Nourishing Your Goats: A Comprehensive Guide to Hay and Forage
Proper nutrition is fundamental to the health and well-being of your goats. Goat hay and forage play a pivotal role in meeting their dietary needs, providing essential nutrients, and fiber, and promoting digestive health. This comprehensive guide explores the types of hay and forage suitable for goats, their nutritional benefits, and best practices for feeding.
Contrary to what you may have heard about goats, goats are very picky eaters. They are not grazing animals like a cow or horse. They “browse” for their food. They prefer to eat from the top down, meaning they will go to a bush or tree and eat all the big, lovely leaves off of it before putting their nose to the ground and eating grass.
Whether in a pasture or a hay bale, nutrients will vary in what you feed them based on many factors. There will be more fiber and protein in a more mature pasture or if the hay was cut after a longer maturity, but the more fiber and stemmy a food source is, the less likely the goats will eat it. They will leave the pile of stemmy hay at the bottom of their feeder (or in a pile on the ground) and won’t eat it.
Any time you make any dietary changes, be aware that the changes must be done slowly. Any sudden change in food intake can cause laminitis and founder in your goats.
Each area of the world has its own mineral makeup. Some areas are lacking certain minerals while being extremely high in others. You will need to adapt your feeding program to your area, not to the area of someone across the country.
Keep all of this in mind as you choose and provide your food source to your goats.
1. Understanding Dietary Needs:
a. Fiber Requirements:
Goats are ruminants with a unique digestive system that thrives on high-fiber diets. Adequate fiber intake is crucial for rumen health, preventing issues like bloat and promoting proper digestion.
You can’t feed a goat only alfalfa pellets and expect them to do well. They need the long stem fiber of hay or forage to flourish.
b. Nutritional Content:
Hay and forage serve as essential sources of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Understanding the nutritional content of different options helps ensure a balanced diet for your goats.
The hay you’re feeding your goats can be tested for nutritional content, which could aid you in understanding what your goats are getting through this food source and what may be lacking or too much.
Providing free access to minerals at all times is essential for any situation.
When you test hay, you can test for the percentage of protein in the hay and for something called ADF. It stands for Acid Detergent Fiber. You want it to be lower than 35%. It measures the cellulose and lignin levels in the hay. Lignin is not digestible to a goat, so you want that lower percentage in the hay you feed.
Hay best suited for goats will be cut earlier, with smaller leaves and stems.
2. Types of Hay for Goats:
If you don’t have pasture or forage available year-round, then you’ll supplement with hay.
a. Grass Hay:
Varieties like Timothy, Bermuda, and Orchard grass hay are excellent choices. They provide essential fiber and are suitable for goats of all ages.
b. Legume Hay:
Alfalfa and clover hay are rich in protein and calcium. While they are nutritious, if their phosphorus-to-calcium ratio is off balance and incorrect it can create urinary calculi, which can cause problems, especially in adult male goats. Ideally, you want the calcium to phosphorus to be 2:1. Also note that feeding goats, especially male goats, a high diet of grain, without enough water intake can create urinary calculi as well.
Alfalfa is a great option for pregnant does and does in milk. It gives them the protein and energy they need to stay healthy and produce the energy needed to create kids and milk.
c. Mixed Hay:
Combining grass and legume hays can provide a balanced blend of nutrients. This approach mimics the diversity goats would encounter in a natural foraging environment.
3. Forage Options:
a. Pasture Forage:
Fresh pasture is an excellent source of nutrition, offering a variety of grasses and forbs. Rotational grazing ensures a continuous supply of fresh forage.
A goat is like a deer. In its natural environment, it would roam freely going to the best, most nutritious broad-leaf plants available. If you have the space and fencing available, by all means, allow your goats to roam!
Overcrowding and overgrazing will have a negative effect on pasture. Goats will eat the small, tender grass from the top down but will stop eating when it gets too mature and stemmy. Learn how to do rotational grazing on your property to adequately take care of your land and your goats.
b. Browse and Brush:
Allow goats access to browse areas with shrubs and woody plants. This not only provides additional forage but also supports natural behaviors like browsing.
Most browse (broad-leaf plants) and forbs (weeds) are an annual, replicating themselves each year by the seeds they drop. They grow for a short period and then are eaten or die off. Overgrazing will kill off these annuals and not allow them to reproduce. They will not come back the next year, which creates less material for your goats to eat the next year. There are other factors in this as well, including drought, that will cause these to not grow as well or die off.
c. Silage and Haylage:
Fermented forages, such as silage and haylage, can be alternative options. They can extend the forage season or provide additional nutrients during scarcity. BUT be very careful with the option. Mold will always cause problems with goats (or any animal) and silage and haylage can mold very easily. Feed carefully and wisely.
4. Balancing the Diet:
a. Assessing Nutritional Needs:
Consider the age, weight, and life stage of your goats when determining their nutritional requirements. Pregnant and lactating does, growing kids, and mature goats have varying dietary needs.
Goats of all ages need a protein intake of 14-16%. A lactating doe will need almost double that. About 6 weeks before they are due, start to SLOWLY increase their protein so that by the time they kid they are getting adequate amounts of protein. Increasing this too quickly can lead to acidosis, pregnancy toxemia, laminitis, and other problems that you want to avoid.
Lactation revolves around the protein, not the energy, the goat is receiving. To keep lactation at its highest, alfalfa hay is about the only hay that has the needed protein for a doe.
b. Mineral Supplements:
Ensure access to mineral supplements. Always allow for access to minerals at all times. Goats may require additional minerals depending on the forage and soil conditions in your region.
5. Forage Management:
a. Quality Assessment:
Regularly assess the quality of hay and forage. Look for signs of mold, dust, or weeds that may be harmful. Freshness and cleanliness are crucial for maintaining goat health.
b. Storage Practices:
Proper storage of hay prevents spoilage and preserves its nutritional value. Keep hay in a dry, well-ventilated area to prevent mold growth.
6. Feeding Practices:
a. Adequate Access:
Ensure that goats have constant access to hay and forage. This mimics their natural browsing behavior and helps maintain digestive health.
b. Feed in Moderation:
While forage is the cornerstone of a goat’s diet, it’s essential to avoid overfeeding. Goats are prone to obesity and other health issues if they consume excessive quantities.
7. Record What You’re Feeding Your Goats
You can utilize My Goat Binder to record what you’re feeding your goats, how much you got, what price you paid, and the results of any test you get back about the hay you’re feeding.
Get My Goat Binder here like over 5700 people have already:
Conclusion of Goat Hay and Forage:
Hay and forage are fundamental components of a goat’s diet, contributing to their overall health and vitality. By understanding the nutritional needs of goats and offering a diverse range of high-quality forage, you contribute to their well-being and longevity. Regularly assess and adapt your feeding practices to meet the evolving needs of your goats, ensuring a happy and healthy herd.
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