Goat Nutrition

Cattle, sheep, and goats graze differently by selecting different plants and plant parts to satisfy nutrient demands. Cattle use the tongue to convey forage to the mouth, while sheep and goats use the lips (Van Soest,1996). Cattle are considered grazing animals, whereas goats are classified as browsing animals; sheep are somewhat intermediate.
When allowed to choose freely, grazing cattle typically select diets that contain 70% herbages (represented by grasses and legumes), 20% forbs, and 10% browse, whereas goats select about 30% herbages, 10% forbs, and 60% browse, with sheep diets represented by 50% herbages, 30% forbs, and 20% browse (Van Dyne, Brockingham, Szocs, Duck, & Ribic, 1980).
Rotational stocking improves distribution of nutrients from urine and dung in paddocks. The use of four paddocks would allow for a 75% rest time for plants. Usually a 30 to 40-day rest period is sufficient for most herbages and legumes to re-grow and replenish foliage and roots sloughed as a result of defoliation by grazing livestock. (PDF) Terminology Revisited: Effective Communications for the Agricultural Community. (researchgate.net) 

Generally, legumes (alfalfa, clover etc.) and some browse plants have higher levels of several minerals (calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc) in comparison to grasses. The minerals copper, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc can help support a healthy immune system in animals for improved tolerance to GI parasites.

Forage quality is very important for lactating goats. Goats need supplemental minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients in addition to those they get in their hay, grain, and browse. Lower protein forages need to be supplemented with higher protein level grain mixes to achieve higher milk production. We feed our goats a fine 2nd cut alfalfa hay, goat text, sunflower seeds (BOSS), alfalfa pellets, kelp powder and free choice loose goat minerals daily. Moldy hay and grain should never be fed to goats.

Haybales and grazing fields may be lacking in regard to selenium and other minerals and vitamins. Some geographical areas are worse off than others for nutritional grasses and hay. Selenium is often lacking in the USA and Canada in hay, grains and feeds. Well water high in iron and sulfur can impede selenium and mineral absorption for goats.

“Selenium (Se) responsive diseases are a serious problem in livestock in Canada” (Jenkins and Hidiroglou 1912).Wheat provided the richest source of Se with a mean concentration of 0.32 ppm which was significantly greater than barley and oats at 0.20″ SELENIUM CONCENTRATIONS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA FORAGES, GRAINS, AND PROCESSED FEEDS (cdnsciencepub.com)

Selenium is responsible for brain and thyroid health, muscle development and reproductive health. Although, this nutrient is available in the soil, goats kept in smaller pastures and fed mostly hay are at a higher risk for selenium deficiency.

Symptoms of selenium deficiency are weight loss, rough coat, leg weakness, and low semen production in bucks. When goats don’t have enough selenium, does may have trouble getting pregnant and are more likely to have problems giving birth, have a retained placenta, and probably won’t produce as much milk as they otherwise would. They may give birth to stillborn or weak kids. 

Selenium deficiency in kids is most commonly seen as white muscle disease. The muscles in their legs are too weak to support their weight and they end up unable to walk or walking on their ankles. Kids born with selenium/vitamin E deficiency must be treated immediately as they can be too weak to suckle, aspirate milk and have weak immune systems that are prone to pneumonia due to weak lungs. 

Typical signs of copper deficiency include hair loss on the tip of the tail known as “fishtail,” crooked legs, stiff joints, diarrhea, anemia, loss of hair color (bleached out appearance), lameness, infertility or miscarriages, failure to shed their winter coat, high parasite loads, hair loss around the eyes, poor immune system, milk reduction, and even heart failure.

Iodine deficiency can cause an array of symptoms including an enlarged thyroid, poor growth, reduced milk production, pregnancy toxemia, reproductive abnormalities, and infertility to name a few.

A low sodium count can cause many issues, including heart issues, muscle contractions, slow growth, tremors, poor appetite, and a lack of coordination. When introducing salt or any minerals to their diets, make sure an endless supply of water is available. Sodium toxemia occurs when large quantities of salt are introduced, or water availability is low.

A lack of Vitamin A can cause a large array of issues: miscarriages, infertility, weak babies, cough, raspy breathing, diarrhea, decreased milk production, crooked head, thick nasal discharge, and even hair loss.

Lack of thiamine (Vitamin B1) can cause any of the following: anorexia, anemia, tremors, odd gait, diarrhea, infertility, blindness, full-body weakness, dermatitis, “goat polio” causing severe neurological problems, and low immune system.

Vitamin E deficiency seems to come out of nowhere, often causing sudden death, heart failure, severe fatigue, weak babies, stillbirths, the inability to stand or walk, shortness of breath, muscle atrophy, white muscle disease, and infertility in bucks.

Low Zinc can cause hair loss, diarrhea, constant foot rot, depression, slow healing wounds, sore feet, stiff joints, swollen joints, dermatitis, flaky skin, foaming mouth, miscarriages, and poor appetite. Zinc deficiency affects males much harder than females.

Vitamin D deficiency is also known as “rickets.” Watch for enlarged joints and bowed legs. Even if it is cold, open the barn and let the herd out into the pasture on sunny days. The sun is the best medicine in this case.

Therefore, if you want goats that give birth to healthy kids, produce milk and grow up to be strong and vigorous than supplementing with extra grains, vitamins and minerals is essential.

Goat Text: Texturized feed with molasses that includes vitamins and minerals. This is often used for milking does but we feed it year round to our adult goats and kids. We add sunflower seeds (BOSS), alfalfa pellets and kelp powder to our goat text. Our Nubian bucks get more grains added to their diet as they do not need as much molasses or salt in their feed.

Loose Goat Minerals: offered free choice a good quality loose mineral will help to fight against deficiencies. Goat minerals should be in a mineral feeder attached to the wall. Give goat minerals to goats as sheep minerals or “sheep and goat” minerals will be copper deficient. Well water in many areas is high in sulfur, iron, or calcium, which inhibits the absorption of other minerals, such as copper, leading to deficiency.

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (BOSS): Black oil sunflower seeds contain vitamin E, zinc, iron, and selenium and also add fiber and fat to the diet. BOSS make the goats’ coats shinier and increases the butterfat in their milk. Mix the seeds into your goats’ grain; they eat them shell and all. We add BOSS to the goat text mix daily.

Kelp Meal: Kelp meal is a good source of iodine, selenium, and other minerals. Used as a supplement, it helps protect goats from iodine deficiency. Kelp also improves dairy goats’ production, increasing milk volume and butterfat and helping decrease mastitis. A method of ensuring proper levels of selenium to your goat’s daily diet is adding kelp. We supplement our goats with kelp meal year-round especially during breeding, pregnancies’ and milk production.

Baking soda: Offer goats free-choice baking soda aids digestion by keeping the rumen pH-balanced. If one of your goats has a digestive problem, offer baking soda free choice.

Please see the links on this webpage for more information on goat care. https://wildacres.ca/links/