On Pregnancy Toxemia (AKA Ketosis) and Milk Fever (AKA Hypocalcemia)

This article is actually about two different subjects (Ketosis and Hypocalcemia), but since their symptoms are almost identical, and Hypocalcemia leads to Ketosis, I thought it would be best to address them both at once.

Hypocalcemia’s definition is pretty straightforward: it’s when your goat’s levels of calcium is dangerously below what’s needed.

Ketosis is slightly more complicated. Ketosis is when the body isn’t getting enough energy, and the body starts breaking down fat reserves. This kind of metabolism is incomplete, and leaves behind deadly acid compounds called ketones. Too many of these ketones will turn the blood acidic and kill.

Both of these occur often because of an incorrect diet, and most often to pregnant or recently kidded goats. The last 6 weeks of pregnancy demands a lot on a doe’s body (as the kids are getting 60% of their growth, her body is preparing to create milk, and the birth process also requires a lot of energy and calcium), and if she doesn’t get what she needs, her body is going to start using her fat reserves in excess, resulting in all of the deadly ketones. Similarly, if she doesn’t get when she needs when she comes into milk, or if she’s a heavy producer, her body will pull from its own reserves.

These two problems can result from not getting enough feed, and, interestingly enough, from getting too much feed.

The simpler explanation is this: Grain is needed for the correct calcium/phosphorus ratio in a goat’s diet (I believe phosphorus is needed to process calcium). In the last 6 weeks to a month of pregnancy, when the babies are pulling a lot on on the doe for calcium, your doe is going to make a smart move and switch to focusing on eating alfalfa.

In Hypocalcemic situations, she doesn’t eat enough grain or isn’t able to consume enough to keep up the proper calcium/phosphorus ratio. Her body starts pulling calcium from her bones.

In ‘simple’ Ketonic situations, her body, which has been depending on this high-energy grain intake, panics. It starts drawing energy from her fat cells.

In either situation, the incomplete metabolic process results in an explosion of ketones, turning her blood extremely acidic.

So here’s the trick: in either situation, it’s best not to give any grain until the last month or so of pregnancy. Giving your does a little boost in this manner helps keep up her energy for growing kids and metabolizing alfalfa, but not early enough that the body depends on it and goes through a shock when the kids rapidly begin to pull more from the doe.

There is also a possibility of ketosis after a doe has kidded, if she’s a heavy milker. This is called Milk Fever (and is Hypocalcemia). It’s the same basic story: her milk production is demanding more calcium than she’s intaking, so it pulls from her reserves, and again with the ketones. The best way to prevent this problem is to make sure to increase her grain (not too fast, but enough) after she kids to keep up with her production.

Stress is also connected to a doe succumbing to Pregnancy Toxemia. Preventing sudden changes in her environment, in her herd, and in feeding will help combat this.

Hypocalcemia and Ketosis will kill a doe very quickly. So how can you tell if your doe has Ketosis or Hypocalcemia?

These are the common symptoms:

The doe eats less or stops eating completely
Separation from the herd
The doe may be slow to get up or may lie off in a corner
Her eyes are dull
Sometimes blindness
Muscle tremors & seizures
The doe’s breath and urine may have a fruity sweet odor. This is due to the excess ketones, which have a sweet smell.

So what do you do if see these symptoms?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to diagnose whether it’s ‘simple’ Ketosis or Hypocalcemia, so treating for both is probably the best method. You must get her calcium and energy levels up, and get her eating again so she’ll keep these up herself. Often times a doe will refuse to eat when she feels sick in this way, exacerbating the problem.

For the calcium component, you will need something called CMPK. This stands for Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium — all of these minerals are needed to absorb the calcium. Giving straight calcium does no good if your doe doesn’t have the right minerals to process it.

If your doe is severely weak and refusing to eat, use an injectable CMPK. It takes time for the doe to absorb calcium through an oral solution and there are situations where there is no time for the absorption.

For this, inject subcutaneously, or under the skin, not into the muscle. After tying her down or having someone hold her head, pull up her skin a few inches down from her topline, where the skin is looser and you won’t be in danger of hitting any bone or major nerves. Inject 40-60 cc of Calcium Gluconate. The injections should be broken down into at least 4 injections in different sites. Do not give more than 10 cc per injection site. The injections should be given slowly.

If her symptoms are milder and you’ve just noticed a change in behavior, then you can probably get away with an oral calcium drench: 8 oz. three times a day until the doe is eating and symptoms are subsiding.

