I think it’s safe to say that by now, most people know goats don’t actually eat tin cans. The myth came from the glue they used to paste the paper to the can — apparently it was tasty to our caprine friends.
Goats don’t eat everything. In fact, goats are very picky eaters. They’re just weird about what they want to eat. Rose bushes? Yum! Fruit trees? Heck yeah! Anything on the other side of the fence that looks interesting? Mine mine mine!
The expensive super-healthy grain? Well…
Goats get bored with food, and it becomes pretty obvious they are — they’ll pick through it uninterestedly and sort of stare at you like somehow it’s your fault (Sari likes to throw her dish on the floor). They like what they like and they’ll make it real obvious when they don’t. This especially happens with grain for me; they’ll turn up their nose at the healthy grain and want the crap stuff for whatever reason. Goats are like 150 lb. two-year-olds with less words.
Cocoa used to struggle constantly with keeping weight on — and was the pickiest eater I’ve ever come across. I spent many an evening try to coax a few bites of this and that from her. Often it was a long process. I reminded her every time we went through it that this was how much I loved her. She was unimpressed.
I joke about Cocoa not eating, but truthfully, she had a few health problems that were contributing to her personality tick. If a goat is really not eating, it means s/he feels sick. It could simply be a stomach ache because s/he ate something funny, but you should always watch to make sure they start eating fairly quickly.
Another example, two-weeks-from-kidding Sari suddenly started standing in the corner and not eating — a rapid personality switch for her. I panicked for a minute, as not-eating/misery/staying away from the other goats that close to kidding can signal pregnancy ketosis. Thankfully, it was just because she ate something funny and had a stomach ache (The watery diarrhea I saw a minute later was definitely a clue).
She was fine after about 36 hours of picking listlessly through food. I did give her some calcium supplements (which taste like strawberry, so she was all on board for that), a little grain, and flavored some water to convince her to drink — just because she’s so close to kidding, and I didn’t want to risk anything by her not eating for a day or so.
With all of this in mind, I thought I would share the tricks I’ve used over the past year to convince picky/sickly goats to eat in case you’re struggling with a similar issue. Usually, a trick that convinced Cocoa to eat something only lasted about a week or two before she decided to turn her nose up at that too.
But what are you going to do? She’s my baby.
So here are some tips:
Vary things up. Goat gets bored with food pretty easily. It’s bad idea to change up their diets dramatically, but adding in interesting new things here and there can keep them interested in food — and the same old stuff they’ve been eating. Bring home some blackberries. Feed apple cores.
Molasses. Drizzling sweet-smelling stuff on their grain (this is assuming you’re already feeding grain) is a pretty big incentive to eat. If you already feed grain with molasses on it, it might not work as well (as it smells similar), but it’s worth a shot.
Oatmeal and honey. This was my last working attempt to keep Cocoa eating. I make a cup of it before I head up for chores and dump a ton of honey on it. She slurps that up so fast she usually got it all over herself — and wanted to eat grain afterwards! I’m not sure if it’s the heat or the honey, but it seemed to do good things for her stomach. With that in mind…
Beer and yogurt. Yep, you read that right. Getting microbrewed beer and yogurt that still contain all the good bacteria (like Nancy’s) is really good for a goat’s stomach. This is a natural way to jump-start a goat’s stomach if s/he’s standing in the corner looking like her stomach hurts.
Warm (and/or flavored) water. Sometimes goats turn their nose up at water. This can be due to a couple things, but the most common is a change in the smell of water. If you show at all and take them to fairs, the water probably will smell different and many goats with balk. Solution? Gatorade! Put a little in their water.
Additionally, goats LOVE warm water. Straight up warm water, or warm water with a little molasses (or hey, gatorade) is a great treat for them, and convinces them to drink. This is an excellent thing to do for a just-kidded goat too; the water helps hydrate them, makes their bellies warm, and the molasses gives them a little energy after all that work.
With all of this in mind, never let a goat go more than a few days without eating. Sometimes it’s a simple yummy ache or a cold, but letting it go on for too long is dangerous (particularly if they’re pregnant). Their stomachs will shut down after too long, and their bodies will start pulling nutrients from their bones and muscles — resulting in ketosis. That will kill a goat faster than you believe.
I’ll add more thoughts and ideas as I find and experiment with more! Do you have any methods you use? Ideas to add?