Article Index "Feeding Programs for Meat Goats" Article Index

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By: Frank Pinkerton and Bruce Pinkerton
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The nutritional needs for goats are shown in a booklet, "Nutrient Requirements of Goats", published by the National Research Council, Washington, D.C. (NRC, 1981). It is also available commercially for about $8. Please note that the figures given as recommendations are "approximate"; at this time they should be considered as guidelines only. Further research and field experience will eventually increase the reliability of future published figures.

Nutrient Requirement of Goats
All breeds, sexes and ages of goats require the same basic nutrients: protein, energy, minerals, vitamins and water. The diet must contain adequate protein; no other nutrient can substitute for it. However, energy needs may be derived from dietary carbohydrates (starches and/or fiber) or fats or even from excessive protein. Nutrients are required by the goat for: maintenance, growth, gestation, lactation, and fattening. Maintenance requirements are used for basal metabolism (maintain body temperature and support vital functions) and for physical activity. The daily maintenance requirements may range from 50 to 100% of total daily nutrient requirements, depending on whether the animal is also growing, lactating, gestating or fattening.

The nutritional requirements of goats managed primarily for milk production and those managed primarily for meat production are quite similar with perhaps two notable differences. First, dairy goats are expected to milk at relatively high and persistent levels throughout a 9-10 month lactation; meat goats need only achieve a 4-7 month lactation with high initial milk flow, persistency beyond 4 months being of lesser concern. Secondly, dairy goats are typically fed considerable concentrates (grain mixtures) to encourage maximum and persistent milk flow. In contrast, lactating meat goats are not usually fed concentrates in addition to their forage diet because the extra kid growth achieved from the extra milk may well not repay the added costs. As always, special circumstances may occasionally alter normal cost-benefit calculations.

Forage Supplementation
To be economically viable, meat goats must get most of their required nutrients from forages. See the related chapter for detailed information on types of forage, nutritive value and stocking rates.

In those situations in which the available forage is insufficient in protein or energy or minerals to support desirable levels of goat performance, proper supplements should be offered in adequate quantities but, as always, with due respect to the likely cost-benefit exchange involved. In actual practice, most owners provide extra minerals to their goats year round. Typically these may be in the form of trace mineralized salt (loose or block), individual sources of calcium and/or phosphorus (offered separately or in combination with salt), or commercial mineral mixtures. Phosphorus content of forages is usually much lower than calcium content. Adequate phosphorus being necessary for reproduction and milk production, supplementation is usually economical. Goats apparently have a much higher tolerance to copper than sheep so typical cattle mineral mixes are usually safe for goats.

In those grazing situations in which the plants are too low in protein (or in which forage quantity is much reduced), additional protein must be offered to maintain acceptable goat performance. Protein supplementation may take many forms and cost per unit of protein may vary widely. Experienced goat feeders compare protein costs, presence of other dietary components, palatability, feeding facilities required, labor cost/convenience, and likelihood of achieving fairly uniform intake per animal. Feeding a hay of sufficient protein level is frequently the optimum solution. In other cases, a lb or so of 20% crude protein (CP) cubes or 0.5 lb of 40% CP supplement or 0.5-1.0 lb of whole cottonseed may be economically sound and nutritionally adequate. Protein blocks of about 37% CP are widely used during southwestern winters. Some owners have observed that grazing small grain pastures for only 1-2 hours per day will provide adequate supplemental protein (and energy) to their dry pastures or, lower quality hays. The continuous availability of roughage, even poor quality hay, is important during such protein supplementation; it allows the animals to economically use the protein supplied.

High protein supplemental feedstuffs, used only occasionally by meat goat owners, are cottonseed meal and soybean meal. Whole cottonseed, cull pea seed and cracked mungbeans have also been used when conveniently available and priced competitively. Other protein feeds, such as gluten feeds, mill feeds and urea (in range blocks), are used as sources of protein. Choosing between alternative high protein feedstuffs is largely an economic decision. Dividing the price of a cwt of feed by its protein content (lb protein/cwt of feed) will yield the cost of 1 lb of protein and thus facilitate comparisons.

When existing pastures and/or browse are unacceptably low in energy, experienced goat owners offer good quality hays to maintain performance; 0.5 to 1.0 lb of shelled corn is also used, as is whole cottonseed. Cost per unit of energy is always a consideration but, without adequate energy, conception rates, milk flow, and kid growth rates will be compromised and gross income reduced. Some producers compensate in advance for expected declines in forage quality and availability by keeping protein blocks and hay available free choice, noting rises in consumption as pasture conditions worsen.

Concerning the composition of high energy feeds, experienced livestock owners know that there are only small differences between corn, milo, barley, and wheat. Choosing one over the other is mostly a question of relative costs per cwt. However, some goat producers feel that milo should be used only sparingly, if at all, as it can promote urinary calculi in males (Ca:P ratio lower than about 1.5:1 predisposes the formation of calculi). In the absence of definitive research, wheat should probably not constitute over 50% of a grain mixture. Price frequently may preclude the use of oats, even though it is an excellent goat feed. Costly grinding of the grains for goats is seldom necessary.

