Goats have a particular digestive system, just like sheep and cattle. Therefore the best feed for goats is a balanced, diverse diet that suits their particular digestion. Here are some general facts and feeding guidelines for properly raising this highly appreciated animal.
Goats are ruminant animals, which means their stomach is made up of four separate compartments, each of them with a specific digestive structure and purpose. Goats are called ruminants because they need to ruminate the food they’ve eaten in the first compartment (the rumen) before it passes on into the next compartment.
What does ruminating mean?
A major part of a goat’s digestive process is ruminating, which means regurgitating partially digested food back into the mouth, and chewing it again. This process is very important to a goat’s health and overall wellbeing, and it lasts for hours after a feeding session. Not ruminating throughout the day can be one of the first noticeable signs of illness.
Understanding how a goat’s digestive system works is crucial in choosing the right diet for them, especially if the animals are bred for financial reasons, and you want to make sure the care your goats get fully translates into satisfying production levels. So, let’s take a closer look at how a goat’s four stomach compartments work.
What are the four stomach compartments?
The rumen is the first and the largest of the four stomach chambers. Its role is to break down plant material that has been ingested, and it does that with the help of microorganisms, such as bacteria and protozoa. All this intense ruminating activity also helps to keep goats warm.
The reticulum is the second stomach chamber responsible for helping the rumen in the fermentation process of breaking down food. Furthermore, in case a goat swallows anything else besides food, these non-food substances will settle in this part of the stomach, not entering the rest of the digestive system.
The omasum is the next and third chamber of the stomach. This part of the stomach has many folds that are responsible for removing the water from the food particles and further grinding them up. Also, this stomach compartment is where fatty acids are being absorbed, which gives goats all the much-needed energy.
The abomasum is the fourth and last of the stomach compartments. It is usually referred to as the true stomach due to its hydrochloric and enzymes content that plays the role of digesting what is left of the food that has been ingested. This is the stomach chamber from which rennet for cheesemaking is traditionally made.
What should a goat eat?
Goats have become well known for their ability to pasture on anything from green grass to hardy shrubs, young trees, and even shrubby woods. This makes them different from other ruminant grazers like cattle and sheep, and more like deer. They are excellent at clearing overgrown land since they would always prefer browsing rather than grazing.
In order to keep your herd healthy and thriving, there are a few general feeding guidelines to be followed: never make any drastic changes to their diet all at once, and don’t feed them large amounts of new food. Either one of these two practices can lead to major digestive disruptions and even illness to your goats.
A goat’s diet is different depending on the season. In the winter time, it mostly consists of good quality lucerne hay and crushed grains in small amounts. In the summertime, it’s made up of green grass, some hay and also a few crushed grains. Goats that have given birth should have a special diet also, enriched with calcium and vitamins.
A goat’s diet will also vary according to its breed and breeding purpose. For instance, meat goats have different, and slightly higher, energy and protein needs than a lactating goat, which translates into being able to eat more than 1% of their body weight in crushed grains (including corn) without the associated risk of developing acidosis.
What types of hay are suitable for goats?
Apart from their range, hay is the most important source of nutrients for goats. Hay can be grass, Lucerne, alfalfa, or clover hay. A very important aspect to be kept in mind is the hay quality provided for goats. Humid, molded or otherwise unsuitable quality hay can make goats ill, sometimes even leading to abortion or death due to its high toxin content.
If browsing is not available, as it’s often the case during winter, every goat should receive two to four pounds of hay per day. It could be fed twice a day. However, breeders should watch out for overfeeding, because goats have a tendency to waste a lot of hay when overfed, which could lead to important financial loses to the owner.
Mineral formulated supplements for goats should always be available in easily reachable places. If they are not easily purchasable in your area, then big chunks of raw, rough salt can be used. Goats will lick the salt in between feedings, thus getting the so much needed mineral supplement.
Can goats eat grain?
It is advisable to feed your goats either crushed grains, or grain mixed pellets. Some farmers even choose to go to a livestock nutritionist for a more precise mixed pellets formula. A livestock nutritionist will tailor a feeding formula to the area’s precise conditions, thus minimizing problems and ensuring the herd will thrive.
Giving goats crushed grains, instead of whole ones, is very important. Unlike sheep, goats do not tolerate whole grains very well. They can disrupt the digestive system to the point of illness, or even death, due to stomach blockages. Crushed grains, on the other hand, are very well tolerated by goats, that get the needed protein, vitamins and nutrients from it.
However, in feeding a ruminating animal, timing is key. Because of their particular digestive system, you need to keep a balance between dry hay, green grass, and crushed grains. Crushed grains should always be fed before and after dry hay, and never before and after green grass, to avoid the gassy fermentation process that can lead to bloating and illness.
How about corn?
In small amounts, corn is suitable for goats, as long as it is crushed and of very good quality. Humid or molded corn can harm goats due to molds’ high level of toxicity, leading to illness. Also, corn that has been infested with mice or rats can carry bacteria, parasites or other types of disease that could be transmitted to goats.
When the weather is bad, or in springtime when goats give birth, it is advisable to give mixed crushed grain, including good quality corn, mixed with calcium and vitamin supplements, in order to maintain goat’s health and proper digestion.
Besides regular dried corn, in the summertime, you can feed corn leaves and stalk. You should introduce this food gradually into their diet, as a snack, and only feed it in limited amounts. However, make sure the area you harvest these corn leaves and stalks is not heavily treated with chemicals, to prevent any sort of chemical poisoning.