Goats are pretty fascinating animals that have been around for a long time. If you already have other farm animals and are thinking about getting some goats as well, you might want to look for a good sheep and goat fence. However, before doing this, it’s a good idea to understand the digestive system of these animals in order to make sure you can provide everything they need.
Throughout time, goats have proven to be strong creatures that can adapt quite easily to various conditions. This is why they have been an important asset for our development in a large number of areas across the world. Even though they are known for their adaptability and curious nature, goats do have some particularities when it comes to their food.
In order to understand these, the right approach is to get to know a little bit more about how their bodies work when it comes to processing food. Therefore, in this article, we’ll go into more details on this matter. This way, when you get your first goats, you’ll know what to expect and how to ensure the care they need.
Are goats ruminants?
Given that goats eat mostly leaves and greens, this is one of the first questions any future goat owner has. The answer is affirmative, goats are ruminants, which means they have four-compartment stomachs, just as sheep, deer, and cattle do. If you are not familiar with what this means and how this digestive system works, the following lines will help.
The four compartments of such a stomach are the reticulum, rumen, omasum, and abomasum. People and other animals such as cats or dogs have a monogastric stomach, also known as a simple one. What this means is that the food that is consumed goes through an acidic breakdown in the stomach, while the enzymatic digestion takes place in the small intestine.
This is where most nutrients are absorbed in the case of a monogastric stomach. Things are quite different when it comes to ruminants since this is a multiple-step process. The first one, called microbial digestion, takes place in both the reticulum and the rumen.
These two are often called the reticulorumen, and this process happens before the acidic digestion that takes place in the abomasum, which is the next step. Once this is done, the nutrient absorption and enzymatic digestion take place in the small intestine, which means this part of the body needs special attention as well.
So what is the process?
Thanks to the aforementioned microbial digestion that happens in the reticulorumen, goats and other ruminant animals can consume and thoroughly utilize leaves, hay, grass, and other such similar foods.
The reticulum and rumen compartments form what is known as a large fermentation vat which contains multiple microorganisms for this process. These are mainly bacteria that are able to break down and then digest feed, including some elements such as the fibrous component of grass and browse, that animals with monogastric stomachs cannot digest.
In this process of breaking down the feed by bacteria, some of the products are absorbed through the rumen wall, which means that the animal gets a lot of its energy needs supplied in this step. What is left after this part of the process, namely the undigested feed, other byproducts of digestion, as well as ruminal microorganisms, flows into the omasum.
This is where the remained larger feed particles are retained for further digestion, while water is reabsorbed. Once this is done as well, the material goes into the abomasum. This is where the acidic digestion takes place in order to extract the remaining benefits before going into the small intestine that is useful for further enzymatic digestion, thus ensuring all the nutrient absorption.
Going into more details
There are multiple benefits that goats and other ruminant animals get during this digestive process. The rumen has bacteria that are capable of extracting and synthesizing the necessary B vitamins. Moreover, the same bacteria can synthesize protein from recycled nitrogen in the body, and this can prove to be quite useful when the animal has a low-protein diet.
Of course, goats and other ruminant animals need a diet that includes certain levels of fiber, in order to have proper ruminal functions. These fibers are measured as crude ones, and the bacteria present in the first compartment can detoxify certain anti-nutritional factors such as tannins.
This characteristic helps goats use feed that contains high levels of tannin since these are usually found in browse. In very rare situations, goats can face situations in which they do not consume the adequate levels of fiber, and this usually happens when they are fed a high-grain diet, which means it is not a balanced one.
As you can only imagine, having a balanced diet is key for goats as well, as it is for pretty much any other living creature. When an inadequate and unbalanced fiber consumption takes place, this can lead to various conditions out of which the most serious one is called acidosis. What this means is that the level of pH in the rumen is very low, causing a low feed consumption.
What about young goats?
The interesting part is that when ruminant animals are born, their stomach’s first three compartments are not well developed, which means that their digestive system works similarly to a monogastric one. Since nature always has a logic behind every such thing, it’s the fact in this case as well.
For baby ruminants, digesting this way means that they can absorb antibodies out of the colostrum much easier and that they can efficiently use nutrients found in the milk. This way, they get everything they need with little effort on their bodies until they are strong enough to extract the necessary nutrients from food on their own.
After this stage, as young ruminants eat solid feed, particularly that are high in fiber, the microbial population establishes, which in turn leads to the development of the rumen. This needs to reach a certain degree of development in order to ensure successful weaning.
Particularities of goats
There are some aspects that set goats apart from other ruminants, and one of the most useful assets is the fact that they can use weeds and woody plants that are not normally consumed by sheep or cattle.
This aspect converts these plants into a useful and saleable product as well, and they can also be a cheaper source of nutrients, which definitely comes in handy and profitable for large goat farms.
Goats also tend to eat a wide range of plant species throughout a normal day, which means that they can use even poisonous ones, given that the consumed quantity is usually not high enough to cause damages by being truly toxic.
Moreover, these animals are known for their ability to detoxify relatively well the absorbed anti-nutritional factors. This means that goats tend to be somewhat more resistant to bloating than the other ruminant species. However, this doesn’t mean that you should rely on this and stop paying close attention to what they are eating.
After all, every aspect is important in order to have healthy animals that can produce the right quantity of milk, and nutrition is definitely the main one.