Goats are ruminants and have four stomachs (like a
cow). Much of their energy indirectly comes from
breaking down cellulose from plant fibers into energy.
However, no mammal on earth secretes enzymes
necessary to digest cellulose. However, bacteria can
readily utilize this energy source. As such, goats (and
other ruminants) basically work like a huge
fermentation vat. They eat, and mechanically break
food down (cud chewing) and bacteria in their
digestive tract then actually break the food down into
nutrients the goat can use.
Goats are “browsers” meaning that they vastly prefer
to eat woody plants and shrubs but will eat a small
amount of grass. Cattle are “grazers” and pretty much
the opposite (mostly grass a small amount of browse).
If you want to get a goat to “mow your lawn,” you are
going to be disappointed. You are better off getting a
sheep for that. A goat will probably eat all your
ornamental bushes and peel the bark of your weeping
cherry tree BEFORE it gets to your lawn (if at all).
This feeding pattern means that it is possible and
even economically advantageous to graze goats and
cattle in the same area as they do not directly compete
with each other. Goats are quite happy to munch
down brambles, thorns, weeds, and even poison ivy,
that cows won’t touch.
The mainstay of our goats diet is hay. We feed a mix
of timothy and alfalfa hay. We usually buy 60 pound
square bales. We feed it in a steel "dual purpose"
feeder. Goats typically won't eat much hay off the
ground and at any rate if you feed it on the ground
they will quickly soil it.
Besides hay, we feed about a pound or so of grain
per day. We use Blue Seal "Caprine
Challenger."There are about a million schools of
thought here with feeding grain. These range from
feed alot of grain, to feeding none, to feeding pellets
without molasses, to feeding grain with molasses....
The majority opinion seems to center on a pound or
so a day for growing kids and does in production... so
we went with that.
Throughout the day the goats find alot of their own
stuff to eat in the paddock. They will eat pretty much
any kind of vegetation. This will range from tree bark
(with birch, maple, and pine being the favorite, see
below) through all types of weeds and brush, and even
As our herd got bigger we outgrew our wall mounted feeders (although still useful for winter, and to feed the kids). Not
only that the goats soon learned to jump up and pull the bales of alfalfa down from my storage shelves. For both these
reasons, we needed to upgrade to a bigger, outdoor, hayrack (below). Instructions on how to build one of these are
included here. This will easily hold 6 good-sized bales of hay and reduce wastage.
Another problem faced as the herd got bigger, was feeding grain inside. As the goats got bigger, and we had more of
them.. they would simply mob us when they new feeding time was near. As we grew tired of horns and hooves in our
face.... we decided to feed them through the fence. We made this nice little feeding station for just a few dollars worth of
Winter conditions are especially challenging. In freezing conditions, we use a 300 gallon rubbermaid with a 1250 watt
heater for watering. Couple of tips here... Invest in an "ice chopper". As the water level drops, the ice stays put....
eventually the goats can't reach the water. A couple quick whacks with the chopper breaks through the ice. Of course
have to be very careful not to put a hole in the trough.
Also, in the winter, I supplement the goats with Blue Seal "Hay Stretcher" (below right) in addition to "Caprine
Challenger" (below left). 45 gallon rubbermaid trash cans make handy containers that won't crack in sub zero
temperatures. According to the label, you can replace about 50% of the goats ration with Hay Stretcher, but it does not
have the extra vitamins and minerals that are added to the grain. Goats still need fiber, so you certainly can't feed them
Hay Stretcher only. However, it does have about twice the calories, pound for pound as compared to hay and gives
them a little boost for the cold winter months.