethers, to prevent their trampling and soiling the whole crop. Most goat breeders do not have land or time for such techniques–the majority of us keep our dairy goats on limited land where they receive most of their feed from dry forages (hay) and concentrates.

Nutritional Supplementation

Now we enter an area of controversy. There is an old saying that one should not discuss religion, politics, and health foods with anyone except friends that share the same views. I find it hard to understand, in a country where money is the god, why anyone or any agency of government would try to prevent the purchase of simple vitamins and minerals, (the government constantly tries to get them on a prescription-only basis) most of which are absolutely non-toxic and the few that are, are toxic only in really huge amounts. Yet thousands of people die annually from common over-the-counter drugs, to say nothing of alcohol. The MDR’s for people and animals are woefully inade-quate, and goat MDR’s have not even been established yet. Therefore feed manufacturers can include whatever ingredients they want, as long as they are listed in order. It is not required to list vitamin and mineral potencies. They can say they have put in vitamin A, and may have added 10 units instead of 20,000 per pound–and thus give you a false sense of security. In animal and human nutrition, increasing evidence is accumulating that the many different roles that vitamins and minerals play are crucial to health, productivity, disease resistance, and long life.

Animal illness takes three basic forms–Metabolic diseases, usually caused by improper feeding; Infectious diseases–bacteria, viruses, etc.–and Accidents and Injuries.

The Golden Rule is–establish a high-quality basic plane of nutrition. If all known nutrients are provided in adequate, or slightly excess quantity, you are assured that metabolic diseases will be virtually eliminated from your herd; the goats’ increased resistance will help them build immunity to infectious diseases, and they will heal from accidents and injuries much faster. Here’s a quick review of the metabolic diseases, since nutrition is their underlying cause:

Acidosis – too much concentrate; too rapid a change in feeds. The rumen becomes acid. Be sure goats have free access to baking soda.

Anemia is caused by a nutritional shortage of iron, copper, cobalt, and/or some vitamins.

Aphosphorsis or Osteomalacia – too little phosphorus in the ration. Goats chew on wood, bones, dirt, rags, etc. Stiff joints–milk fever–breeding problems.

Bloat can be a killer – the rumen stops or slows – prevent by feeding live-cell yeast, minimizing wet legumes; always feed dry hay before turning goats out on sappy or wet pastures.

Enterotoxemia – ‘overeating disease’–vaccinate; avoid overfeeding of concentrates and/or rapid change in feed type or quantity. Minimize stress.

Founder or laminitis the result of too much grain, too much protein, and/or too rapid a change in feeds.

Goiter insufficient iodine–big neck, reproductive failure–poor production–weak, hairless kids. Use iodized salt; extra organic iodine for does in milk.

Grass Tetany is magnesium deficiency. It mainly occurs in spring; new grass is low in magnesium. Feed a complete mineral mix that includes magnesium.

Ketosis is poorly understood; but mainly a lack of energy. Grain-feed even fat does the last 6 weeks of kidding, increasing the energy (corn, etc.) in the ration and decreasing the protein. Especially important for does carrying multiple kids. C-sections may be necessary to save the kids–prognosis is poor when the doe goes down.

Manganese deficiency – kids born with stiff or curved necks, bowed front legs. Feed a complete mineral mix.

Milk fever – too much calcium in the diet prior to kidding. Limit the feeding of alfalfa hay and beet pulp the last two weeks of pregnancy; increase the food yeasts.

Molybdenum toxicity – scours–black hair turns brown – interferes with copper synthesis.

Nitrate poisoning -forages of heavily fertilized grain and hay crops; stressed crops (droughts). A quick diagnosis; fresh blood turns brown – the vet can give methylene blue IV, but yeasts help prevent.

Polioencephalomalacia – sudden death on high feed; animals push their heads against objects due to headache. Give thiamin (vitamin B-1) IV/IM.

Rickets is caused by a vitamin D deficiency.

