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Grain in the goat diet

Differing goals determine what
to feed and when to feed it

By Nancy Nickel

Making the maximum use of one’s feed dollars is a challenge for any breeder and producer of livestock. Dairy goats are no exception to the puzzle. There are two common directions to the solution of what to feed and when to feed it, both driven by differing goals. Some breeders choose to feed minimum grain hoping to keep costs low. Kids are raised on forage and slower growth results. Others feed with an eye toward quick and maximum growth to put the doeling into production as soon as possible.

Here at Nickel’s Dairy Goat Farm, Clark, Missouri, we begin feeding our kids a grain mix as soon as they are interested in eating it. As little as a cup per pen is put out in the feeders to spark interest in this strange food in solid form. At first it is removed twice a day and offered to the pig or poultry, but gradually the kids catch on to eating and less and less is wasted by being jumped in or walked on and transferred to other species. We feel that this waste is worth the cost as it is a great aid to growth, weight gain and better utilization of all solid foods offered later.

From the first week onward, we offer our kids the finest stemmed alfalfa available. That from a late cutting is preferred. We also tempt them with the sweet feed which husband Bruce has developed to enhance early consumption of solid food. Our baby food is a combination of soy meal, alfalfa meal, cracked corn, rolled barley and rolled oats. This is mixed with corn oil and Karo syrup, both of the grocery store variety. The syrup and oil are added in sufficient amounts to bind the fines and cut the dust. We were encouraged to try this by an article we read once in Hoard’s Dairyman. This magazine’s report was on the beneficial effects of grains on the development of calf rumen. The rumen has a mat-like surface in a newborn and gradually grows projections from its surface until it resembles a thick shag carpet. The purpose of this shaggy surface is maximum surface area for digestion and transfer of nutrients to the bloodstream of the animal. It stands to reason that the better the absorption of nutrients gained from the feed the more economical the growth and gain to be.

Our special baby goat food mix is blended with Kent pellets (Goat 18), which are added as the kids age and grow. The goal is consumption of a pound of pellets per 100 pounds of kid in each pen. This might be considered "junior food" which is fed until about six months of age and eighty pounds, which for us is breeding age and size. We have had good luck with the Kent pellets designed for lamb growing as well (Lamb 20), and feel that the dequinate which Kent adds to be a needed component to prevent coccidial infection from robbing vigor and growth.

At all stages of development kids are fed the very best hay available. Good hay is green, with fine stems still holding leaf in the bale. It smells like "summer" and tastes sweet. If you nibble a leaf yourself you will not be fooled by hay that has become bitter through harsh growing conditions or cutting past its prime.

Condition of the group will determine at what age the grain is no longer needed. We do not like to see the coming yearlings too fat. Often they are put on good quality hay solely until three weeks or a month before kidding.

Bucks are fed grain through the fall rut. We have had good luck using Kent Goat 18 mixed half and half with a texturized calf starter like Kent’s Vector which also has dequinate. It is discontinued as soon as they have regained the body condition needed to take them through the winter.

Ruminants are really walking microbial factories. Within the rumen there are many different types of microbes, which are individual and differential in their ability to digest the feeds we present to their host. Without these microbes, a goat would be unable to make use of the coarse diet we give them. It is important to remember that each change we make in diet creates a needed change in the microbes to digest it. This is why a goat goes into acidosis and founder if it gets into the feed room and over indulges. The microbes are not prepared in sufficient numbers to digest the added grains and rumen acid is formed. Any change in feed must be gradual to allow the microbes time to reproduce sufficient numbers to "catch up" to the task.

A smooth transition from no grain during the dry period to milking rations is an important goal. Does that have been dry and will freshen within three weeks are fed separately and fed grain. This may be as little as a cup a feeding gradually increased to the amount one might estimate she will need to milk effectively the day she freshens. This could be as much as two or three pounds if she will be a heavy milker. Heavy milkers will be challenged to eat enough grain to maintain their body condition and weight the first 90 days they are fresh. Usually we find that in this period of a doe’s productive year she does indeed milk at a deficit. But it does her a big favor not to have to deal with what could be an overload of grain that she is not prepared for during this critical period.

Our milking grain is tailored to suit the needs of our herd and the availability of its components in our part of the country. Bruce made valuable use of the information received from being on standardized milk test. Over several years he found what worked well for us in realization of our goals of maintaining a herd that would produce to the maximum of expectations set forth by examination of their pedigrees while maintaining condition that would be conducive for wins in the show ring. The basis of our milker’s protein is Kent Dairy 40, black oil sunflower seed, and sometimes distiller’s grain. This distiller’s grain is a by-product of the ethanol plant not far from Clark. It is a granular, palatable feed that our does really enjoy. It is corn based and runs about 23% protein. In addition to one part by volume of these three items, Bruce adds one part each of milo, beet pulp, wheat, whole cotton seed, and rolled barley. Two parts whole corn and four parts whole oats balance this ration. Whole grains are preferred and well utilized by the does.

If we were living in a more westerly state, we might be feeding a mix that would be heavier in barley. Varying our location to the south might find us using rice bran in some combination. Knowing what a locale has to offer can yield great benefits in savings while maintaining good production and a healthy herd.

Another method of raising goats might find the producer feeding a minimal amount of grain and relying more heavily on forage. This method will cost less initially, but could result in an addition of another year needed to grow a doeling to the desired weight, 80 pounds, for breeding. The doe freshening as a two year old for the first time, however, will not milk as well as her two year old sister who freshened as a yearling. Again as three year olds the second freshener will not measure up to the third freshener. So if milk production is the goal for a herd, it is not only a gain in the milk the yearling gives but for years after she will milk more than her sister who was dry an extra year.

Whichever style of management is best will be somewhat dictated by the locale and the benefits it offers goat keeping. In either case we try to remember that the goat is a browsing animal and enjoys variety. Being creative with the use of a good source of nutritional information has helped us solve the puzzle here in Missouri and our dairy goats seem to be thriving with this type of grain feeding program.

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