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Meat Goat Nutrition

The old idea that goats can thrive on anything from newspapers to tin cans can get in the way of successful meat goat production.

Because of their unique physiology, meat goats do not fatten like cattle or sheep do, and rates of weight gain are smaller. Therefore, profitable meat goat production can be achieved only by providing high-quality forage and browse and strategically using concentrate feeds.

This can be achieved by developing a year-round forage program allowing for as much grazing as possible throughout the year.

Nutrients essential to goats are water, energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins. For each animal to get the correct amount, they should be grouped according to their nutritional needs.

Therefore, those with the highest nutritional requirements — such weanlings, does during the last month of gestation, high-lactating does, and yearlings — should be grouped and fed separately from the rest of the herd having lower nutritional needs.

They also should have access to lush, leafy forage or high-quality browse. When either the forage that they are grazing or the hay that they are fed does not contain the necessary nutrients to cover their nutritional requirements, all goats should be supplemented with a concentrate feed.

Water for Meat Goats

Production, growth, and general performance will be affected with insufficient water.

Because water needs vary with each animal's life stage — lactating does always need plenty — goats should always have access to sufficient high-quality water.

Energy for Goats

Energy comes primarily from carbohydrates — sugars, starch, and fiber — and fats in the diet. Bacteria in the rumen of goats ferment sugars, starches, fats, and fibrous carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids. These acids are absorbed and used for energy.

If the diet consumed by goats contains an excess of energy, that extra energy can be stored in the body as fat, mainly around certain internal organs.

Protein for Goats

Inadequate levels of protein in the diet can affect growth rate, milk production, reproduction, and disease resistance. Unlike energy, excess of protein is not stored in the body of the goat, so it's important to feed enough protein to cover the animal's nutritional requirements.

Livestock Minerals for Goats

Major minerals likely to be deficient in the diet are salt (sodium chloride), calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium.

Most forages are high in calcium, so calcium is low only if high-grain diets are fed, which would be unusual for goats. Providing a free-choice complete goat mineral or a 50:50 mix of trace mineralized salt and dicalcium phosphate will make sure that your animals get the needed nutrition.

Vitamins for Goats

Vitamins are needed in very small quantities. Those most likely to be deficient in the diet are vitamins A and D. All B and K vitamins are formed by bacteria found in the rumen of the goat and are not considered dietetically essential. Vitamin C is synthesized in the body tissues in adequate quantities to meet the animal's needs. When goats are raised on browse, abundant forage should be made available to allow them to be very selective and to ingest a highquality diet that will meet their nutritional requirements.

Goats can be forced to eat very low-quality feed including twigs and tree bark, but producers should be aware this practice will hurt the productivity of superior meat goats.