Goat nutrition is nothing like the old cartoons of goats eating tin cans and napkins.
Goats can be low maintenance;
but, we often put them in a situation that is alien to them and is much like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This article is not intended to be a detailed narration on how to balance a ration. It is, however, a brief generalization on how goats fair best with one specific nutritional guideline…. goats are browsers, not grazers. They can be very picky on occasion.
In their natural habitat, goats roam over distances and climb to areas difficult to reach by others. They thrive off brush and scrub that few other animals find appetizing. This keeps their mouths off the ground and away from parasites, but that is another article for another time. They would also generally not be eating large amounts of grain and grain rich products. Their diet is almost solely forages.
Goats are not sheep. They have some unique differences than their ovine counterparts but nutritionally speaking, the biggest difference is their tolerance of copper. Copper is toxic to sheep, but goats need copper for a healthy immune system, hair coat and good reproduction ability. Mineral supplementation for goats is often commercially grouped in with sheep, but this means that the product is mixed to be safe for sheep thus shortchanging the goats and leaving them deficient in much needed copper. Always choose minerals that are labeled for goats only, unless of course you are housing goats and sheep in the same feeding group…. which you should not do for this very reason as far as I am concerned.
Male goats are very sensitive to becoming blocked with urinary calculi (aka bladder stones/crystals). Often this is directly related to the intake of phosphorous rich feed-stuffs containing corn, like sweet feed. These small crystals act like sediment that clogs up the pipes and eventually blocks the urethra inhibiting urine from passing. The bladder gets full and the goat becomes uncomfortable. Eventually the bladder can rupture, and the goat will die. Once obstruction occurs, correction is often impossible. Prevention is critical, and prevention is 90% nutritional. Forages should be the primary source of food intake. Grain supplementation should be kept to a minimum, especially to males. If feeding grain or grain products, make sure they are formulated with a higher calcium to phosphorus ratio. Also, feeding a supplement that contains ammonium chloride can help dissolve the crystals in the bladder before they can block the urethra.
Remember when I said goats are browsers…. well they love to browse on everything, even your landscape plants and, contrary to some, goats are not smart enough not to eat something that is toxic to them. You should assume that any ornamental plant you have surrounding your home is toxic. Some common southeastern landscape plants that are toxic to goats are Azalea, Rhododendron, Yew, Lantana, Oleander, Jerusalem cherry, and Jasmine.
Unless you are a nutritionist, I do not recommend that you balance your own goats’ rations. However, most goat owners do not need to be able to do that anyway. You just need to follow some basic rules and call your vet or livestock extension agent. I am going to stress this point and I apologize if it comes across too harsh for some people. Before you decide to buy goats, please do so research and make sure you are prepared to take care of them. Read up on what they need to be healthy and happy. Your life will be easier if you are fitting the right animal to the environment instead of the trying to make the animal fit in an environment it was not designed to be in. And finally, do not overstock and crowd your pasture/environment.
I hope these nutritional points can help shed some light on how to feed goats. Obviously, there is a lot more nutritional information out there and more detailed feeding regimens, but I did not want to bore the non-nutrition majors and scholars with the percent protein, fat and fiber or the definition of dry matter percentage and TDN (Total Digestible Nutrient) content. I can always have Pike write that up if you guys want to learn more about that stuff.