Feeding dairy goats properly is essential to keeping them healthy. There is no single magic "right way" to feed dairy goats. There are many options depending on where you live and what feed choices you have available. At Goat Milk Stuff, every goat always has access to the following:
- free choice grass hay
- free choice loose minerals
- clean water
That is the basic nutrition needed to keep a goat alive and healthy. This would be the typical diet for an adult goat that is simply a pet. But for goats that are pregnant or milking, bucks that are in rut, or growing babies, this isn't quite enough.
What We Feed Goats That Are Currently Milking
In addition to hay, minerals, and clean water, our milkers also receive:
- free choice alfalfa pellets (to meet their calcium needs)
- whole oats on the milk stand (to keep weight on them so they don't get too skinny)
The amount of oats they receive depends on their weight. As their weight varies throughout the year, so does their daily ration. We have many heavy milkers that will get too thin unless they eat several large scoops of oats at each milking. And we have some lazy goats (who don't get much exercise) and tend toward being fat, that are only allowed half a scoop. Young milkers that are still growing, will also get more because they haven't reached their full size yet.
We do NOT feed any of the following:
- sweet feed
- pelletized dairy ration
- free choice baking soda
- BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds)
- beet pulp
- alfalfa hay
Sweet feed is any premixed feed that has molasses added. When the goats are finished having their babies, we give them warm water with molasses in it. This gives them some energy and minerals which are helpful after the stress of kidding. But I do not like the regular addition of molasses to the goats' daily diet because molasses can (doesn't always) set the goats up for acidosis in their rumen. I also feel that many feeds use the molasses to make the feed more palatable to the goats by covering up the taste of anything they wouldn't normally want to eat.
Pelletized Dairy Ration.
I admit I'm a cynic when it comes to dairy rations. While I do like the fact that they add vitamins and minerals and offer a balanced feed so that you know that your goats' nutritional needs are being met, I simply can't bring myself to feed them. I don't want my milkers eating a pellet because I do not trust what is being ground into that goat pellet. I've always thought of pelletized food as the goat version of hot dogs. You never know what has been added and ground into there. I think many brands may be fine, but I also think many of them are not. And I'm not going to feed my goats something that I'm unsure of.
Another problem with pelletized food is that they can regularly change what ingredients are used based on commodity prices (cost of corn, soy, barley, etc). Rapidly changing a goat's diet is not good for them. And because pelletized food can have their formulas changed regularly as commodity prices change, I don't want to use a pelletized feed.
I also worry about the fact that animal protein may be added, even inadvertently, to the goat pellet. Goats wouldn't normally eat animal protein and I don't want to worry about it being added to the goat pellet.
Corn and Soy.
I don't feed my goats any corn or soy because I don't want them eating any GMO feed. But even if it were organic, non-GMO, I wouldn't feed it to them. Corn is a cheap source of carbs that makes it more economical to feed the goats, but I prefer the nutrition they get from oats. And I don't feed soy because of the digestibility and phyto-estrogens inherent in soybeans.
BOSS (Black Oil Sunflower Seeds).
I love BOSS for the goats. I think it is a wonderful addition to their diet. I simply don't feed it because of the additional expense and the difficulty in equally distributing the amount of BOSS each goat receives. If money were not a consideration, each goat would get a daily BOSS ration.
I don't think there is anything wrong with beet pulp, but I don't find it necessary for our herd.
Baking soda can be helpful if your goat gets an upset rumen. I think it's great for people new to goats to put out. Because we feed our goats very simply, don't feed them molasses, and keep their diets stable, we don't regularly make baking soda available to them. Every once in a while I used to put some out but since nobody ever ate it, I no longer bother. There was one winter we had difficulty getting enough oats and our feed guy could only get us barley. While we switched the goats over to the barley, we did put out baking soda just in case.
We have our own grass hayfield. Since it is organic and low-maintenance, that is what we feed our goats. If I had a sustainable source of high-quality alfalfa hay, I would gladly feed it to my goats. Alfalfa hay is great stuff.
Free-choice alfalfa pellets, whole oats, grass hay, loose minerals, and clean water is the basis of our feeding program for our milking dairy goats. I'll discuss what adjustments we make during gestation in a different article. One other thing I wanted to mention is that a lot is said online about keeping a goat's diet balanced with a 2:1 calcium: phosphorus ratio. I am not belittling that research or the accuracy of it, but I don't stress over the ratio of my goats' diet. For our herd, free-choice alfalfa pellets seem to meet their calcium needs and as long as I don't allow the goats to get fat from too many whole oats, the ratio doesn't seem to be an issue.
Remember, every goat owner feeds a bit differently and that's ok because there is no single correct way to do it. But be careful about trying to find a magic feeding formula that is going to overnight increase the amount of milk your goats give. Proper feeding is about keeping your goats healthy so that over time you will get more milk.
My advice to new goat owners on feeding their goats is:
- Don't switch diets often.
- Don't look for the perfect, magic feed.
- Don't try to feed your goats to increase their milk.
- Feed your goats to keep them healthy.
- Judge your feeding plan on what works for you and your goats and is sustainable and affordable.
- Treat each goat as an individual and adjust based on their individual needs.
- Keep it simple.
12/16/17 Update: We now have a local farmer who grows barley for us without chemicals and so we've switched from whole oats on the milk stand to barley.
Disclaimer: This information is provided as an example of how we personally raise goats at Goat Milk Stuff. We are not veterinarians and any information on the GMS website should not be taken as veterinary advice. Please seek the advice of a professional vet before making any changes to your herd management or individual treatment of your goat.