What do goats really eat?
Well, for starters they don’t eat tin cans and newspaper, I can assure you! Whether you’re looking to own a goat, or you’re just generally curious about goats, you’ve come to the right place. Here at Weed ’em & Reap, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on goats. Never thought I’d say that in my lifetime, but alas, here I am! Once I heard that goat’s milk would be the healthiest choice for my family, I knew I had to convince my husband to move to a farm, get some goats, and start a’ milkin’. Hey, I’m nothing, if not ambitious!
When it comes to raising our goats, we strive to raise them as holistically and organically as possible. Why? Well, if we are going to all the trouble to drink milk from our goats, it makes sense to feed them the best food possible, doesn’t it?
How does a goat eat?
Goats don’t really get their nutrition from their food, but rather, from the fermentation of their food. You see, their stomachs – there are 4 of them – are designed to ferment and break down their food and then their body digests the nutrition from their fermented food.
Goats are not grazers that will mow your lawn. They are actually called “browsers”, which is just a fancy word for being picky eaters 😉 Goats like variety. They are drawn to the most nutritious plants, and so they will stubbornly refuse to graze a lawn and instead they’ll eat all the weeds, bushes, leaves, & finally barks of the trees before they’ll tackle your grass.
What do goats eat?
- Pasture or Hay (90-100% of their diet) – Pasture is fresh land that is filled with lots of various grasses & weeds. When I say “hay”, I’m not referring to that yellow straw from the feed store. I’m referring to a green hay like alfalfa, timothy, orchard grass, or bermuda. Hay can come in the form of actual bales, or in the form of compressed pellets. Goats do better on real hay because their rumen (stomach) can digest it better and they are less likely to bloat. They can still have some pellets, but watch for those big bellies afterwards and scale back if you see it becoming a problem.
How I feed my goats: Here in Arizona, hay can be quite expensive (around $12-16 a bale), so we feed a combo of hay & pellets. We always try to get different varieties because goats have many different mineral requirements and thrive on variety.
- Grain – (0-10% of their diet) – Goats don’t need grain to survive, in fact, they can live happily on pasture or hay, or a combination of both. When they are pregnant or lactating, grains can help provide extra vitamins & minerals, as well as 12-16% extra protein. I’ve put my goats on a 100% pasture and hay diet (also called grass-fed) and I’ve also fed them grain. There is a slight boost in milk when I feed grain and I believe it really helps after birthing and while they’re taking care of their babies. If you do feed grain, it’s wise to only feed a small amount of grain and not overdo it. Male goats should NEVER have grain, as it disrupts their calcium to phosphorus balance and will cause urinary stones and even death.
How I feed my goats: At the end of our goats’ pregnancies, we feed a handful of grain each day, then once they start lactating, we give 1 cup of grain for every quart of milk they produce. The grain I purchase is very similar to this brand here.
- Minerals – (1-2% of their diet) – Minerals are an important part of a goat’s diet. Because they are foragers, they naturally are always seeking out different plants that will provide their bodies with different minerals. Hands down, I’d say this is the most important part of owning goats.
How I feed my goats: We do this mineral protocol here.
- Forage – Foraging for food is something goats love to do, but in a domestic setting, don’t get around to it much.
How I feed my goats: We like to “forage” for our goats by taking bags of weeds or grass from our neighbors and giving our goats some foraged treats for them. We also give them the trimmings from our trees and scraps from the garden. They love it!
- Extra Treats – Goats love carrots, greens, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins.
“Be aware that with dairy goats, their milk production is about 9 to 10 per cent of their body weight, whereas a dairy cow produces 5 to 6 per cent of their body weight daily as milk. To maintain this level of milk production a dairy goat needs to eat between 5 to 7 per cent of her body weight daily; a dairy cow eats up to 4 per cent of her body weight per day. Be award that many times, no matter how much you feed, the doe will get thin. Does will put everything they have into milk production. It takes more out of a doe to make milk than to make babies!” (source)
What should goats avoid eating?
Goats have a natural instinct to avoid plants that are poisonous, but occasionally you’ll get a goat that eats anything. Goats have historically been used to clear a large area for planting, so they usually know what they’re doing. If you’d like to know which plants are poisonous, you can Click here for a full list on poisonous plants for goats.
Will goats eat my lawn furniture or my backyard toys?
Goats are attracted to natural products, so they tend to nibble on things like wood, or wicker, but won’t eat things like a tire. It’s been my experience that if a goat is well-fed and has complete nutrition, they won’t be a goat that eats everything in site. They won’t chew on a garden hose or destroy a trampoline, and they won’t eat a fence.
What about treats, or store bought goat feed?
One of the biggest problems with feed stores is their promotion of goat feed. They confuse new goat owners by selling them goat feed, then the new owner goes home and feeds pounds of this grain-based food to their goats. And, then the goat gets constipated. Goats really can’t handle more than 5% grain in their diets. More grain produces acidosis, an imbalance of acid in their bodies. Because their bodies are meant to be more alkaline, they get very sick when acidosis kicks in. They can experience pain, bloating, constipation, skin pox, and can even die. Please, for the love of goats, don’t feed ONLY goat feed, just feed in very small amounts..
Do goats need supplements?
I don’t give my goats many extra supplements (other than the mineral program they’re on), but I do have things on hand that help boost my goat’s health when needed. Here are some of the supplements I’ve used on my goats.
- For Bloating/digestive upset – Baking soda. Sometimes a goat’s rumen pH will get out of balance. This should be only offered as an emergency, not an every day use.
- For Bi-annual Deworming – Herbal Dewormer Mix.
- For poor Rumen function – Probiotics. This works as a probiotic, but in my opinion, they don’t need it all the time, just after a major sickness or a dose of antibiotics (we avoid using antibiotics unless in an emergency) Make sure to use probiotics specifically for ruminant animals.
- For a shiny coat & healthy skin – Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. You can get this from any feed store. Your goats will love this little treat! You can add it to their grain mixture at milking.
Can I give my goats kitchen/garden scraps?
Yes! You can absolutely give them scraps from your kitchen or garden as treats. Just remember that goats are herbivores, which means they only eat plants (fruits & vegetables). I’ve found there really isn’t anything that changes the flavor of milk. I’m sure if you fed them 50 cloves of garlic, they’re would probably be a change of flavor, but scraps here and there shouldn’t do anything:)
A goat’s diet is very simple.
Don’t overthink your goat’s diet. They should thrive on a diet of a variety of green plants, whether they be pasture, hay or forage. Remember that grains should be kept to a minimum and that they shouldn’t be fed tin cans and you’ll be good!