Before you get your goats, you need to make sure you have all the feeding equipment they need, as well as a stockpile of food. All goats need certain kinds of feed, but they have differing nutritional requirements depending on their gender and what stage of life they’re in.
Goats are browsers, like deer, which means they prefer trees, bushes, and woody weeds; rather than standing still and eating grass down to the roots, they like to stay on the move, eating a bit of this and a bit of that. Goats can learn to graze a pasture, but don’t expect it to be “mowed.” The grass helps supplement the goats’ diet, but low grazing also can spread parasites.
Goats have specific nutritional needs, only some of which are met by the plants on your farm that they browse on. You have to provide feed for the needs that can’t be met by browsing. Unless you have a lot of property with a variety of browse, feed will be your biggest expense in raising goats. Don’t scrimp on goat feed — it will pay dividends in good health, milk production, and lower veterinary bills.
Feeding hay and alfalfa
Hay is the main source of nutrients for goats in non-grazing seasons, or all the time if they don’t have access to browse. Grass hay provides a moderate amount of protein and energy for the goat diet. Legume hays, such as clover and alfalfa, usually have more protein, vitamins, and minerals, particularly calcium, than grass hays. This varies depending on the maturity of the hay or alfalfa and the way that it’s cured and stored.
Each goat needs 2 to 4 pounds of hay each day, although some of this need can be met by available pasture or other forage. Make it available free choice throughout the day when pasture is unavailable or feed twice a day when goats are also browsing.
You can feed alfalfa (and some grass hays) in pellet form if you don’t have storage or if you want to mix it with grain. The goats don’t waste so much alfalfa when it’s in pellets, and you can limit who gets it by combining it with their grain.
Grain or pelleted grain mixes add protein, vitamins, and minerals to a goat’s diet. Some are formulated specifically for goats. Grain options include the following:
Whole grain: This is the whole, unprocessed grain seed head.
Pelleted grain: A product made from grain or grain byproducts milled into small pieces and then made into pellets by adding a binding agent.
Rolled grain: Nutritionally identical to whole grain, rolled grain is simply rolled so that it’s flat.
Texturized grain: Similar to rolled grain, texturized feed mixes usually have other ingredients added to improve nutrition.
Feeding Farm Sheep
Sheep make excellent use of high-quality roughage stored either as hay or low-moisture, grass-legume silage or occasionally chopped green feed. Good-quality hay or stored forage is a highly productive feed; poor-quality forage, no matter how much is available, is suitable only for maintenance. Hay quality is determined primarily by the following: 1) its composition, eg, a mixture of grasses and legumes such as brome/alfalfa or bluegrass/clover; 2) the stage of maturity when cut, eg, the grass before heading and alfalfa before one-tenth bloom; 3) method and speed of harvesting because they affect loss of leaf, bleaching by sun, and leaching by rain; and 4) spoilage and loss during storage and feeding. In general, the same factors influence the quality of silage. Complete analysis of cut-stored forages enhances the utilization of these feedstuffs and allows for the most efficient use of supplemental grains and minerals.
Perhaps the single most important item in the rabbit diet is grass HAY, and it should be fed in unlimited quantities to both adults and baby rabbits. A rabbit fed only commercial rabbit pellets does not get enough long fiber to keep the intestines in good working order. The long fibers in the hay push things through the gut and keep the intestinal muscles in good tone. In addition to keeping the intestinal contents moving at the rate at which nature intended, hay may also help prevent intestinal impactions caused by ingested hair or other indigestible items.
A high quality commercial rabbit pellet provides trace nutrients, vitamins and minerals that a rabbit might not get if fed only hay and fresh foods. However, very little pelleted food is required for good health. Many experienced rabbit veterinarians are now recommending no more than 1/8 cup of quality pellets per 5 lbs. of rabbit per day, and some even consider commercial pellets a “treat food” that can promote obesity in spayed/neutered adult rabbits. A rabbit fed too many pellets will sometimes ignore hay, to the detriment of the intestinal system!
A good quality rabbit pellet DOES NOT contain dried fruit, seeds, nuts, colored crunchy things or other things that are attractive to our human eyes, but very unhealthy to a rabbit. Rabbits are strict herbivores, and in nature they rarely get fruit, nuts or other such fatty, starchy foods. The complex flora of the cecum can quickly become dangerously imbalanced if too much simple, digestible carbohydrate is consumed–especially if the diet is generally low in fiber.