Important note: Please be careful with what kind of CMPK, because several types of calcium will burn or leave sores if given orally, or burn when given in shot form, which can result in putting your doe off her feed even more. CMPK with calcium chloride is the most common one to do this. Try to find a composition with calcium carbonate, or calcium gluconate. (I’ve also used, in milder situations, a for-human-consumption CMPK that’s flavored. They definitely want to eat that!)

To combat the energy and sugar side of the Ketosis equation, there are several things you can do. If you can convince your doe to take some tasty treats, give her all she’ll take! Grain works, anything that’s good and healthy with lots of calories and calcium. Also, follow any of the suggestions below:

  • Molasses & Karo syrup (corn syrup). Mix 2 parts corn syrup to 1 part molasses. 20 – 30ml every 2 hours. It also tastes good, which makes it easier to administer and nicer for your lady-goat.
  • You can use Propylene Glycol at 3-4 oz (90-120ml) 2 times a day, for 2 days, and then 1-2 oz (30ml-60ml) 2 times daily until the doe is eating normally, OR, 10 – 20ml every 2 hours
    • However, Propylene Glycol is an appetite suppressant and it inhibits rumen bacteria, so do not use unless the doe is off her feed.
    • Also, Propylene Glycol is extremely similar in composition to Anti-Freeze, which makes me feel a little weird giving them to my goats. There are other, less harmful sugars.
  • Nutridrench, Goatdrench: 2 oz. 2 times a day
  • Children’s chewable vitamins with extra calcium, or even Tums, are great to give to a goat who is still interested in eating. These are also an excellent thing to hand out in the barn as a preventative for Hypocalcemia.
  • An oral probiotic, like Probios, will stimulate the appetite and keep the rumen functioning as it should.
  • B-Complex injections will stimulate the appetite and give energy.

There are also a few aromatherapy things you can do to help with the stress aspect if you feel that is a factor:

  • Rescue Remedy can help calm.
  • Lavender Essential Oil also can help with stress and depression. Lavender has a calming and mood lifting effect. Place 4 drops of oil in three different places in the doe’s stall twice a day.


Once the doe has regained her appetite, make sure to increase her grain ration so that a relapse doesn’t occur. Also make sure she has access to enough alfalfa, and isn’t being bullied by other goats away from the feed.

(As a final note I’d like to add that I’ve had a goat who suffered from hypocalcemia and wasn’t pregnant. If you ever see a sick-looking goat who isn’t pregnant and is suffering from muscle tremors, I’d really advise you take her to the vet and test her calcium level! This lady of mine recovered with a heavy CMPK regime, and I gave her calcium supplements and treats pretty much the rest of her life, as she had other health problems that probably inhibited her ability to absorb calcium.)


Any questions? Any other methods you’ve used to help combat/prevent Ketosis or Hypocalcemia (Milk Fever)?


Poisonous Plants to Goats



When it comes to plants that are poisonous to goats, if you do even just a quick Google search on common poisonous plants (to goats) that might grow in your pasture or backyard, you’re going to find a list similar to this:


  • Bracken fern

  • Buttercup

  • Common milkweed (tansy weed)

  • Foxglove

  • Lantana

  • Locoweed

  • Poke weed

  • Spurge

  • St. John’s Wort

  • Water hemlock and poison hemlock


  • Cyanide-producing trees such as cherry, chokecherry, elderberry, and plum (especially the wilted leaves from these trees)

  • Ponderosa pine

  • Yew

Cultivated Plants:

  • Azalea

  • Kale

  • Lily of the valley

  • Oleander

  • Poppy

  • Potato

  • Rhododendron

  • Rhubarb

Most of the property I’ve lived on didn’t naturally have these. I have, however, dealt with rhododendron poisoning a few times, which is one of the worst.

Goats are smart and really stupid at the same time. I’ve seen my goats eat right next to rhododendrons and completely avoid them. And another time they broke into the backyard and ate a bunch of it, which resulted in very sick goats and a veterinary visit.

I think the logic behind it is that goats will avoid poisonous plants as long as they have lots of other brush to eat. If they’re hungry, or don’t have a variety of things to eat, I think they’ll get bored and curious and suck down a bunch of poison.