Salt deficiency is caused by use of blocks. Loss of appetite–retarded growth–rough coat–poor production; then a sudden exposure to salt can cause poisoning.

Salt sick is a misnomer; cobalt deficiency exhibits the same symptoms.

Selenium poisoning – no known treatment – loss of hair–hooves slough off! This takes a great excess of selenium and is primarily a western problem. Protein helps prevent; vitamin C drenches might save the animal.

White Muscle disease is the opposite–a lack of selenium & vitamin E. Give Bo-Se shots only for a goat that needs radical treatment; feeding yeasts is better.

Sweet Clover disease is caused by moldy clover; it destroys vitamin K causing internal hemorrhage.

Urinary calculi is caused by too much phosphorus in rations for bucks. Be sure bucks always have clean water and salt available. Ammonium chloride in water will help prevent, and cure. Bucks’ overall dietary should provide a calcium/phosphorus ratio of at least 1.25 to 1; 1.5 to 1 is better. Feed alfalfa hay to bucks, occasionally.

POISONINGS are also metabolic diseases. This is not an article on veterinary practice and there are far too many to go into here. Successful treatment depends on knowing what the poison is! Some are acute-laurel, rhododendron, wild cherry. Some are mild–salt, privet, fluorine, some molds; some are cumulative–lead, urea, etc. These are the hardest to find, for the goat may be consuming a little over a long period of time and then one day it hits them. You should (1) call the vet; (2) look for the poison source (3) give massive doses by injection of vitamins C and the B-complex while waiting.


(1) Most rations do not have adequate levels of vitamin  A, D, iodine, and E for dairy goats.

(2) Most rations have no live-cell yeasts included.

(3) Most rations do not have enough, or the right kind, of selenium included.

(4) Most rations have no baking soda included.

(5) Most rations do not have enough minerals included; minerals should not be in rations, but must be fed separately

(6) Most rations have too much molasses.

Do not use salt licks. They are OK for cattle–not for goats. Many are too hard; the goats can’t get enough, and may break their teeth trying; mainly, though, they spend too much unproductive time at the blocks when they should be out grazing or cudding. Some are poisonous when they get wet; goats may urinate on them and stop using them.

Rules Of Thumb

Grains are high-energy, high-phosphorus.

Alfalfa hay is usually very high-calcium and high-protein, high energy. Other legume hays are fairly balanced in C/P, medium in energy, medium in protein.

Grass hays are low in minerals, energy, and protein.

Seeds, oil meals (soybean meal, sunflower seeds, cottonseed meal, etc.) are very high in protein and phosphorus

Therefore if you feed alfalfa hay, you need to feed grains and/or additional sources of the phosphorus minerals such as monosodium phosphate, dicalcium phosphate, etc. If you feed other legume hays, also feed more dicalcium phosphate; monosodium phosphate won’t be needed. If you feed grass hays, you need considerably more high-energy, high-protein feeds, and to supply various mineral supplements in loose form. BUT–don’t you balance the mineral ration–let the goats do it; they are much wiser. Your task is to give them the opportunity by providing the variety of feeds and supplements that will supply all the nutrients–protein, energy, roughage, vitamins, minerals, and water.

In winter, you can help warm the goats by supplying more energy feeds such as corn and oats. Mainly, however, they get heat from the bacterial fermentation in their rumens. They need plenty of real roughages–tree bark, dry leaves, poor-quality hay, even straw. If you give a goat a big bowl full of high-protein feeds on a cold winter night, you are actually chilling the goat; still more energy is needed to digest the meal, and goats can get pneumonia.

Watch a goat browse–it doesn’t (unless it’s starved) stay on one plant all the time–it takes a bite of this, a bite of that, and back to the first again. Goats, because of the tremendous number of different forages they can eat, have evolved the mechanism to select for their needs–let them do it.

