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Feeding the Goat Herd

By Susan Schoenian
Area Agent, Sheep and Goats
Western Maryland Research & Education Center

Feed is the single largest cost associated with raising meat goats. It has a large influence on herd reproduction, milk production and kid growth. Late-gestation and lactation are the most critical periods for doe nutrition. Nutrition level determines kid growth rate. Goats receiving inadequate diets are more prone to disease and will fail to reach their genetic potential.

Goats require energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber (bulk) and water. Energy (calories) is usually the most limiting nutrient, whereas protein is the most expensive. Deficiencies, excesses and imbalances of vitamins and minerals can limit animal performance and lead to various health problems. Fiber is necessary to maintain a healthy rumen environment and prevent digestive disturbances. Water is the cheapest feed ingredient and often the most neglected.

Many factors affect the nutritional requirements of goats: maintenance, growth, pregnancy, lactation, fiber production, activity and environment. As a general rule of thumb, goats will consume at least 3% of their body weight on a dry matter basis in feed. The exact percentage varies according to the size (weight) of the goat, with smaller animals needing a higher intake (percentage-wise) to maintain their weight. Maintenance requirements increase as the level of the goat's activity increases. For example, a goat that has to travel farther for feed will have a higher maintenance requirement than a goat in a feed lot. Environmental conditions also affect maintenance requirements. In cold and severe weather, goats require more feed to maintain body heat. The added stresses of pregnancy, lactation and growth further increase nutrient requirements. The following chart gives the nutritional requirements for various classes of meat goats:

Animal Protein Energy
Bucks 11% CP 60% TDN
Dry doe 10% CP 55% TDN
Late gestation 11% CP 60% TDN
Lactation (avg. milk) 11% CP 60% TDN
Lactation (high milk) 14% CP 65% TDN
Kid (30 lbs, >.4 lbs/day) 14% CP 68% TDN
Yearlings (60 lbs.) 12% CP 65% TDN

Source: National Research Council (NRC, 1981)

The next chart gives typical "book values" or "ballpark" figures for the nutritional content of various feed stuffs commonly fed to goats.

Feedstuff Protein Energy
Mature pasture 8% CP 50% TDN
Clover pasture 25% CP 69% TDN
Orchard grass pasture 18% CP 65% TDN
Browse (Honeysuckle) 16% CP 72% TDN
Soybean meal 44% CP 88% TDN
Complete pellets 12% CP 78% TDN
Barley grain 13.5% CP 84% TDN
Corn grain 10% CP 89% TDN
Poor hay 8% CP 50% TDN
Grass hay 12% CP 58% TDN
Mixed hay 15% CP 60% TDN
Legume hay 18% CP 62% TDN

A goat's nutritional requirements can be met by feeding a variety of feed stuffs. Feed ingredients can substitute for one another so long as the goat's nutritional requirements are being met. Goat feeding programs should take into account animal requirements, feed availability and costs.

Pasture and browse

Pasture and browse are usually the primary and most economical source of nutrients for meat goats, and in some cases, pasture and/or browse are all goats need to meet their nutritional requirements. Pasture tends to be high in energy and protein when it is in a vegetative state. However, it has a high moisture content, and it is difficult for a high-producing doe or fast-growing kid to eat enough grass to meet its 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. Goats which browse have less problems with internal parasites


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


Silage made from forage or grain crops has been successfully fed to goats; however, special attention must be paid to quality, as moldy silage can cause listeriosis or "circling disease" in goats. As with fresh forage, the high-producing goat cannot consume enough "wet" silage to meet its nutritional needs. Silage is typically fed on large farms, due to the need for storage and automated feeding equipment.

Concentrates (grain)

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 also times and situations where concentrates are a more economical source of nutrients. Creep feeding and supplemental feeding of kids has been shown to increase growth weight, but should only be done to the extent that it increases profit.

There are two types of concentrate feeds: carbonaceous and proteinaceous. Carbonaceous concentrates or "energy" feeds include the cereal grains corn, barley, wheat, oats, milo, and rye and various by products feeds, such as fat, soybean hulls and wheat middlings. It is not necessary to process grains for goats unless they are less than six weeks of age. One of the problems with 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 bucks. Inadequate calcium can lead to milk fever in pregnant or lactating does.

Proteinaceous concentrates or "protein supplements" may be of animal or plant origin and include soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and fish meal. Ruminant-derived meat and bone meal may not be fed to goats.. Protein quantity is more important than protein quality (amino acid content) in ruminant livestock since the microorganisms in the rumen manufacture their own body protein. Goats do not store excess protein; it is burned as energy or eliminated (as nitrogen) by the kidneys.

Many feed companies offer "complete" goat feeds pelleted or textured which are balanced for the needs of goats in a particular production class. Pelleted rations have an advantage in that goats, who are very selective eaters, cannot sort feed ingredients. In recent years, a number meat goat feed products have been introduced to the market. Complete feeds come in 50 or 100 lb. sacks and tend to be much more expensive than home-made concentrate rations.

Vitamins and minerals

Many minerals are required by goats. The most important are salt, calcium, and phosphorus. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be kept around 2:1. Vitamins are need in small amounts. Goats 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 goats 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. Force-feeding minerals and vitamins is actually better than offering it free choice since goats will not consume minerals according to their needs.

Maryland soil's are deficient in selenium, thus the premix should be fortified with selenium to prevent white muscle disease in kids and reproductive problems in does. Supplementing selenium via the feed or mineral is preferred to giving selenium injections. Goats appear to have a much higher tolerance for copper in their diets as compared to sheep, thus it is recommended that feeds and/or premixes contain copper, unless the goats are co-mingled with sheep. It is possible to get pelleted supplements that contain vitamins and minerals, as well as high levels of protein (34-40%). These supplements can be combined with whole grains to create a balanced concentrate ration. Coccidiostats and antibiotics can also be added to the mineral mix or supplement.


Goats should have ad libitum access to clean, fresh water at all times. A mature goat will consume between to 1 gallons of water per day. Inadequate water intake can cause various health problems. In addition water and feed intake are positively correlated.

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