But, needless to say, if you have any of the above plants in an area where goats can reach, you’re going to want to remove or transplant those plants. And if your neighbor likes to bring treats to the goats, you’ll want to give them a quick education on things they shouldn’t bring.

If you think your goats have consumed something poisonous, it’ll be pretty obvious. They’re going to stand away from the herd, back hunched as their stomachs really hurt, and they’re probably puking. I had a mild case of rhododendron poisoning in one of my does that ended up okay, we just had to wait it out. But I had another, awful case that resulted in a vet visit. I haven’t wrote that post yet, but will post it here when I do.

I’ve been reading up and have been hearing a lot of good things about Milk of Magnesium and Activated Charcoal. Basically, you can mix this with olive or vegetable oil and turn it into a liquid to give to them. It helps detoxify and calm their stomachs. The bonus is that it won’t hurt them at all if poisoning isn’t the case, so if you want to give them about a quart every couple hours if you see these symptoms, you’re going to go a long way to helping them out.

My vet also recommends this a rhododendron drench to give your goats if they have a severe case, taken from here:

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 5.16.54 PM.png

This will help calm the goat’s stomach, or make them puke. Both are usually good. You need to get that plant OUT of their system!

However. From my trusted vet, the rule is, if your goat has been puking for more than 24 hours, she needs medical attention. In these severe cases you’ll need to go to a vet and get their stomach pumped. I would not advise to do this at home, because they can asphyxiate if you do it wrong, and watching your goat suffocate is a horrifying experience.

I would still consult a vet if you suspect a severe case of poisoning. I may be a bit gun shy about it because of my experience with it, but plant poisoning is nothing to mess around with in goats!

The best thing you can do, of course, is prevention. If you have poisonous plants on your property somewhere and you’re indifferent to their existence, take them out!

Any questions? Advice?

Picky Eaters


goat-eating-can_-vl0001b093.jpgI 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?

Feeding: Minerals

You should always have a mineral block or loose minerals available. Though they’re pretty dumb in some areas, it seems like they’re pretty smart about eating what minerals they need to supplement what they don’t get from their other food.

Salt blocks come in a few different forms, and most of them are for horses and cows. There are actually goat salt blocks showing up here and there at feed stores that I’ve seen, but if there isn’t a goat-specific one, that’s all right. Get a horse one with the most vitamins and minerals listed.

Read the instructions on the packaging, too. They’re all a little different and I’m sure there’s something I haven’t seen for feeding these. For example, some goat specific blocks are actually crumbly (!?) and are meant for a herd of 12-15; so feeding the whole thing to five goats might be overkill.

I understand that with livestock such as horses, they can make themselves sick off of them. I’ve never known a goat to do that, but I don’t know every goat in the world, either.

Loose minerals, on the other hand, looks kinda like sand. But is super salty (obviously). It’s easier to eat for goats, so many goat herders like it for that reason, though overeating is more of a risk that way. Again, I’ve never known that to happen to a goat necessarily.

Also, goat-specific loose minerals seems to much more readily available.

(Funny story: Sassy makes odd little annoyed sounds when she eats it, and I finally figured out it’s because she’s eating so much so fast it’s drying her mouth out and making it hard to swallow. She has to make a few water trips to make it work)

I actually have a salt block AND loose minerals. Each pen has a salt block they can chew on, and I bring out the loose minerals a few evenings a week. I’ve thought about setting up a dish-hanging contraption for the loose minerals and moving away from salt blocks, but haven’t yet. Besides, the evenings I feed the minerals I get fun bonding time, and who’s eating the minerals and who’s not gives me an idea of how everybody’s feeling, too.

As I write this: growing babies and milking does are the ones that want the minerals, but nobody else is that interested. Hmmm…

Anyway, I starting feeding both because of my old lady, Cocoa. She struggles with weight and keeping her mineral/vitamin balances up, so I have the loose minerals that allow her to easily ingest what she needs without spending hours licking a block. When she started getting access to the loose minerals, her health really improved.

(That, and the weird herbs I give her, but that’s another story.)

There are also other supplemental things you can supply your goats.

Black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS): I love feeding these guys; black oil sunflower seeds contain vitamin E, zinc, iron, and selenium, as well as fiber and fat. It makes their coats shinier and increases the butterfat in their milk. I add it to the grain I’m feeding, or just as a handful or two if somebody needs it (but isn’t on grain).

Kelp meal: Kelp meal is a great source of iodine, selenium, and other minerals. I use it to help prevent iodine deficiency. I hear it also helps with milk production and protecting against mastitis.

