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Goat Nutrition

The old idea that goats can thrive on anything from newspapers to tin cans is a misconception that can get in the way of raising healthy animals.


Goats are related to other cud-chewing animals such as cattle and sheep, but that doesn't mean they should be fed the same way. Goats are primarily browsers, meaning they selectively eat their way among shrubs, woody plants, and weeds. The problem is that browsing usually doesn't provide enough nutrients to keep them healthy.


Of course, a goat's nutritional needs depend on its life stage and level of activity. A maintenance feeding program doesn't provide enough nutrition for a growing lamb, a pregnant or lactating doe, a wool producer, or a show animal.


It's important to adjust your goat's diet and feeding program to its particular need.


Use this guide to help determine a feeding program for your animal's best possible health and performance.


Feeding Methods


Pasturing and browsing is generally how goats are fed.

During the early part of the growing season, browse (vines, woody plants, and brush), weeds, and pasture plants tend to be higher in energy and protein — both of which are essential to goat nutrition.

And even though goats are natural browsers with the unique ability to select plants when they're most nutritious, browsing alone may not be enough to meet all their nutritional requirements.

As plants in the pasture mature, they become less tasty and harder to digest. That's why it's important to rotate goats among pastures; to allow browsed plants to begin to grow back and again be palatable to goats.

Keep an eye on what your goats have in their browsing area, because several types of plants are poisonous to goats, including azaleas, hemlock, and wild cherry. Contact your county agricultural extension agency for a complete list of poisonous plants in your area.

Here's one more reason to pasture your goats: those that browse have fewer problems with internal parasites.


Hay is the primary feed source during winter or when goats can't be in pasture for one reason or another.

Hay is a moderate source of protein and energy for goats. Legume hays — alfalfa, clover, lespedeza — tend to be higher in protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially calcium, than grass hays. Good-quality legume hay will contain from 14-18 percent crude protein and high-quality grass hay will contain 7-12 percent crude protein. Lesser-quality hay will not provide that much crude protein.

Hay quality can vary widely, depending on the maturity of the forage when it was harvested, whether it was cured properly, and whether it's stored correctly.

To make sure you're feeding quality hay, have it tested for nutrient content. Your county extension staff can help you with directions and the available laboratory. Cost is minimal — generally around $10 — and it's money well spent.


If forage alone can't provide enough nutrients, then you must feed a concentrate to balance it out. Providing the correct concentrate of goat feed will prevent your goats from losing weight and nutrients.

There are two kinds of concentrates; choose which best rounds out your goats' diet:

  • Energy feeds — These tend to be low in protein and include the cereal grains: corn, oats, barley, wheat, rye and milo. These are typically called sweet feeds for goats.
    One problem with feeding a lot of cereal grains is that they are high in phosphorous content, but low in calcium, which can cause kidney stones in males. You may need to add ammonium chloride to their diet to prevent kidney stones.
    Be aware that inadequate calcium also can cause milk fever in pregnant or nursing does. Mild milk fever will make her lethargic, with poor appetite and poor milk production; an acute case can leave her in a coma and she will need immediate veterinary attention.
  • Protein supplements — These contain high levels of protein and include soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and fishmeal.
    Besides providing needed nutrients, some experts say that adding higher levels of protein to your goats' diet may aid parasite control.
    Parasites often cause loss of blood in goats and other small ruminants, so higher levels of protein in their diet may help the animal's immune system fight the parasites' effects.

Vitamins and Minerals

The most important minerals to your goats are salt, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Keep the ratio of calcium to phosphorus to around 2:1 to prevent kidney stones.

Vitamins are needed in very small quantities. Vitamins most likely to be deficient in the goat's diet are vitamins A and D. All B and K vitamins are formed by bacteria found in the goat's rumen and are not essential to its diet. And enough vitamin C is synthesized in the body tissues to meet the animal's needs.

Minerals can be administered two ways:

  • Block minerals are solid blocks of salt and minerals that animals lick free-choice.
  • Loose minerals can be offered by a separate mineral feeder or added to the animals' feed.


If goats don't have enough water, it affects everything: production, growth, and general performance. Water helps the animal digest food and remove waste, regulate body temperature, and lubricate joints.

An adult goat generally will drink between three-fourths to 1½ gallons of water each day. On hot days, they'll drink more, and on cold days, they'll drink less. And lactating does always require more water.

Always make sure your goats have access to clean, fresh water.