During summer our goats forage in the fields, eating young leaves from saplings and the abundant privet plants. Their dry food ration is cut in half, and they eat carrots as daily feed supplement. They eat apples and pears from our trees at the end of summer. We also feed them limbs pruned from pear and apple trees. They are fond of garlic, mint, and catnip. Our goats love rubbing against mint stalks in the summer. It may ward off flies and other summer pests, as catnip does. I weave mint stalks into the fence for the goats to rub. They also eat the mint, which makes their breath smell nice.
In the fall they devour wheelbarrow loads of leaves from the apple and pear trees. In late fall we turn our goats into the garden to forage. They love turnips. First, they eat the greens down, then they nibble the tops of the turnip roots as close to the ground as possible. Next, we dig the turnips up and allow the goats to finish them off.
Goats love evergreens. If you trim your cedar trees or have holiday trees to get rid of, offer the trimmings or the trees to your goats. Ours love stripping the bark off pine logs as well.
We feed the goats a mixture of Goat Feed pellets (Dumor, Purina Noble, or North Carolina produced brand) combined with Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (The oil is good for their fleece.) and Beet Pulp pellets*.
Some farmers feed their goats only hay (Orchard grass, Timothy grass, grass from your own fields are all great for hay).
Our goats receive carrots or apples on a daily basis, as we have found that their loose minerals stick to the damp slices and are more evenly distributed when mixed with the fresh fruit or vegetables. Our mixture of goat feed pellets and sunflower seeds can vary from half & half to ¼ sunflower seeds and ¾ goat feed pellets, depending upon the goats’ preference, the season, or their fleece condition.
We add Purina Sweet Feed once a week as a treat year-round and a small amount once a day in winter with more given to pregnant and lactating does. Does get more sweet feed than the bucks or wethers.
Additional feed supplies include:
· Himalayan Salt Ropes/Billy Blocks
· 50 lb. Trace Mineral Block.
We keep our mineral block under a shelter in a plastic dish with drainage holes and wash the block off occasionally to keep it clean. A mineral block will last a small herd up to 6 months to a year.)
· Goat Mineral in the loose form as a supplement in the feed daily.
In spring and summer, the entire herd forages in the pasture and wetlands, so their feed intake is reduced.
In winter, we supplement dry feed with hay harvested from our pastures and add a little alfalfa hay or dry alfalfa pellets. We now use a chopped mix bale of alfalfa, oats and Timothy grass. Of course, on very cold days and close to birthing time, our goats get more.
Too much alfalfa will change your goats’ poop from round pellets to soft globs, as will too much green forage. You want to try to maintain small round pellet poop. Alfalfa is nutrient rich and can upset your goats’ rumen; feed in small quantities.
To help prevent calculi build up in male goats, especially wethers, we give the bucks or wethers less alfalfa than we give the does, and we limit the boys’ intake of beet pulp and any other feed high in calcium while trying to maintain a balanced diet for them. To learn more about calculi build up and calcium to phophorous imbalance see Maryland’s Small Ruminant page.
As foragers, goats are top down feeders. They like to start with tree leaves and bark. They also like briars, such as blackberry and rambling rose. They will select weeds that they like from the meadow floor and leave the grass for last. Some goats prefer grass seeds, while others will gobble up the blades as well. Goats love variety.
We keep a mineral block and a salt block available for all goats at all times. Both are kept dry under a shelter. Last year, we hung a metal holder on a fence in the barn area to hold the mineral block so the goats could lick it; that lasts much longer and remains much cleaner than mineral blocks in a bucket or in a plastic holder on the ground. We do sometimes purchase the mineral buckets, but do not leave them in the pen as goats tend to overeat from the buckets.
As for salt, I prefer the salt on a rope; it lends itself to licking and lasts much longer than a block of the berry flavored salt, which some goats eat like candy.
When you begin reading lists of what plants can harm goats, you may be hesitant to let them forage at all; don't worry, they eat so many varieties in their foraging that they usually do not eat enough of any one plant to hurt them. Wild cherry, however, is a killer and must be removed from any areas where the goats may forage. We MUST go looking for wild cherry each year in the spring and eradicate it.
Another tree to beware of is the oak. Goats, and other livestock, are susceptible to oak poisoning. Even though goats may eat acorns on occasion with no problem, they should not be fed acorns, young oak leaves, buds or blossoms. If oak poisoning is suspected, consult your veterinarian immediately.
The University of Maryland Extension has been a helpful free guide to common poisonous plants in our area. We highly recommend that all goat owners do additional research to learn what plants are poisonous in their areas.
We do not release the goats from the night-time pen into the larger pasture until the sun has evaporated the dew in spring, summer and fall. This is to help the goats avoid snails and slugs. Try to prevent goats from ingesting snails or slugs that may be on the plants. The snails or slugs may have eaten wild deer poop. The snails transmit a meningeal parasite from deer to goats. This parasite does not harm deer but can cause neurological damage in goats, llamas, alpacas.