Merck Manual

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Nutrition of Goats


Joan S. Bowen

, DVM, Wellington, CO

Last full review/revision Jan 2014 | Content last modified Jan 2014

Dairy goats should be fed similarly to dairy cattle (see Nutrition: Goats and see Nutritional Requirements of Dairy Cattle). A good-quality hay, preferably alfalfa, should be the basis of the ration, and a 14%–16% protein concentrate should be fed as a supplement during lactation. Silage is not commonly fed to goats because of the lack of mechanical equipment. Overfeeding grain to pregnant does in late lactation is a common problem that may lead to increased levels of internal fat deposition in the abdomen and result in pregnancy toxemia and dystocia.

To increase salt consumption, loose trace mineral salt (TMS) should be fed rather than block salt. The choice of salt should be based on the mineral content of available feeds in that specific area. Goats are highly susceptible to copper deficiency and, unlike sheep, fairly resistant to copper toxicity. Therefore, cattle TMS, rather than sheep salt with no copper, should be offered unless the soils or water source are known to have high levels of copper. Goats raised for fiber may require supplementation of sulfur for proper fiber production.

Pet wethers fed substantial amounts of grain are prone to develop urinary calculi. Management practices that decrease the incidence of urolithiasis include reducing grain consumption, adding ammonium chloride to the diet, keeping the calcium:phosphorus ratio ~2:1, and keeping the magnesium level low. Perineal urethrostomy can be used as a salvage operation for commercial goats with urolithiasis but is not recommended for pet goats, because recurrences of obstruction and urethral scarring necessitate euthanasia for many. The surgical interventions of choice for pet goats are surgical tube cystotomy or bladder marsupialization. To encourage water consumption, clean, loose TMS should be fed, and clean, fresh water available ad lib. To increase water consumption, especially for high-yielding does, water should be fresh and warm in winter, and fresh and cool in summer.

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