The Final WordA Selected Regimen

How could we best keep and feed our dairy goats? Well,  the theoretical ideal would be to have them on several hundred acres of land that included both a river bottom on rich soil, on which you grow a variety of nutritious crops such as alfalfa, clover, oats, etc. for them, and also a high mountain pasture on which grew pine trees & other conifers, and hardwood trees including sweet gum, dogwood, maple, apple, hickory and ash, and a great variety of ‘weeds’ such as burnet, chicory, dandelion, yarrow, kudzu, blackberry, etc. On this land, goats would roam freely. Kids would get little or no grain–until they were a month away from breeding and only a little until they were 2 months away from kidding–and milkers very little, according to production. All free-choice minerals and vitamins would be available, and the goats would have access to pure spring water. They probably wouldn’t have to be wormed, certainly not very often.

This is dreaming! Failing such an ideal situation, what we want to do is to try to approach this as closely as possible with the resources we have. Here’s the drill:

(1) Feed your does and bucks a good 16% dairy ration, according to production; and keep on hand extra oats and high-protein feeds like soybean meal and Calf Manna to supplement with. Check them for fatness–if they gain, cut back on energy. If milk production drops, increase protein. The smell of ammonia in the barn is the first indication that you might be giving too much protein; increase roughages.

(2) Alfalfa hay is made for high-producing dairy goats,  but it is not the only hay that will work for them. It is high in protein, so less grain is called for. But whatever hay you feed, remember two things: (1) Fescue hay is toxic at certain growth stages, and is very low and unbalanced in nutrients for goats, and should not be fed, and (2) never feed any MOLDY hay, especially moldy clover. Hay should be supplied free-choice, available at all times. The only exception to this would be if you have a 4,000-lb. milker and you’re trying for Top Ten; then you may have to restrict hay consumption to get her to eat more grain; but this is something to do only when absolutely necessary. Desert breeds can eat more grain than Swiss breeds as a rule; their deeper bodies are adapted to concentrate feeding while Swiss breeds have larger spring of rib and rumen capacity for processing larger amounts of forages.

(3) If you turn goats out to browse, be sure they have some grass hay in them first, especially in spring when pastures are lush and wet.

(4) Make an effort to have some pine trees or pine logs, branches, etc. lying on the ground in the pens where the goats can nibble the bark off of them.

(5) Get or make a 5-compartment mineral feeder. Put in it and have available at all times, free-choice:

    Salt–loose salt, iodized, from the grocery, to which you add extra EDDI (organic iodine) for heavy-milking does

    Baking soda. Grain increases rumen acid, and buffering is required.

    A complete mineral mix with no flavoring agents added

    Monosodium phosphate or Dicalcium phosphate

    Kelp meal

(6) To every grain feeding add:

     Some live-cell yeast; a tablespoon or so,

     A pinch of Brewer’s yeast (level tsp. or less),

     100 units of vitamin E,

     A small handful of beet pulp, dried.

(7) Watch their appetites–if some go wild over the live-cell yeast, give them more; they will not overeat on these except Brewer’s yeast which can bloat, if given in large amounts at one feeding.

(8) Once a week or so, fill the 4th compartment in the feeder (AFTER feeding and milking) with live-cell yeast. Watch to be sure one or two bossy does don’t get it all.

(9) For bucks, a 3-compartment mineral feeder will be adequate, with salt, soda, trace minerals, or kelp.

(10) In the drinking water once or twice a day, add a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a bit of vitamin C. The maintenance dose is 1/4 tsp. of C per gallon. After worming them, for two weeks also add 1/4 tsp. of an oral iron/copper/cobalt to the water. Look at their eyes and mucous membranes–this is an easy way to check for anemia. If they are not really red, keep adding the iron/copper/cobalt to their drinking water. Goats will accept the additives better if the water is warmed, and will drink more, even in summertime.

