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    What Do Goats Eat? A Guide to Goat Feed

    Authored by Susan Schoenian

    A goat's nutritional requirements can be met by feeding a variety of feedstuffs. Feed ingredients can substitute for one another so long as the animal's nutritional requirements are being met.

    Feeding programs should take into account animal requirements, feed availability, and costs of nutrients.

    Goat sense

    • Start with sanitary conditions for your animals.
    • Do not feed on the ground.
    • Feed hay, grain and minerals in feeders that cannot easily be contaminated with feces.
    • Pick up, hang up, and put feeders away (after feeding) to keep them clean.
    • Keep water receptacles clean. Change water frequently.
    • Do not overstock pens and pastures.
    • Do not rely on unproven natural products to control parasitism.
    • Evaluate ewes and does prior to lambing and kidding to determine their need for deworming.
    • Keep goats in dry lot to keep them from becoming infected with parasites or to prevent infection.

    Pasture, forbs and browse

    Pasture, forbs and browse are usually the primary and most economical source of nutrients for goats, and in some cases, pasture is all small ruminants need to meet their nutritional requirements. Pasture tends to be high in energy and protein when it is in a vegetative state. However, it can have a high moisture content, and sometimes it may be difficult for high-producing animals to eat enough grass to meet their nutrient requirements.

    As pasture plants mature, palatability and digestibility decline, thus it is important to rotate pastures to keep plants in a vegetative state. During the early part of the grazing season, browse (woody plants, vines, and brush) and forbs (weeds) tend to be higher in protein and energy than ordinary pasture.

    Goats are natural browsers and have the unique ability to select plants when they are at their most nutritious state.

    Additionally, goats that browse have fewer problems with internal parasites.

    Pasture & grazing

    • Implement rotational grazing practices to prevent goats from grazing severely infected pastures.
    • Rest pastures to reduce parasite infection level and give plants time to regrow.
    • Create clean pastures by removing a hay crop from the pasture field.
    • Do not allow livestock to graze forage below 2 inches; ideally 4 inches.
    • Graze taller forages.
    • Allow goats to browse.
    • Co-graze sheep with cattle and/or horses to reduce the parasite load on the pastures and ingestion of infective larvae.
    • Reduce the ingestion of infective worm larvae by delaying grazing until after the dew is lifted.


    Hay is the primary source of nutrients for small ruminants during the winter or non-grazing season. Hay varies tremendously in quality, and the only way to know the nutritional content is to have the hay analyzed by a forage testing laboratory.

    Hay tends to be 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.

    The energy, as well as protein content, of hay depends upon the maturity of the forage when it was harvested for forage. Proper curing and storage is also necessary to maintain nutritional quality of hay.


    It is oftentimes necessary to feed concentrates to provide the nutrients that forage alone cannot provide. This is particularly true in the case of high-producing animals.

    There are two types of concentrate feeds: carbonaceous and proteinaceous. Carbonaceous concentrates or "energy" feeds tend to be low in protein (8-11 percent). They include the cereal grains — corn, barley, wheat, oats, milo, and rye. It is not necessary to process grains for goats unless the animals are less than six weeks of age and lack a functioning rumen.

    One of the problems with feeding a lot of cereal grains is that they are high in phosphorus content, but low in calcium. Feeding a diet that is high in phosphorus and low in calcium can cause urinary calculi (kidney stones) in wethers and intact males. Inadequate calcium can lead to milk fever (hypocalcemia) in pregnant or lactating does.

    Proteinaceous concentrates or "protein supplements" contain high levels of protein (more than 15 percent) and may be of animal or plant origin. They include soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and fish meal.

    Ruminant-derived meat and bone meal cannot (by law) be fed to other ruminants, including goats. Protein quantity is generally more important than protein quality (amino acid content) in ruminant livestock because the microorganisms in the rumen manufacture their own body protein.

    Livestock do not store excess protein; it is burned as energy or eliminated (as nitrogen) by the kidneys. Because parasites often cause blood loss in small ruminants, higher levels of protein in the diet may enable the animal to mount a greater immune response to parasites.

    Many feed companies offer "complete" goat feeds — pelleted or textured — which are balanced for the needs of the animals in a particular production class. Pelleted rations have an advantage in that the animals cannot sort feed ingredients.

    Vitamins and minerals

    Many minerals are required by small ruminants, the most important being salt, calcium, and phosphorus. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be kept around 2:1 to prevent urinary calculi, a urinary tract disease.

    Vitamins are needed in small amounts. Goats and other small ruminants require vitamins A, D and E, whereas vitamin K and all the B vitamins are manufactured in the rumen.

    A free choice salt-vitamin-mineral premix should be made available to small ruminants at all times, unless a premix has been incorporated into the grain ration or TMR (total mixed ration). In the very least, does should be fed pre-choice mineral during late gestation and lactation.

    Either a loose mineral or mineral block may be offered, although force- feeding minerals and vitamins is actually better than offering it free choice because animals will not consume minerals according to their needs.

    It is possible to get pelleted supplements that contain vitamins and minerals, as well as high levels of protein (34-40 percent). These supplements can easily be combined with whole grains or by- product feeds to create a balanced concentrate ration.

    Nutritional requirements for goats


    % Protein

    % Energy




    Dry Doe



    Late Gestation



    Lactation: Average Milk



    Lactation: High Milk









    Water for goats

    Small ruminants should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. A mature animal will consume between three-fourths to 1_ gallons of water per day.

    Water requirements and intake increase greatly during late gestation and during lactation. Water requirements increase substantially when environmental temperatures rise above 70 degrees F and decline with very cold environmental temperatures.

    An animal's nutrient requirements will increase if it has to consume cold water during cold weather. Rain, dew, and snowfall may dramatically decrease free water intake.

    Inadequate water intake can cause various health problems. Additionally, water and feed intake are positively correlated.

    Worms are not the enemy

    All goats have worms in their gut. It is normal. It is okay. The goal of parasite control should not be to eliminate parasites from the animal's system. There have been consequences to doing this in people.

    Parasites are believed to play an important role in immunity. Young animals need to be exposed to parasites to allow them to develop immunity. It's only when they're exposed to too many parasites or their immunity is compromised due to disease or nutrition that they become clinically parasitized and are at risk to die.

    When animals become clinically parasitized, the system is out of balance. In the short term, you need to deworm parasitized animals, but in the long run, you need to find other ways to keep the system from getting out of balance.

    Overgrazing is the primary cause of parasitism in small ruminants, such as goats. You'd be amazed at what selling animals or putting them in dry lot will do for your parasite control program.

    The only time a negative fecal test or zero egg count is desirable is when you introduce a new sheep or goat to your farm. To prevent the introduction of drug-resistant worms to your farm, your goal should be to rid the new animal of all parasites.


    Silage is fodder harvested while it's still green and preserved by partial fermentation, as in a silo.

    Special attention, however, must be paid to quality, as moldy silage can cause listeriosis or "circling disease" in small ruminants. Clinical signs of this deadly bacterial disease are weakness on one side, which causes the animal to walk in circles, thus its more common name, "circling disease."

    What is a ruminant?

    The goat is part of a class of animals called ruminants because these animals ruminate — chew their cud.

    Their four-compartment stomachs are designed to digest high-fiber roughage such as grass, hay, and silage, according to Cornell University.

    When a goat eats roughage, it is chewed on, soaked with saliva, and then swallowed. This ball of food is called the "cud," and goes down into the first part of the stomach to be digested. At regular intervals, the cud is brought back up to the goat's mouth to be chewed on and swallowed again. This digestion process is called rumination.