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PHOTO: Lori Rasmussen/Flickr
Feeding is always a controversial topic. As with all things goat, there are many strong feelings and no one right answer, so I’m going to give it to you from our farm’s point of view. We weaned our herd off of commercial goat feeds and got them on a custom milled mix, and below I’ll tell you how you can go about the same way if inspired. Or you don’t have to—it’s up to you.
Our Choice To Forego GMOs
For us, choosing to wean our goats off of commercial feed started with GMOs, specifically corn and soy. I have no fears about their safety, but I do have customers who do. My main concern is that we grow too many of these crops that have no nutritive value to humans. I would rather support more crop diversity and more planting of whole grains that can be eaten by more species. I also think it is very shortsighted to engineer plants to be resistant to certain herbicides, as eventually all neighboring plants (i.e. weeds) will evolve that resistance, as well.
We long fed our goats a local feed brand that was oat-based and contained no corn or soy, and our goats did well on it. Then, silently, the company reformulated the feed. Over a couple seasons, we had problems with palatability and outright refusal of goats to eat it. That led to major milk production declines and other health issues. When we found out about the formula change—that it was made into mostly corn and soy—we immediately set out to find a replacement and found none. So we went to our local co-op.
DIY Pelleted Feed
It is 100-percent possible to buy raw grains to mix into a feed blend, but we prefer to provide pelleted food. Pellets allow you to evenly mix in supplements and keep picky goats from only eating their favorite grains in a mix. Unfortunately, most feed mills have very large minimum lots to order custom feeds, so that won’t be an option for most hobby farmers. What you can do, though, is buy each of the things we put in our custom feed and hand mix the ingredients large bins. With any feed, you should still allow your goats free access to a high-quality loose mineral.
The three grains we use in our feed are oats, barley and milo. All of these are available at most feed mills. You can experiment with other grains but you need to keep in mind that each will have different feed values and you will need to reach certain protein and starch values in your feed. In dairy goats you’re looking for a protein value of 14 to 16 percent. It’s really hard to achieve without soy, but it is possible. If you don’t have an ag co-op near you, ask your extension agent for help. This site explains the feed values of some popular grains.
We have kelp, yeast, copper, ammonium chloride and other supplements milled into our blend. Any of these can be bought individually and top-dressed if you are mixing whole grains. Here’s what a few of them do:
- Kelp: Kelp is very high in minerals, amino acids and vitamins. It is a good source of dietary iodine and other rare nutrients. It is thought it helps goats better metabolize their other feed sources.
- Yeast: Diamond V makes yeast supplements for all animals. In the case of goats and cows, the yeast can help with rumen microbial balance in function. Plus, goats just love it.
- Copper: We always have copper added to our feed. Goats need lots of copper. If you are hand-mixing, make sure you watch for signs of deficiency and supplement via bolus if called for. Even with extra in our feed, we routinely need to bolus our herd.
- Ammonium Chloride: This supplement helps prevent urinary calculi on bucks and wethers. You can buy it and topdress only their feed rather than mixing it in.
Those are the main things we look for in a feed for our goats. We are fortunate to have a local co-op that worked with us to make custom pellets. Even so, we enlisted other local farms to join in our orders—this might be a way to make pellets work for you. In the end, don’t be afraid to experiment with your recipe. Your goats will let you know if they like it.