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Dietary Needs of Goats–The Realistic Realities

Rethinking Goats: Unveiling the Realities of Their Dietary Needs

The common perception of goats often stands in stark contrast to their true nature, especially in terms of their dietary preferences. Unlike the belief that goats will eat anything, these animals are highly selective eaters, and understanding their digestive system is crucial for providing optimal care. In this paradigm-shifting exploration, we’ll delve into the nuanced dietary requirements of goats, emphasizing the importance of quality forage, nutritional balance, and managing environmental factors.

Getting hay tested is the best way to know exactly what you’re feeding your goats. Hay that is higher in Non-Fibrous Carbohydrates will be the best for your goat and what they will happily eat! NFC’s have simple sugars that are very easy to digest and provide quick energy and calories. If you’re cut and bale your own hay, you’ll find that cutting hay in the morning will be a better quality and more nutritious hay than if cut in the afternoon. 

There's a lot to know about the dietary needs of goats

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1. Goats: More Like Deer Than We Think

a. Unique Digestive System:

  • Goats share similarities with deer in their eating habits and lifestyle.
  • Their rapid rumen passage rate, taking only 11 hours, distinguishes them from cattle, whose digestion may take two to three days.

b. Selective Eating Patterns:

  • Contrary to the belief that goats can consume anything, their digestive system demands easily digestible and nutrient-rich food.
  • Quality forage, browse, and hay become imperative for their well-being.

2. Quality Over Quantity: The Crucial Role of Fiber

a. Digestibility Matters:

  • Goats thrive when provided with forage and browse that offer low Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) levels. The numbers that are best for goats are at least below 39 but below 35 will be even better for them. 
  • High ADF levels, found in certain grasses, indicate excess lignin, hindering goats’ ability to extract nutrients.

b. Fiber for Energy Efficiency:

  • Highly digestible fiber results in more energy available for body growth.
  • Shredding pastures to maintain an optimal height fosters sunlight exposure, dries the ground, and encourages regrowth. This also helps the ground dry out so that it becomes less worm heavy. 

3. Pasture Dynamics: Balancing the Equation

a. Understanding Pasture Composition:

  • Pastures consist of annuals, perennials, and grasses, each with distinct growth patterns.
  • Careful management is needed to prevent over-grazing and ensure a balanced diet.
  • Depending on your goals and the type of goats you’re raising, will determine how many acres you need. But high worm loads will indicate you have too many goats or are raising them in very wet climates. 

b. Managing Goats per Acre:

  • The number of goats per acre is determined by worm load control and stress levels.
  • Over-grazing, especially at ground level, exposes goats to worm infestation.

4. The Perfect Goat Diet: A Comprehensive Approach

a. Protein, Energy, and Fiber:

  • A well-rounded goat diet comprises 16% protein, with forage, browse, and loose minerals forming the foundation.
  • Minerals are essential as well with a copper range of 1800-2500 ppm. 
  • Adequate protein is crucial, and deficiencies can be supplemented with quality hay and pelleted goat feed.
  • Goats eat 3% to 4% of their body weight in dry matter daily.
  • Feeding grain in the morning is ideal. Be aware that a doe providing for multiple kids, especially 3 or more, will need grain several times a day. 
  • If you’re raising breeding animals, be sure to read up on hypocalcemia, ketosis, and other pregnancy related issues

b. Calcium-Phosphorus Balance:

  • Urinary Calculi is most likely related to phosphorus excess than alfalfa consumption. If you’re dealing with urinary calculi, you may have water too high in certain minerals, or overfeeding grain too high in phosphorus or castrating goats too young. 
  • Maintaining a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2 to 1 is essential.
  • Be aware of things like using chicken manure for fertilizing your pastures or hay ground. This will make the grass higher in phosphorus, causing problems with the calcium phosphorus ratio.

c. Breed Considerations:

  • Different goat breeds have varied nutritional needs.
  • Dairy goats, due to the fact that milk is built around protein, require more nutrition. During lactation, does will need almost double the protein to produce sufficient amounts. 
  • Some breeds like Kiko and Boar will eat more than other breeds.

5. Adaptation and Management: Keys to Success

a. Daily and Seasonal Adjustments:

  • Dietary needs fluctuate not only seasonally but also daily.
  • Regular adjustments are necessary based on the condition of the property and the goats.

b. Regular Testing:

  • Periodic testing of hay and forage ensures accurate nutritional values.
  • If the hay tests at 9% protein, then you’ll make up the difference with a quality goat pellet or adding in a higher quality hay like alfalfa. 
  • Dairy One Labs in New York provides comprehensive analyses for informed feeding decisions.

Get this goat tool that everyone is talking about:




To truly understand goats, we must discard outdated perceptions and embrace a holistic approach to their care. Thinking like a goat involves recognizing their selective eating habits, prioritizing high-quality forage, and tailoring their diet to meet both nutritional and environmental needs. A well-fed goat is a healthy goat, resilient against diseases and equipped to lead a thriving life. Let’s shift our perspective and embark on a journey of thoughtful and informed goat care.

There’s so much more to learn: Raising Goats resource page. 

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