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How much does a goat need to eat?

Morning goat, evening goat

I'm starting to wrap my head around goat digestion, but it's slow going since ruminants are so very different from any other animal I've ever spent time with. Goats are especially interesting because they're able to eat really fast, filling up their rumen, then they slowly digest that food over the course of the day. Which begs the question --- do our girls need to fill up their rumen once daily? Twice? Keep it full all day? Or what?

Artemesia's full tummy

I suspect that the lack of an easy answer is due to the vast differences in nutritional value of different food sources. Our girls have been gorging on honeysuckle leaves for the last week or so, which probably means that Artemesia's round evening belly is providing plenty of calories. Abigail's belly never looks as round, but I suspect that's just the older animal's natural shape since she's the head goat and surely eats quite a bit more than Artemesia does on an average day.

Goats eating honeysuckle

I'd be curious to hear from other ruminant wranglers (and especially from others captivated by caprines). Do you have a rule of thumb for how much a healthy goat should eat per day?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Let them eat as much as they want of greenery / weeds but STRICTLY limit the amount of corn /grain they get they will die eating too much grain , a couple of carrots each or a single smallish turnip , do not over feed alfalfa that upsets the rumen If they get too much , weeds and not great quality hay ,they will be fine.
Comment by diogenese Wed Oct 29 21:44:50 2014

Since my goats are not dairy goats and their only function is to eat weeds and make manure, I just picket them. When they have mown down the weeds around their picket, I move them. They are picketed from 8am to 1pm, and then I take them back to their yard. Then they lick their salt, and lay down to chew cud in the sun.

They get upset if I vary that routine, unless it is raining. And they seem to be pretty healthy and happy.

But I don't think that would work so well on dairy or pregnant animals.

Comment by Eric in Japan Thu Oct 30 00:06:43 2014

Eric - Interesting! I have noticed lately that Abigail wants to go back to the coop around 4 pm even if there's more honeysuckle left to eat. (Actually, 4 pm might be pushing it --- she seems done a little earlier than that.) So maybe I should listen to her and stick to a seven hour buffet.

Out of curiosity, what do you do if it's raining? Leave them in and feed them hay?

Comment by anna Thu Oct 30 08:17:56 2014

Round and round. With the temps going down, even here in florida, the goats should always have that roundness to them. Given the chance my goats will always have that look. The rumen will empty a bit when they go to relax and digest, but then in no time it's back to filling it up. They should never have that caved in look to them. The rumen should Always be full. It's where the warmth comes from,and where the food sits the longest. (this is on a diet of little or no grain! If you feed grains you need to watch out for bloating! If you are heavy on grains you atually want them to look a bit "empty". this is mostly for dairy goats.)

Comment by T Thu Oct 30 10:05:00 2014
T --- Do your goats look round first thing in the morning? (Or maybe you don't shut them in at night with nothing to eat? Do you give them hay to nibble on if they wake early?)
Comment by anna Thu Oct 30 10:28:19 2014
Yup the do look kinda a empty in the morning , then they eat fill up some ,lie chew the cud ,sleep ,get up and eat again ,they look fat / full at night when put up , as for rain it rarely rains all day and they will go out as soon as it stops , if it rains all day give them some hay before dark 1 wad of a bale ( small square ) would be plenty for your two , to see them through the night , just look at them in the evening and when the weather is bad , aim for them to look about the same when you are feeding them as when they are helping themselves .
Comment by diogenese Thu Oct 30 17:29:25 2014
diogenese --- Thanks for the followup! I'm glad to hear my goats aren't the only ones who look skinny in the morning.... Your filling-them-up-if-it-rains method sounds very sound. :-)
Comment by anna Thu Oct 30 19:32:10 2014
Anna--- If it rains, I just cut down a few bamboo culms and drape them over the fence. Or I might go into the forest and snap off some acuba branches (understory weed tree in the cedar plantations-kinda looks like a coffee plant with really thick leaves).
Comment by Eric in Japan Fri Oct 31 21:21:34 2014

Hay and/or browse should always be available to goats because of their complex ruminant system. After our goats have had their 'fill' of alfalfa hay, they are definitely fuller around the belly. One of my yearling does even sports a lopsided belly (on the left where the digestion starts). I feed flakes of alfalfa hay 4 times a day to the does. The bucks get flakes of mixed hay 3 times a day. Once they finish their hay, they move onto browse. At this time, dry leaves are everywhere, as is honeysuckle and some land cress and dandelion greens.

Grain is in the morning and is in a limited amount. Alfalfa pellets are provided at noon. Beet greens are a treat for them, as are other greens. Browse is always available but goats won't venture outside in the rain and of course, in cold weather, there is less green available -- but more dropped tree leaves. Goats can usually find SOMETHING they want to munch!

A milking doe, or a doe that's pregnant, needs more grain since the body is 'working'. The amount of grain will vary with each doe and your best bet is to simply watch each doe for weight increase and/or milk production. I have read 4 quarts for a lactating doe -- if I fed that much, I would be setting the doe up for bloat!

In general, a milker will provide more milk if given more grain and quality alfalfa hay. I have purebred Nubians that are either SG does or from an SG line so the milk yield is high, at about 1 gallon a day per doe (11-15 lbs). You know the saying: you are what you eat. A dairy goat that is only receiving browse will produce a lesser amount of milk but that milk is essentially 'free'.

With goats and grain, it's better to underfeed than overfeed since grain can cause bloat faster than any other product. If worrying how alfalfa will affect your goat, watch the pellets. Too much alfalfa will show in loose stools, not goat poop pellets. Hope this helps!

Comment by Lynn Sat Nov 1 06:52:45 2014

My dairy goats forage on a variety of weeds and tree leaves during the day, are fed grass hay in the evening when they are locked in the barn and in the morning are fed their grain/alfalfa ration.

Alfalfa (or some type of legume) is a must for a dairy breed in production. Lacking the calcium they get from it can actually throw them into hypocalcemia, which is often fatal. I don't like to give raw grain. It's hard on the rumen and much of the nutrition is lost, but sprouting the grains just slightly makes them much more digestible and gives them 80% as opposed to 20% of the nutrition.

It's in the alfalfa/grain ration that you get the results in your milk bucket... it should be well balanced, highly nutritious but not over-fed to the animals.

Comment by Thistle Sun Nov 2 16:49:50 2014
Here is a great article on this subject:
Comment by blackburnmanor Wed Nov 5 11:18:56 2014

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