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Pros and cons of feeding grain to goats

Wild fodder for goats
"You mentioned in today's post that you wouldn't be feeding grain to Abigail (great name) until after the kids are here...  I know nothing about goats.  I am however a dog breeder.  And in dogs that would be backwards.  You want the pregnant bitch to have all the nutrition she can handle so the developing fetuses are healthy when they are born....  Maybe that's not what you meant, and since I know nothing about goats, except they are cute, maybe that doesn't apply to them.  But as a breeder, just wanted to say that sounded backwards."  --- Sidney

Feeding goats naturally seems to be a complicated subject, which I'm just starting to wrap my head around (so readers should feel free to jump in if you think I'm off base).  From what I understand, the ancestors of our cultivated goats would have been eating browse --- rough plant matter like tree leaves, blackberry brambles, and so forth.  They needed to consume lots of this roughage to get enough energy to live and grow, and their digestive system has evolved to require that kind of bulk fiber.

New goatGrain is a recent introduction to the goat's diet, and while it can help a doe keep on weight when she's producing lots of milk, grain can also be hard on a goat's gut since she isn't really adapted to eat it.  That makes the supplement more of a tradeoff than you'd find with your dogs --- fancier rations will probably just make your canines happy, but more grain can make a goat sick.

So why give her any grain at all?  Humans generally want the most that we can get out of our livestock, so we've bred dairy goats to produce much more milk than their ancestors would have in the wild.  Producing that milk requires extra energy and protein, and most goats will get really skinny if milked hard on pasture alone.  Think of this as a bit like Appalachian Trail thru-hikers --- they physically can't carry enough food to keep them well nourished while on the trail, so they often gorge on ice cream and other concentrates when they hit towns.  Grain is the dairy goat's ice cream --- it helps a doe put back on the pounds, but it's not necessarily good for her in the long run.

Now, there are alternatives to grain that still provide concentrated nutrition.  For example, Nita provided some excellent guest information in my ebook $10 Root Cellar about how she grows and prepares carrots, beets, parsnips, rutabagas, and (sometimes) mangels to keep her milk cow in fine flesh while milking over the winter.  And there's also something to be said for choosing individual milking animals that have well-developed rumens from a childhood on pasture and that don't produce quite as much milk, since animals like this probably won't need as much nutritional supplementation.  But, in the end, most people end up giving at least a little bit of grain to their milking animals at certain times.

Lucy sniffs Abigail

Returning to your point, there is some controversy about when a doe most needs extra nutrition --- while milking heavily, or when pregnant.  Most sources will only mention the latter, but others tell you that it's imperative to have your doe in relatively good condition at the start of her pregnancy if you want her to easily get and stay pregnant.  The trouble is that if you feed much grain while she's actually pregnant, the kid(s) will grow extra large, which can result in complications during birth.  So, your best bet is to get your doe in tip-top shape before she gets pregnant, to cool it on the grain while she's actually pregnant, then to pick back up with grain (or other supplements) in proportion to how much milk she's producing after she gives birth.

Of course, all of this is still book learning at the moment.  In a year or two, I'll probably laugh at the lack of nuance in my understanding of the subject but, for now, I'll keep Abigail's treats to a minimum but will provide her with lots of excellent browse to keep her healthy.
Two goats
(As a side note, during day one with two goats, it rained like crazy, so our girls have been enjoying room service --- masses of Japanese honeysuckle torn off the side of the barn, a handful of oat leaves, several sweet-corn stalks, two sunflower plants, some comfrey leaves, and a sorghum stalk.  Abigail thinks the oats are the best, followed by honeysuckle and comfrey, while our little doeling still looks a bit befuddled by her new home but chowed down on quite a bit of honeysuckle.  Hopefully it'll dry off enough to get them out on pasture for a better quality photo shoot soon!)

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Hey Anna. Love seeing all the pictures. Maybe Andy will let me get one someday. Mom thinks you should name goat number 2 Penny.
Comment by kayla Sat Oct 11 08:11:55 2014
OR Annabelle
Comment by kayla Sat Oct 11 08:14:29 2014

I read this entry with interest, although I have no goats. I too thought that grain during pregnancy and lactation was wise. I read the blog of a crofter in Scotland, and he raises goats for milk and cheese, here is a link to comments he had on the subject:

Comment by Maggie Turner Sat Oct 11 11:54:49 2014

I can only speak in general livestock terms because I don't have goats, but the single best thing you can do nutrition-wise is have good loose minerals available free choice. Countryside Organics might have what you need or service a feed store near you. Good minerals also give the manure a boost too for remineralization purposes.

Speaking from cow experience here too, so this may not apply but the stories of fetuses growing too large in late gestation because of overfeeding is an old wive's tale. Of course you don't want to overfeed, because it may cause problems with labor, but usually it's bad breeding choice that causes the babies to be too big.

Comment by Nita Sat Oct 11 14:43:50 2014

Nita --- Very timely comment since my goal for today (and my post for tomorrow) is researching goat minerals. I'm leaning toward a complicated arrangement with free-choice goat minerals in one feeder, plain salt in another, and kelp in a third. Over-complicated, do you think? (Or not complicated enough? :-) )

And very good to hear your take on the feeding while pregnant issue.

Comment by anna Sat Oct 11 16:00:50 2014

There aint a lot of feed value in browse come spring , just dried out dead stuff So feed hay , it dont need to be "Quality " hay just the cheap stuff that aint been wet , (not Musty ) then add a little good feed , I use horse and mule (they love the molases and i add diotomacious earth for a week once a month to head off worms ) , about a pound between four of them twice a day and s little alfalfa pellets when i start milking , about a coffee cup per goat per day , that has most of the minerals goats need , goats will waste hay so set op a feeder where they cant pull too much out and trample it into the dirt , mine is made from 4 inch hog pannel , small enough to stop waste yet big enough to get their nose through . basicly just watch them ,if they loose condition feed a little more , keep them dry with a warm shelter secure from varmits and enjoy them .

Comment by diogenese Sat Oct 11 17:24:57 2014

I don't go overboard with all the compartments since I move my mineral box each day and it has to be easy to move and cow-proof (goats are a little easier on stuff), I've seen stock with a plethora of mineral choices and they still look like they aren't getting what they need, you see rough coats, general unthriftiness etc. The most important thing is to make sure you don't mix the salt in with the other minerals because it can inhibit the animal's intake of the other minerals it needs. But like all things, minerals for stock is pretty subjective and some folks swear by certain things and others swear by the opposite. The best thing is to buy in small amounts, offer as much as you can afford, and watch your animals for signs they are getting what they need or not getting what they need.

My standbys are Redmond TM salt or Sea-90 salt (if I can get it) Icelandic kelp, Fertrell Nutribalancer (contains some Redmond salt and kelp), and sometimes Copper Sulfate, Azomite, or sulfur. Depending on the time of year and quality of feed, intake varies quite a bit.

You will find this an enlightening journey :)

Comment by Nita Sat Oct 11 18:01:36 2014
The farmer I get my goat milk from says he doesn't feed grain partly so he only has to milk once a day, instead of twice.
Comment by Ghislaine Sat Oct 11 21:59:53 2014

A few eclectic thoughts:= grains are really lousy sources of nutrition. A pile of grain is essentially a pile of sugar. Too much grain in a ruminant's diet may deter it from eating the healthier hay/browse it needs to keep the gut flora right. OTOH- the carbs do help spare protein to defer it into milk & muscle production. A little moderation is always a good thing.

=how can inorganic salts be "organic"?

Comment by doc Sun Oct 12 06:27:01 2014

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime