Monday, 11 December 2017 09:30

Fussy eaters need good feed

Written by  Marjorie Orr
Pasture is the main source of feed for goats. Pasture is the main source of feed for goats.

Dairy goats, like meat and fibre goats, need good feed. 

If they are pregnant or lactating or both, they need up to three times their basic maintenance ration.  Yet they are fussy eaters and if they are to be healthy, happy and productive, it’s important to know what to feed them and how much.

Pasture is the main source of feed for goats in New Zealand, and the general principles of grazing management for livestock apply:

- make efficient use of pasture by reducing wastage

- improve pasture quality by managing pasture growth properly.

Some farmers use controlled grazing systems such as break feeding and rotational grazing so that they can ration pasture to allow all goats to get their daily feed requirement. 

Where the available pasture isn’t enough, appropriate supplementary feed must be provided.

The belief that goats will eat anything is incorrect.  They like a wide variety of plants and are good at eating young thistles and dock weeds in pasture (and also expensive plants and trees!), but they won’t eat food that isn’t clean and fresh.

The ‘maintenance ration’ is the amount of feed needed by a non-productive goat to keep it in stable body condition.  Goats that are growing, lactating or pregnant, thin goats and all goats in cold conditions need more than maintenance rations as follows:

- pregnant does need up to three times their maintenance ration in late pregnancy and when they are producing milk

- growing goats need up to twice maintenance

- when weather is wet, cold and windy, goats’ feed requirements increase markedly so that they can produce more heat to maintain their body temperature

- if thin goats are to put on weight they need up to twice maintenance rations.

The energy content of feed is often used as a measure of its quality.  It is expressed as megajoules of metabolisable energy (MJME) per kg feed. 

In drought conditions or when pasture is sparse, pasture might provide only about 8 MJME/day and 110 g protein. A 50 kg pregnant doe needs about 13 MJME/day of energy and 100 g of protein per day. Three times this amount is needed when she is lactating, and this can only be achieved by giving supplementary feed such as concentrate pellets.  A doe might need about 0.5 kg pellets each day during pregnancy and up to 1.5kg when lactating.  It’s important also to provide plenty of good quality hay.

Winter supplement

In winter, goats need supplementary feed particularly if they are producing milk, and this means hay, silage or concentrates. 

Any supplementary feed must be introduced gradually over 7 - 10 days, taking care that individuals don’t gorge on carbohydrate-rich food such as grain or sheep nuts.  Good supervision is needed to make sure no goats are being bullied and kept away from the feed.

Ensure that goats have water available at all times, particularly if they are on dry supplementary feed and/or are producing milk.

Beware of poisonous garden plants such as rhododendron, yew, laurel and privet, and poisonous native plants such as tutu and ngaio.  While goats can handle small amounts of ragwort, too much will cause damage to the liver.

Selenium supplementation is usually wise for goats, and there are various ways of adding it to the diet, for example in prills on pasture, added to the worming drench or in mineral supplement added to the food. 

• Dr Marjorie Orr is a lifestyle farmer and veterinarian (retired). This article was reproduced from

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