Nutrition Matters: What To Feed Your Dairy & Meat Goats

Requirements for dairy and meat goats differ, and they're not always similar to those for dairy and beef cattle. Here's our guide to nutrition for goats.

by Alli Kelley
PHOTO: Shutterstock

As with feeding cattle for milk and meat, the ideal goat diet depends on your farm management style and what feedstuff is available to you. In this column, we’ll provide the general guidelines you can follow for feeding dairy and meat goats.

Dairy Goats

Feeding dairy goats is very similar to feeding a dairy cow. Like a dairy cow, the dairy goat’s diet changes as its stage of pregnancy and production changes.

About four weeks prior to kidding, the mother should be slowly transitioned to feeds that will be given after the birth. Its body condition score should be about a 3 at this point.

The animal’s diet should also start to contain a high-energy feed, such as grain, if none was being offered before. Slowly increasing the grain it consumes to about 1 percent of its body weight—dry matter—will help prepare its body for the stress of lactation and minimize the possibility of mastitis and metabolic health problems. The exact amount your goat will need is going to depend upon age, health and number of kids it’s expected to have.

Additionally, it should be provided with the proper vitamins and minerals prior to kidding and during lactation. This keeps the animal healthy as well as reduces the chance of the kids dying or developing health problems shortly after kidding.

While milk production will peak about eight weeks postpartum, the doe will still be in a negative energy balance for a few weeks. It’s important to keep providing her with a high-quality forage and grain source until she’s in late lactation, which will keep both the mother and kid healthy and ensure there is no negative impact on her future ability to conceive.

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Meat Goats

Meat goats don’t finish like cattle or even sheep, so it’s important to know their nutritional requirements so you can maximize their production. In general, goats require higher-quality feeds than cattle because the food moves through their digestive tract faster, allowing less time for rumination and nutrient absorption. While goats don’t make use of poor-quality feeds—think straw—very well, they are able to digest browse feeds, because they mostly eat the leaves, which are high in protein, and they can detoxify the tannins found in browse that are typically dangerous for other ruminants.

The main goal for feeding meat goats should be to meet their nutritional requirements for their sex, age and breed. If their requirements are met, they will grow and finish well. See the table above, which outlines some of these requirements and is based on 2006 National Research Council values. These requirements might be met by feeding hay, grazing, providing a high-energy supplement or a combination. Knowing the nutritional value of the feeds you are providing to your goats is the key to knowing what you need to feed them.

It might take consulting with a nutritionist or veterinarian and some trial and error to come up with the ideal diet for diary and meat goats on your farm. There is never just one right answer to animal husbandry, especially when it comes to nutrition. In the end, feeding healthy, happy animals is what matters most.

goat nutrition

Water & Minerals

In The Market Goat Guide to Success (2011), authors Anne Holmstrom and Dani Peters with the Oregon State University Extension Service say that, in addition to feed, water and minerals are very important to a healthy goat. “Always provide plenty of clean water and have free-choice loose salt and loose trace minerals available at all times,” they write. If you live in the Northwest, they say to be sure your minerals include selenium because there is a selenium deficiency in that region. Another tip they provide it to feed your goats on a regular schedule and weigh your goats’ feed at least once a week so that you know how much your goat is eating.

This story originally appeared in the July/August issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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