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Herbage and Browse Utilization in Goats


David G. Pugh

, DVM, MS, Auburn University

Last full review/revision Aug 2020 | Content last modified Sep 2020
Topic Resources

In contrast to other farm animals, except llamas, goats prefer shrubs and tree leaves, whether deciduous or evergreen. Because of this preference, goats have been used to control encroaching shrub-type growth in pastures. Goats consume approximately the same weight of forage as do sheep of similar size. Goats tend to select highly digestible portions of most forages and show a preference to browse along fence lines and rough areas. Goats usually perform on improved pastures and prefer browse to grass (a diet of >80% browse).

Browse (leaves and twigs of trees and shrubs) generally contain higher levels of crude protein and phosphorus during their growing season than do grasses. However, some palatable browse species are limited in value because of one or more inhibitors that may bind or otherwise prevent use of nutrients contained in the plants. One such inhibitor is lignification of woody twigs and tree leaves, which physically binds (or encapsulates) the desirable nutrients. Certain plant-based oils (terpenes) are present in some range shrubs and apparently inhibit growth of rumen bacteria but may have positive effects on internal parasite control.


Sample Rations for Goats a

For a 30-kg (66-lb) goat in a nonproductive state, minimal activity, maintenance only:

Chickpea straw 630 g (1.4 lb)

Alfalfa, fresh 95 g (0.20 lb)

For a 50-kg (110-lb) goat in a nonproductive state, minimal activity, maintenance only:

Wheat straw 716 g (1.6 lb)

White or Ladino clover, fresh 333 g (0.73 lb)

For a 20-kg (44-lb) kid gaining 50 g/day, minimal activity:

Alfalfa hay, full bloom 80 g (0.18 lb)

Corn grain 360 g (0.79 lb)

For a 30-kg (66-lb) kid gaining 150 g/day (0.33 lb):

Chickpea straw 500 g (1.1 lb)

Corn grain 400 g (0.88 lb)

Linseed meal 65 g

For a 40-kg (88-lb) doe in late gestation with minimal activity:

Johnsongrass hay 960 g (2.11 lb)

Sorghum grain 350 g (0.77 lb)

For a 70-kg (154-lb) doe producing 5 kg (11 lb) of milk testing 3.5% butterfat:

Corn silage (dough stage) 1,000 g (2.2 lb)

Alfalfa hay, full bloom 500 g (1.1 lb)

Corn grain 1,365 g (3.00 lb)

Soybean meal 280 g (0.62 lb)

a Dry-matter basis

High concentrations of tannins are present in certain browse plants and depress digestion of feedstuffs by binding enzymes or by inhibiting enzymatic activity. Excessive tannins may also increase sulfur requirements, which may be more critical for hair-producing goats. However, in spite of these potential problems, when given the opportunity to choose, goats appear to be able to select more digestible and beneficial browse. Grazing or browsing tannin-containing plants may help control many species of internal nematode parasites.

For sample rations for kids and goats, see Table: Sample Rations for Goats a.

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