A good nutrition program is the key to raising healthy, happy Fainting goats. Without good nutrition your goats can become susceptible to many different illnesses. The old saying, “you are what is eat”, is very true when it comes to your goats. People often mistakenly think that goats will eat anything. They do NOT eat tin cans. They are very selective with what they eat.
A goat is referred to as a ruminant. A ruminant is an animal that chews its cud. It is most closely related to the deer species. Goats are also considered browsers. Brower’s prefers to eat from high to low. They like to eat brush, flowers, leaves, and trees much more than pasture. Cattle and sheep are both grazers and prefer pasture. Comparing goats to either sheep or cattle is like, comparing apples to oranges. There is a big difference in the way they are feed. Goats also have a very fast metabolism. This means that they browse all the time.
Nutrition can be very complicated. Many breeders mix their own feed using their own formula. If you don’t have a really good understanding of the digestive system this could set you up for a disaster. Feed must be balanced with the correct amount of fiber, nutrients, protein, vitamins, fat, and minerals. I suggest using a commercial feed that has been designed by expert nutritionists. After years of raising goats, I still do not feel comfortable about mixing my own feed.
First let’s look at the goat’s digestive system. We will start with their mouth. Goats grasp their food with their lips. Goats have an upper lip that is very muscular. This helps them to tear the browse.
A goat only has teeth along the bottom jaw. The top jaw consist of a dental pad that also helps tear the browse.
Their stomach is sometimes referred to as a rumen. Actually the first part of the stomach is called the rumen. The goat’s stomach is made of four different chambers. The rumen is the first part. The reticulum is the second part. The omasum is the third part. The true stomach is called the abomasum. Each part has a different function in the digestion process.
The rumen is located on the left side of the fainting goat. It is often referred to as a fermentation vat. It often smells like one too! The fermentation process produces heat that helps to keep the goat warm. A healthy rumen will make “growling” noises several times a minute. The rumen contains both bacteria and protozoa that supply the enzymes needed to break down the food. The food is turned into nutrients that will be used as their energy source. As a goat chews their food it is mixed with saliva and goes down into the rumen. The saliva has the ability to lower the pH level as it mixes with the food. This partially digested food is called the “cud” and is further digested by micro-organisms in the rumen. The cud will then be regurgitated back up at regular intervals from the rumen back to the mouth. This process is called rumination or chewing the cud. Rumination keeps the pH level in balance. Normal pH should be slightly alkaline at 6.8. To keep the rumen functioning properly, it is best to feed a good high fiber roughage. The roughage should be at least 1 1/2 inches-2 inches. This is what is referred to as the “scratch factor”. The longer pieces of roughage will scratch the sides of the rumen causing stimulation where the rumen will contract and relax. By doing so this allows the rumen to agitate the food found in the rumen. Again this will keep the pH at a slightly alkaline level. Roughage is the single most important thing needed in a goat’s diet. If a goat can’t chew their cud it will cause a buildup of gas that will often lead to bloat. This will make the goat very sick. Bloat will be discussed in another chapter along with many other problems that may be encountered by improper nutrition.
The reticulum is the second part of the stomach. After food has become small enough it is passed on to the reticulum. The walls of the reticulum are honeycomb shaped. If the goat accidently swallowed a foreign object it is here that it would settle into the reticulum’s walls.
The osmasum is the third part of the stomach. Food is passed from the reticulum to the osmasum. Here the water is removed and the nutrients and fatty acids are absorbed for energy.
The Abomasum is the fourth part of the stomach. It is the true stomach. This is the part that works more like a human stomach. It digests the particles by using the stomach acid. The remaining particles are then passed to the small intestines where more nutrients are absorbed.
A baby goat does not use all of its stomach parts. The rumen and omasum are too tiny at birth to be of any use. The baby depends on milk instead of roughage. When the baby swallows milk it goes straight into the abomasum by way of the esophageal groove. A flap of skin at the opening of the rumen ensures that the milk passes straight in the abomasum to be digested by the stomach acid. As the baby try’s to eat a little roughage the rumen will become active and starts to grow. The micro-organisms will increase. With age the main diet will be roughage.
Roughage should be the main part of any goat’s diet. Roughage will supply carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down for energy. Roughage also contains proteins, minerals, and vitamins needed for a healthy goat. Grains can also be included in the goat’s diet if roughage is lacking or if extra protein may be needed. Minerals can also be offered to the goat to help meet the nutritional needs of their diet.
Minerals are an important part of the goat’s diet. You must however be careful because, too much or too little, can be just as bad for your goat. Calcium and Phosphorus work together so we will discuss them together. They should be maintained at ratio of 2:1. These minerals are mainly found in the skeletal tissues. If a goat is deficient in one of these they may have delayed growth. They may have reduced milk production or even depressed fertility. Most forage tends to be high in calcium and low in phosphorus. Grains are generally high in phosphorus and low in calcium. Read your feed labels and if needed, give a supplement. Commercial feeds mixed for goats will usually have the correct mixture. Salts are needed to help the goats drink plenty of water and if they are deficient, the goat will tend to chew wood and lick the soil. Magnesium is important for the normal function of the nervous system. Deficiency can lead to a condition called grass tetany. Too much magnesium could also lead to urinary calculi. Potassium is required for normal acid-base balance. Copper deficiency will produce anemia, lighter colored hair, slowed growth lameness and diarrhea. Selenium is absorbed from the small intestine by having adequate dietary levels of both vitamin A and E. Deficiency problems will be noticed as poor growth, weakness, immune function, or mastitis. Many areas of the country are found to be selenium deficient. Check to find out what it is in the area you live in. Sulfur is needed to help build protein. Vitamin B is synthesized in the rumen. Because vitamins A, D, E, and K are not synthesized in the rumen, goats will need to get it from their diets. A deficiency in Vitamin A will cause night blindness and hair loss. Vitamin A is necessary for proper skeletal development, reproduction and healthy tissue. It is also important to the immune system. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and important to the cell membranes. It is closely related to selenium. A deficiency will lead to white muscle disease, and poor immune system. Vitamin E is poorly stored. It is found in most quality forage. Vitamin D is usually adequate if animal is exposed to the sun. Hay that is sun-cured is a great source of vitamin D. Vitamin K is for clotting and a healthy goat will not need a supplement.
Minerals can be feed in the form of blocks or given loose. A hard mineral block can break teeth. Loose minerals are preferred. Minerals are usually feed free choice meaning they are always available whenever the goat choses to have them. Be sure to choose a mineral designed for goats.
Water should never be left out of the equation. It is an important nutrient. A goat is made up of 50% water. A loss of only 10% of their water can be fatal. They need clean fresh water daily.