(11) Do not be guided by just the gloss of the hair coat alone. Nubians and LaManchas produce high butterfat in their milk (Pygmies too) and they can get such a glossy look that they appear to have been waxed! They can be dying of parasites and still have glossy coats; hair takes a long time to change. Swiss breeds rarely ever get such glossy coats; you look for ‘highlights’ in the hair of healthy Alpines, Toggs, Saanens, and Oberhasli.

(12) Raising kids–volumes could be written on this subject! Whether you raise them on their dams, or bottles, pans or a combination of these–you want to build bone and develop rumen capacity. This may sound hard to most of you–but the longer they take to grow, assuming all the while that growth is steady and progressing–and the less grain and more nutritious browse you feed them–the more they will develop big, capacious rumens. There are decided ad-vantages to raising kids on their dams; which includes the convenience to you; (no washing, filling, heating bottles, etc.) the fact that the kids get milk in the quantity they need just when they need it; the lack of scouring problems, and the satisfaction of the emotional needs of both dam and kids. It is true that such kids if not given extra attention will become more ‘wild’ for a period of time; this usually lasts only through kidhood and by the breeding time the kid that knows you as something more than a bringer of pain (injections) and unpleasant experiences (worming, hoof-trimming, etc.) will accept you just as the rest of the herd does. It is certainly true that hand-raised kids very quickly transfer their affections to you; you become their ‘dam.’ But whatever the regime you select for kids–remember that they need six things: salt, minerals, soda, minerals, roughage, and minerals. Give them milk for their basic nutrition. Tiny kids should have access to very rough roughages–straw; dry, even brown, hay; bark, anything to nibble on. At 3-4 weeks, start also offering them the best, most nutritious hay you can find. Let them get more and more of their nutrition from top-flight hay and gradually decrease milk. Think of grain only as a carrier for vitamin supplements and yeast–give them plenty of these plus the minerals. Given this kind of a regimen, they don’t need a substantial grain ration until does are ready for breeding and bucks to be used in service. Of course, the earlier you breed them, the more grain they will have to have for growth as well as fetus development and laying up reserves for milk production. If the hay available to you is less than top-flight, you will have to either increase their milk allowance or give them more concentrates. Those of us used to seeing big growthy kids at shows may be taken aback to see yearling goats that have been raised on the milk-and-roughages regime and fed very little grain; they may be smaller than the over-conditioned ones. But they will pay you for your patience when they reach the milking parlor as 2-year-olds, with big functioning rumens, and great eating and milking abilities. How many of those big growthy kids that you see at shows reappear later on as milking does making production records? Or live much beyond 6-8 years? Not many.

Following Nature’s lead as closely as possible is sound practice, as long as it doesn’t become blind adherence. If you have no good browse for your goats, and can’t get really good-quality hay, obviously you will have to compensate, and modify the milk-and-roughages regime for kids. In the wild, goats remain parasite-free since they make use of large land areas as their ‘home ranges’ which they browse. In confinement, the rule is no more than 1 goat per 1-1/2 acres, if the goats are to make their living completely or primarily off the land. The wild doe may be bred during her first fall, though not all are. But of her kids, the strong would survive and the weak would perish; no one would grain her or them, or baby them along, so natural selection would favor those with good rumen development and high feed-conversion efficiency anyway. The wild does would not, in nature, be selectively bred for heavy or continuous milk production. If nursing kids ‘ruins’ a doe’s udder, well, I personally don’t want any doe with an udder that poor! Show-goat breeders may remove the kids early and bottle- or pan-feed them to ‘save’ a show udder; that is their prerogative, and their goals are different. A healthy, practical, trouble-free, utilitarian animal that milks well, lives a long life and has few kidding and disease problems would be an asset to anyone’s home as a provider of that wonderful beverage, goat milk, (which is fast becoming one of the few remaining natural, balanced and nutritious foods available to us;) and raising that type of animal is the main thrust of this article. Other goals in goat-raising require some other methods, and so be it. But whatever your aims are–

Good nutrition is sound insurance; it is your fortress against disease; your fountain of long and happy life.

Revised 4/29/96