Baking soda: Many goat owners offer their baking soda free choice, which aids digestion by keeping the rumen pH-balanced. If one of your goats is having tummy troubles, offer baking soda.

Beet pulp: I’ve heard of people who feed this; it adds fiber, protein, and energy to a goat’s diet, and contains calcium and phosphorus.

Apple cider vinegar is also a good one; it’s full of enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. If you put it in their water, it may also convince goats to drink more water as it smells interesting.

Other articles on feeding:

Head back to https://dairygoatdiariesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/on-feeding-an-overview/

There is also: https://dairygoatdiariesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/feeding-alfalfa/

And: https://dairygoatdiariesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/feeding-grain/

A post on grass hay will be up soon!

Any questions? Comments?

Feeding: Grain

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:




Feeding: Alfalfa

Alfalfa (a legume) is the wonder food in goat-land. It provides protein, calcium, and all sorts of wonderful vitamins and minerals for any goat who is milking, growing, pregnant, or (for bucks) in rut. Each goat fitting those requirements should be getting a few lbs of it a day, though some of this can be supplemented with browsing and/or quality grass hay.

Baby face eating the good stuff!

If your lovelies are not milking, growing, pregnant, or in rut, feeding alfalfa is unnecessary. Particularly if they have access to lots of brush and things to eat. Alfalfa is more expensive, and will eventually make them fat (which is, of course, bad). You can feed a nice grass hay instead.

A quick note about bucks: feeding too much alfalfa to bucks, or to whethers (who should almost never get alfalfa) increases the possibility of urinary calculi. This is a build of solid particles in the urinary track due to too rich of a diet — and is very painful, causing pain, fevers, vomiting. Don’t overfeed the alfalfa!

Now, an extension of what I was saying in my https://dairygoatdiariesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/on-feeding-an-overview/ post: alfalfa grown in different areas will provide different levels of vitamins and minerals. In order to know what exactly your goats are getting, you might want to get your alfalfa tested. It’s not that expensive, and will help you figure out if you need to add a little extra this or that to their diet.

(Or make friends in the community, who already know some handy tips about what is deficient in the area and where to get hay.)

For example:

I know that my area is deficient in selenium (NW Oregon – though I’m not sure the boundaries of the soil deficiency). Selenium is handy for things like muscle growth, brain function – you know, small things like that. If you read my https://dairygoatdiariesblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/on-baby-goats-born-with-weak-pasterns/ post, you’ll get a clearer picture on what a minor selenium deficiency looks like.

Because selenium is deficient in this area, I buy alfalfa from Eastern Oregon. Most of the alfalfa around here is shipped from there anyway, so it’s easy to get ahold of. They’re not deficient in selenium in that area and the alfalfa naturally has it in higher quantities. Now, I still have to occasionally give shots of selenium, so the alfalfa isn’t completely covering it – but it’s much better than giving it totally through shots.

Image stole from here


As with most things, the more natural you can get, the better.

The quality changes depending on which cutting the alfalfa bale is from — first, second, or third. First is best, the others following, respectively. Most of the nutrients in alfalfa resides in the leaves, so choose the leafiest alfalfa you can (and some picky goats won’t eat the stems unless it’s a last resort anyway). The more stems, the more fiber and less nutrients.

Sometimes you may not have much of a choice, depending on the season and how you acquire your hay. Just remember to go for the leafiest, brightest-colored, most sweet-smelling alfalfa you can.

And for any type of hay, always check to make sure that it is fresh and clean. Moldy hay can make goats very sick — and in large enough doses it can kill them.

Any questions?

Posts on grass hay will be up shortly!

Here’s the post on grain: https://dairygoatdiariesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/feeding-grain/

There’s also an important one on minerals: https://dairygoatdiariesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/feeding-minerals/

Or you can head back to the https://dairygoatdiariesblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/on-feeding-an-overview/ post.


On Feeding: an Overview

Ladies, snacking on some alfalfa

It is becoming more and more apparent, no matter what species you’re referring to, that diet has an incredible impact on the body. Not only having to do with health, as in vitamins and minerals and such – but also issues such as temperament and brain chemistry.

Some of these are obvious. Like hey, if you eat lead, you’re probably going to end up with some brain problems. But other things are more subtle. Harder to catch.

