Like sheep and cattle, goats are ruminants, and are able to digest foodstuffs such as grass and leaves. They are naturally browsing animals and will eat bushes and trees in preference to grass. However, goats need careful feeding and cannot survive on just browsing and grazing. Nutrients are needed for maintenance, growth and milk production. Milking goats are particularly likely to lose condition without adequate feed as they give a high milk yield in relation to their size and bodyweight. Hay and a concentrate feed (coarse mix or pelleted feed) will be needed to supplement grazing.
Using a balanced ration from the Smallholder Range is easier and less likely to lead to problems than trying to mix your own. It will also provide the goat with additional vitamins and minerals. At the least an unbalanced ration can seriously reduce milk yield, and at worst it can make your goat ill.
The term roughage denotes the cell wall components of plants, of which cellulose constitutes the largest part. Older plants have stronger stalks and leaves, and so contain higher levels of fibre. This means that the nutrients in such plants will not be immediately available to the goat. First, the cellulose of the plant cell walls must be broken down by the microorganisms in the rumen of the goat. This results in fatty acids which can be used for energy production. Since the fat in goats milk is synthesised from the fatty acids produced by the breakdown of cellulose in the rumen, an increase of roughage in the diet increases the fat content of the milk.
Roughage in the diet is very necessary for healthy digestion, and so is an extremely important part of a goat’s diet. Good quality dust-free hay should be used to provide at least 40% (by weight) of your goat’s total feed and should be available for them at all times, summer and winter.
Hay or roughage should form the basis of the diet – adult goats will usually eat at least 1 to 2 kg (2.2lbs to 4.4lbs) of hay daily (more if other feedstuffs are not available) but milkers will often need nearer 3.5 kg of hay per day.
Hay and grass should be fed from a rack – beware of using a net as goats are very prone to getting caught up in them. In addition you can feed turnips, carrots and fruit as available – goats will eat about 3kg of these a day. However any fruit and vegetables fed must not be catering waste, ie. from your kitcken or any kitchen and my only be purchased from premises that do not handle any meat or other banned feedstuffs.
It is possible to feed garden waste as part of their diet, but care should be taken to avoid poisonous plants or decaying chemically treated waste. Grass cuttings should also be avoided as they could cause choking. Plenty of clean water should be available at all times – goats won’t drink it if it is dirty.
Goats are highly individual, so the exact feed and quantity should be adjusted accordingly to maintain each goat in the best condition. Observation is the key to feeding your goat as well as possible. Ask yourself the following questions:
- For how long, and how often does the goat eat?; What feed does it like best?
- What feed does it avoid?
- Does the goat gain or lose weight?
- How does its coat look?
- Is the goat lively?
- Is the dung formed into almost round balls?
- Has the milk production changed?
Your answers will help you to change the feed accordingly.
In autumn the growth and quality of pasture and other plant matter drops off considerably so additional feed (both hay and concentrate) will certainly be needed. Any kind of feed change should be done slowly, so start by introducing concentrate feed in small quantities (0.25kg per day) and gradually build up to the levels required to maintain condition (0.5 – 1.0kg per day for a dry adult). It is usual to divide the total ration into two or three feeds.
For more information on Smallholder Range products or advice on feeding please call the Smallholder nutritional team on 01362 822902