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FEEDING PYGMY GOATS

By: Dr. Ralph Bogart
The National Pygmy Goat Association
About the Author

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Several inquiries have been received about how Pygmy goats should be fed. Although my primary interest is in genetics, I have had experience in the feeding and care of Pygmy goats. Goats are ruminant animals. They have a stomach that is composed of four compartments - rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. The rumen serves as a large fermentation vat in which micro-organisms act upon the food eaten. When goats eat roughages such as hay or pasture plants, they add saliva to this material and swallow it. Later, they regurgitate (belch) this material and chew it more thoroughly. This process is call rumination. Goats can consume and make good use of pastures and of hay. Legume hay is preferred over grass hay by goats and legume hay, such as alfalfa or clover hay, provides more protein than grass hay.

Goats that are mature or approaching maturity can utilize roughages more effectively than young goats. In fact, when the baby goat is born, its rumen is not developed; therefore, in very early life the young goat functions as animals that have only one stomach such as dogs, people or pigs. Milk that is consumed by baby goats goes into the abomasum (that portion which corresponds to the stomach of a person). As the kid starts eating some leafy hay, the rumen begins to develop but it takes 8 - 10 weeks for the rumen to fully develop.

Goats like to graze and they make good use of forages they eat. There are three kinds of forage plants - grasses, forbs and browse. Such plants as fescue, orchard grass, bluegrass, etc., are examples of grasses. The forbs are broad leaf plants such as dandelions, clovers, wild lettuce, etc. The browse includes brushes, and vines such as oak, blackberry, rabbit brush, etc. Goats prefer the forbs and browse over the grasses. This is why some cattlemen run goats with their cattle because cattle prefer the grasses and may keep them grazed closely but allow weeds and brush to go ungrazed. The goats tend to prevent weeds and brush from crowding out the grasses.

During the summer, goats that are not milking heavily may need no other feed except good pasture. Young goats and does in heavy milk production will need some type of high energy feed besides the material they get from the pasture. Any of the grains such as corn, oats, barley or milo are good energy sources. These grains do not need to be ground because goats will chew them sufficiently for proper digestion. Rolled grains are usually more palatable than ground grains. Young goats do better on rolled grain than on whole grain because they will learn to eat grain sooner if it is rolled.

Goats need clean, fresh water available at all times. They have certain nutrient needs to meet the requirements for the body functions that are being performed. The principal nutrient requirements are protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. Protein is needed in larger amounts by young growing animals, by does that are producing milk, and by pregnant does. The protein needs are met by feeding good quality alfalfa or clover hay and/or by feeding soybean meal. The micro-organisms in the rumen can use non-protein nitrogen to make the amino acids that are needed; therefore, one does not need to be concerned about the amino acid proportions in feeds for goats.

The energy needs for goats are supplies by carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and fats. The grains are high in carbohydrates and contain some fat, particularly in the germ. Mill by-products may be low in fat and have less carbohydrates than whole grains. Evergy is needed for all the activities of the body. Young growing animals, lactating does, and pregnant does during the last half of pregnancy have high energy needs. These needs are well supplied by feeding whole or rolled grains.

The two most important vitamin needs are Vitamin A and Vitamin D. Vitamin A is important in keeping the interior and exterior body linings in good repair. It is needed in larger amounts by young growing animals, lactating does and by pregnant does. It can be supplied by good pastures or by feeding good green, leafy hay. Yellow corn is also an excellent source of vitamin A. All of these materials, green pasture, green hay or yellow corn contain carotene, one of the yellow pigments, which is converted into vitamin A by the goat.

Vitamin D is needed for the proper use of calcium and phosphorus in building or repair of bones. The action of sunlight on the skin of animals can convert certain steriods in the skin into vitamin D. During the summer when goats are outside in the sun, they will make their vitamin D that is needed. When animals are kept inside most of the time, vitamin D should be provided. Hay that has been sun cured is high in vitamin D but hay that is heat cured may contain no vitamin D. If one is in doubt, some irradiated yeast can be added to the grain ration but one should not give too much or it may be harmful to the goats.

The minerals that are more likely to be needed are calcium and phosphorus, however, iodine and selenium may also be needed in some areas. If one is feeding goats alfalfa hay and grain, the calcium and phosphorus needs will likely be provided by these feeds. Alfalfa hay is high in calcium and whole grains are high in phosphorus. On pasture, one may want to provide a mineral mixture of equal parts of ground limestone, steamed bone meal and iodized salt. This can be allowed free choice if the animals have not been deprived of salt for a period of time. Young growing animals and lactating does have high calcium and phosphorus needs. Heavily lactating goats may develop hypocalcemia and die in a matter of a day or two if they are not given this mineral. If one has a doe develop milk fever and go down, an injection of calcium gluconate into the blood stream will have the animal normal in 2 to 6 hours.

Calcium and phosphorus are needed, but they must be in the proper ratio and Vitamin D is essential for their use. Thus, feeding minerals of calcium and phosphorus with vitamin D lacking does not satisfy the animal's needs. The feeding of high amounts of either calcium or of phosphorus will be detrimental because it unbalances the needed proportions of the two minerals.

In some areas, iodine and selenium may be needed. Iodine can be supplied by giving iodized salt. I strongly recommend this as a precaution. Selenium prevents a disease known as white muscle disease. This disease is characterized by calcification of the heart and skeletal muscles which gives these muscles a white appearance. If one is in an area where white muscle disease is a problem, the best way to control the disease is to inject the newborn kid with selenium. Selenium is very toxic and an overdose can kill animals quickly; therefore, one must follow directions very carefully. It would be wise to consult with Dr. J. E. Oldfield, Animal Science Department, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331 before this material is used. He has done intensive research on it and can keep you from making mistakes.

Perhaps in the near future feed companies will develop a complete ration for Pygmy goats that will be convenient for those who have one or a few of these little animals as pets.

About the author: The National Pygmy Goat Association. Please visit their web site at: http://www.npga-pygmy.com

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