Issues of feeding and diet are no less important to goats than they are to humans. They’re strange conundrums. On one hand, they’re resilient creatures that will shock you how much they can handle. On the other hand, something as simple as a copper imbalance may turn them brain-dead. (Granted, it will need to be a severe imbalance.)

I’m going to give you the advice that every vet I’ve spoken to has told me: get your soil tested. Then take it to a goat nutritionist who can prescribe the best diet that you should be feeding your lovelies based on what nutrients they’re already receiving from the grass/shrubs/etc.

Why? Because every area is different. Even the difference of a few miles will change the chemistry of the soil, and cause a different intake of vitamins and minerals. A feeding regime that works in one area may overload (or underfeed) a certain vitamin in another area, leading to problems. Testing your soil is the best way to figure out what your lovelies need. In some cases, the only way to test levels of certain minerals in the goat is to send a sample of their liver to be tested at a lab (after they have passed away, of course).

Are your eyes wide or eyebrows raised?

Yeah, that was about my reaction. It’s an overwhelming prospect.

With all of that being said, not many of us have $700 to drop on testing our soil and hiring a nutritionist (that’s a rough estimate). I have not tested my soil. But I also grew up with goat herders in the area, and they already knew the deficiencies in the area and were more than happy to share this information with me.

Hint: can you make friends in the nearby goat community? It will help, though it may not be completely accurate.

Of course, if your goats are eating primarily what you give them, and not grazing for any decent part of their feed intake, it makes balancing their diet easier. But you will still want to test your hay, and study the nutrition label on any grain you may be giving (<- which, incidentally, is a lot less expensive).

Now. With the scary part over with and gestating in the back of your head, let’s move on to some facts that any goat herder should know.

Firstly, goats are built to eat roughage. That means hay, brush, trees and the like. They cannot be fed with just grain. For adults, they need to be getting 2-4 lbs of either alfalfa, grass hay, or pasture every day – I go into details about which of these to choose below. Kids need less, obviously.

On a similar note, goats are browsers. That means that they much prefer to eat trees, bushes, and interesting plants, rather than grass. They’re not sheep. They won’t mow the lawn, unless it’s a last resort. And even then, the lawn won’t be even.

Goats need and prefer variety in their diet. Even more interesting, I think they’re more willing to stay inside fences if they have a variety of things to eat and don’t have to look elsewhere for it. Breaking down fences to get to the rose bushes on the other side is fun!

Additionally, never change a goat’s diet rapidly. Ease them slowly into a new feed, feeing regime, or pasture browsing. Particularly if you’re bringing a new animal to your farm – the shock of moving on top of a new diet can lead to illness, and sometimes, even death.

Also, immediately pound this into your brain: quality feed leads to quality animals. You can wiggle a bit in making your feed bill cheaper, but there are some things you just can’t replace. Just like your own body, if you feed it only McDonalds cheeseburgers, you’re not going to be healthy. Same for your goats. Quality feed equals healthy, high-producing animals. They will repay you in delicious, nutritious milk, and bright-eyed, healthy love – and less vet visits.

And finally, and very importantly: always supply fresh water. I give at least one or two buckets of fresh, new water every feeding, even if there is water left (I usually combine that into one bucket if it’s still clean smelling and looking because I wince at the waste — but still give new water, as well).

Deciding what to feed a goat when is a little tricky, but I’ve tried to simplify it here:

The Alfalfa rule: If your goats are growing, pregnant, milking, or in rut (bucks), they need some alfalfa. Their 2-4 lbs of roughage doesn’t need to be completely in alfalfa, particularly if they have a lush backyard full of brush, but it should be a decent chunk of it.

The Grain rule: If your lady is milking, she should have some grain (no more than 1.5 lbs a day). If they’re under a year and over two months (roughly), they should have some grain (no more than a lb a day).

The Grass Hay rule: If your ladies (or gentlemen) are not producing anything, and they don’t have access to a large variety of brush and pasture to munch on, supply grass hay. This is particularly important in the winter, not only because there will be less to eat, but because full bellies = warm goats (they generate heat through digestive movement!).

The Mineral rule: Always give access to minerals, be that a salt block or a container of loose minerals. You can find horse salt-licks at pretty much any feed store, and I’ve found several goat-specific loose minerals.

The Water rule: I’m going to say again — always supply fresh water.

Those are the basics on goats and goat feed. These posts go into more detail on each thing:




(A post on grass hay arriving shortly!)

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