Grain has a much higher level of protein, vitamins and minerals, and energy than other feeds. Goats are built for eating roughages, so grain should always be fed more sparingly; adults shouldn’t really get more than 1.5 lbs a day, and kids should have even less. It adds the extra boost that helps with milking and growing, but too much causes goats to get fat and can even cause illness.
Grain should be given to milking does and kids under a year. Milkers need it to support milk production. Kids need it to grow up strong and healthy. A lot of breeders don’t like the heavy, growthy kids that come from feeding grain too early, so a loose rule for feeding grain to kids is starting to give them a little bit at two months. And only a little bit!
Healthy bucks don’t need grain – and can be detrimental over time in high quantities, particularly for whethers. Kidney stones are no fun for anybody. Feed them alfalfa if they need something, grass hay otherwise.
(That being said, I am feeding grain to one of my bucks at the time of this post. But ONLY because he’s only just a year and super skinny. It is not a routine feeding regime, much to his chagrin)
Feeding grain to goats over a year who aren’t milking will just make them fat, unhealthy, and lead to illness. Goats are ruminants, making hay the majority of their diet; grains are only to supplement and help support. If you want to have treats for you goats, don’t head for the grain bin: save your apple cores, or bring a clipping of some blackberries from that overgrown patch down the road.
Now. I’m going to end on a note about feeding grain to pregnant goats. The immediate assumption is to give pregnant goats grain, because hey, it’ll help grow strong kids and keep the mother strong and make sure she’s all healthy…
Well. Yes but.
If you start feeding grain early on in the pregnancy, it increases the chances of something called pregnancy ketosis.
Pregnancy ketosis is scary. It will kill a goat rapidly, is hard to combat – but is relatively easy to prevent. I will be writing a post shortly on what that is, but the basic gist is this: you can give a little bit of grain to a pregnant lady in her last month (and then as she’s milking). But not before. It does weird things to body chemistry that may result in a dead lady.
Now that I’ve scared you a little bit, moving on to choosing your grain!
There are a variety of different grains you can choose from to feed your goats. Goats are funny, and need different quantities of vitamins and minerals than other types of livestock. So while general livestock feeds are fine to give to goats (and sometimes your only option), they do not have the quantities of vitamins and minerals that goats need.
For example: copper. In the doses that goats would like it, it would kill sheep and horses. Ergo, lower quantities in general livestock feeds – nobody needs dead horses and sheep.
Another other option for feeding grain is to mix it yourself. I don’t know much about that, though I may post links for information here at some point. You may have to work with a vet or nutritionist to get the mixture right – and, if you’re planning on having a giant herd, mixing your own grain actually ends up being cheaper.
I’m pretty lucky in my area, because somebody around here makes a feed specifically for goats. But even with that awesome feed available, I still mix it up a little. I also have wet cob on hand. Why?
Firstly, web cob is a basic thing with only three ingredients: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber. As a base feed, it works. It just won’t give them anything else they need.
And, because my goats are weird, they LOVE web cob more than anything else in the world, even to the refusal of the expensive-really-good-for-you grain. I’ll add a scoop of the wet cob to whatever I want them to eat and they’ll generally eat all of it just to get to the cob.
For Cocoa, my old lady who struggles to keep her weight up, it’s good for giving her the extra base STUFF she needs. It helps that she’s obsessed with it; that and the chicken feed, which I DON’T let her eat (weirdo…).
If you have a finicky eater, trying giving them some wet cob. I haven’t met a goat yet who doesn’t like it.
All that being said, if you don’t have access to a grain made for goats, or have a smaller herd that doesn’t make it efficient to make it on your own, do not despair! Get the general livestock feed, or give them “straight” grains like oats, barley, etc. Minerals (read the post below) exist to take care of the rest!
My other posts on feeding your goats: