Two of the questions I often get from new owners are: What and How much should I feed my goat?
That answer is more complex than you might think. And while I always provide some of the goat’s current feed when they leave our farm, many owners, especially new owners, are unsure about what to continue feeding as their goats mature and reach new stages in their life.
Contrary to commonly held belief, goats won’t eat everything and they will not thrive on poor quality pasture and forage.
As to what and how much they should eat; that depends on what you are using them for and what feeds are readily available in your area. A pair of Nigerian Dwarf goats will eat less than a pair of Boer meat goats and achieve the same body condition. But two pairs of Nigerian Dwarf goats, one pair that are pets and the other that are lactating does, will have drastically different energy needs.
Confused yet? Don’t be.
What and how much to feed basically breaks down to how much energy is available in the feed.
Too much energy and you have an expensive feed bill and fat goats with various health problems. Too little energy and you have thin goats with reduced reproduction rates and a greater susceptibility to disease.
Finding a balance for your pocketbook and your animals is what is key.
Ideally the most plentiful feeds in your area are going to be your best sources of energy. Importing specialty feeds or hay is expensive and not sustainable in the long run.
For me the most readily available feeds are corn, oats and commercially bagged feed like a complete pelleted feed and sweet feed. Corn and oats are grown on the family’s farm. Commercially bagged feed is available at several feed stores in my area. Mixed rye, coastal Bermuda and alfalfa hay are all also available in my area. A product called Chaffhaye is available from a dealer about an hour drive from my farm, you can read more on that here.
So, what you feed should be defined by what is available in your area. But how do you know which of the available options in your area are best and how much you should feed? There are really two methods for deciding this.
What and how much to feed are determined by the amount of energy in the feed. In the simplest terms, you need less of a feed with high energy and more of a feed with low energy. The energy in a feed is calculated as a value called the TDN or total digestible nutrients. The TDN value factors in all the nutrients in feed that are capable of supplying energy. These nutrients are Fiber, Protein, Fat and Sugars or Carbohydrates. To calculate the TDN of a feed you must know the amounts of each of the nutrients above that are in that feed. The formula to calculate TDN is:
TDN = Sugars + Fiber + Protein + (Fat x 2.25) or you can check out the table of TDN values at this site.
So, what good are TDN numbers?
Using the TDN numbers allows you to very closely match the needs of your specific herd with the best and most effective feeds in your area. Essentially you are figuring out how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to your feeding program. A good source for determining the average daily nutrient requirements for goats can be found here on the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service site.
Wow, that’s a lot of work just to figure out what to feed a goat.
Yes, it is. And unless you are a large-scale producer where shaving cents from each pound of feed bought translates to big savings you probably aren’t going to use the TDN method.
What’s important for us smaller scale producers are recognizing that not all feeds are created equal. And that the nutritional needs of goats at varying stages in their life are going to be different.
The other method for what and how much to feed your herd is called BCS or Body Condition Scoring. This method evaluates the individual condition of each animal and assigns a value from 1 to 5 based on that condition. A BCS of 1 is a very thin, poor goat and a BCS of 5 is an obese goat. Neither is ideal.
It is much harder to have a BCS of 5 than you would think. A very high BCS occurs most often in show goats. Although I have seen a few pet herds that were 5’s. The ideal range for goats is somewhere between 2.5 and 4. At this range you have goats in moderate to good condition. Goats in moderate to good condition have increased fertility and better resistance to disease and parasites. Operating costs reduce as a result of a healthier herd and reduced feed costs. There are some good descriptions and photos of the BCS method here.
The BCS method is about knowing and putting your hands on your animals and adjusting your feed program accordingly.