The use of salt-limited protein and/or energy feeds for goats is rarely practiced. However, we have found a mixture of ground milo, cottonseed meal and 8 - 15% salt to be useful. This 16% (or 20%) protein feed will supplement open, pregnant, and lactating goats on either dry grass or hay or late summer or limited grazing. Consumption is slow initially but then rises to 0.75/1.25 lb/hd/day depending on roughage intake.

"Flushing" is the practice of feeding breeding age goats supplemental protein and/or energy for 30 days prior to and 30 days following the introduction of bucks to achieve a weight gain during this period. This weight gain is usually accompanied by improved fertility, increased conception and twinning. Flushing may or may not be necessary for meat goat production, depending on quantity and quality of available forage. If flushing is necessary, 0.5 lb or corn and/or 0.5 lb of protein supplement day/head will usually suffice.

When planning grazing and supplementation practices, it is prudent to always remember that a meat goat enterprise generates cash income from the sale of surplus kids and cull adults as well as non-cash, but real, benefits from brush control and pasture improvement--perhaps $10 - 15 per breeding female per year. Obviously, adequate year round grazing with only mineral supplementation is the optimum option; all other options increase costs but likely would be economically wise.

Creep Feeding
Commercial meat goat raisers do not ordinarily creep feed their kid crops on the premises that: a) their does are capable of weaning kids acceptable to the market, b) it would not be cost-beneficial, and c) the logistics would be unworkable or at least inconvenient. Relatively recent changes in goat marketing strategies (premium prices for high quality kids and potential need for heavier, better conditioned kids for the supermarket and restaurant trade) may come to alter one or more of these premises. Widespread use of the newly arrived Boer bucks on Spanish does of limited milk production capability may also encourage creep feeding to support the well-known rapid pre-weaning gaining ability of Boer kids.

Should you elect to creep feed your kids, a number of commercial feed mixtures are available, e.g., lamb grower, beef calf creep, dairy calf starter or grower, and horse/mule feed. For best results, the percent protein should be 12-14 (as-fed basis) and the percent fiber should be no more than 18. However, simple grain mixtures of corn, oats, barley, or milo would probably also suffice. The crucial characteristic of a creep feed is that it be palatable enough to promote adequate intake; coarse grinding or pelleting (3/16") may improve intake over meal forms.

Research on creep feeding of range-raised kids is virtually non-existent and dairy goat kids are only infrequently raised on their dams. Dairy kids weaned at 8 wks have been shown to eat 2-4 oz of concentrate/hd/day and increase intake rapidly thereafter with feed efficiencies on the order of 6 lb feed/lb of gain depending on body weight.

Conditioning Goats
There are very few goat enterprises that are analagous to beef cattle feed-lots. The explanations are several: 1) the market does not want "fat" goats, 2) goats are not very efficient in converting high energy feeds to body weight gains, and 3) the likely cost-benefit ratio is such that it would be seldom profitable.

As always, there are exceptions. Lightweight weanling goats that are in poor condition due to poor nutrition or parasite load could possibly be put through a form of feed-lotting which might be called "conditioning". To reduce costs and avoid problems commonly associated with animal density, a controlled grazing scheme, with no or limited grain might be economically viable.

Experienced stockmen know the principle and practice of compensatory gain, i.e., a more mature animal that has been nutritionally deprived and has a low weight-to-frame ratio can, if healthy, make very rapid and efficient gains--for a short while, prior to beginning fat deposition. Some producers with the right blend of feed and other resources might make a fair return on this type of conditioning program.

A third example of conditioning has been only infrequently practiced but, with excellent management, could likely be done profitably in special circumstances. This program, as demonstrated by Dr. Robert Herr of Narvon, PA, uses underweight young kids or weanlings from traders, auctions, and local sources. The kids are put through a series of medical and dietary treatments featuring, initially, high roughage, and thereafter increases in concentrates. All are fed in loose housing with exercise lots. There are two key features to this program: the health practices and the marketing practices. The kids must survive and do well and they must be bought cheaply and sold any time the nearby market provides a profitable price level. This program is not for everyone; the opportunities for disaster are everywhere and always present.

One last observation on conditioning of meat goats. The typical long and stressful haul from production areas to slaughter plants yield a goat in very poor physical condition--so much so they may well die before they can be scheduled for slaughter. During a recent marketing study, we found no one in the New York trade who though it would be possible, much less profitable, to off-load and recondition such goats for a few days or weeks prior to slaughter (Pinkerton, et al., 1993).

A possible exception comes to mind. If the animals were properly handled prior to shipment and if the haul was less than 24 hrs, it might be feasible to condition goats in the Carolinas and Virginia prior to sale to the NYC and South Florida areas, either live or in carcass form. Probably the only economically feasible program would be a grazing strategy plus mostly corn and mineral supplement.

Unfortunately, universities rarely engage in the type of research needed to generate the needed information for decision making of this kind. Producers may well have to do it by trial and error and stand the cost personally or perhaps get a slaughter plant to provide partial assistance. But, the potential seems to warrant a further look.

NRC. 1981. Nutient Requirements of Goats: Angora, Dairy, and Meat Goats in Temperate and Tropical Countries. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

Pinkerton, F., R.L. Harwell, N. Escobar, and W. Drinkwater. 1993. Marketing channels and margins for slaughter goats of southern origen. Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University.

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