Confused by the title? Good, then we are starting off on the right foot. In 20+ years of raising dairy goats, I can say with certainty, there is nothing straight forward about whats the best pack goat nutrition plan or any goat for that matter. Even after all these years I am still learning, adapting and tweaking my goat husbandry methods and conceptions. I say husbandry instead of just nutrition because its so much more then just what you are feeding your goat. Making a good environment for your pack goat can directly effect their overall health. Toys, obstacles, housing, pen space, and cleanliness. Keeping parasites (internal and external) in check are all things that will help you to create a sound pack goat nutrition program as well.
As I prepare to write this, my mind is a swirl with all that I want to put into this article. How in depth should I make it? How many pages can I get away with before you the reader, closes out the article, mind numbed, with potentially even less of an idea of how best to feed your goats? Goat nutrition / husbandry is nearly a passion for me. Much in the same way a mathematician can work on solving an unsolvable equation, I have worked on answering the question, “What is the best thing I can feed my pack goats?” And the answer I have come up with after all these years? I don’t know. Because the answer is different for everyone. So instead of convincing you to do it my way, I will just try and help you do it your way.
Now that we are all on level ground, we can start discussing pack goat nutrition and husbandry. I say we because everyone has something they can contribute to answering this question. Their contribution can potentially help someone else develop a program that works for them too. The options, ideas, methods and suggestions you will read below may or may not work for you. But this article isn’t intended as a walk through. One of the most important pieces of advise I ever give anyone is: Take what you learn and adapt it to what best works for you.
As an example, if you learn from someone its best to feed your goat 5 lbs of hay a day but your pack goats are finishing that amount half way through the day and are still hungry. Maybe they aren’t maintaining weight as they should. Then do not continue to feed just 5 lbs a day. You might need to up that to 8 lbs a day. Maybe the hay you are feeding isn’t as high a quality as the next person. Hay can not only change from grower to grower but from cutting to cutting. The most important thing to realize is, nothing is the same for everyone.
Goat nutrition can be as simple as hay, water, loose mineral and worming. Or as complicated as you want to make it. I know people who make up their own treat mixes of black oil sunflower seeds, beat pulp, alfalfa pellets and any of another dozen different ingredients. Some like to add measured amounts of apply cider vinegar to their water. There is typically one universal thing with goat owners. They are very passionate about their goats and their care. So try not to take offense to someone who blows up at your ideas of how best to keep your goats. Many goat owners take that as they are not doing the absolute best for their animals. As I am sure some long time goat owners will read this and disagree with many parts. And that is ok.
There are many factors to take into account. Such as where you live. Where you get your hay. The soil content of the ground in your area. The quality of your water. The potential parasite load and species in your area. How you feed. How many goats you have on a piece of property. Their shelters. Maybe even the breed / genetics of the goats you have. So again I suggest to take what you read here and adapt it to what works for you. The only consistent thing with goat nutrition is trying to aim for the 2:1 ration. I am sure most of you know what this is but for those that don’t, this means 2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus. This ratio is supposed to be the best ratio for a goats overall health. We will get into more detail about that below.
First and foremost to goat nutrition is hay. This is the corner stone or foundation from which you should start your program. 90% of your pack goat’s nutrition will potentially come from hay. Regardless of if you are on pasture or have good forage / browse, determining what kind and how much hay to feed your goats is key to their nutrition. For the remainder of this article, I will assume that your goats do not have access to any decent amount of browse and even if they do, will consider it just another supplement to their feeding program. Don’t get me wrong, fresh forage is an outstanding bonus to any program and can provide your goats with organic vitamins and minerals and nutrition they cant get from a cut dry hay. Such as vitamin D. But the bulk of goat owners in my experience, do not have a large enough area to sustain their herd strictly on forage.
There are two major different hays to choose from. Grass hay and Alfalfa hay. Grass hays are much lower in protein then Alfalfa hay but maintain a closer 1:1 c/p ratio. Alfalfa is typically 4:1 c/p. The reason this ratio is so important for pack goats is because of their higher likely hood to develop urinary calculi (UC). Male goats have a very small urinary tract. Wethers, that are typically castrated between 3 and 5 months, will have even smaller tracts because once castrated, grow of the urinary tract is retarded. So the goal of your feeding program should be to grow the best goat you can while getting as close to the 2:1 ratio as possible to help prevent UC. NOTE: There is about a 10% growth difference in a wethers urinary tract between 3 and 5 months. So any extra time you can wait is beneficial.
Grass vs. Alfalfa. Although grass hay is more balanced, its significantly less nutritious then alfalfa. Which makes alfalfa or an alfalfa / grass mix the best thing to feed young growing goats or goats that are being worked hard. Older goats, or goats not being used as often working hard, can be fed grass hays and effectively maintain weight and condition. Its at this part where its the owners who need to come up with their own program and one of the bigger reasons why there is no set answer to the question. If you take someone like Marc Warnke, he gets the utmost out of his goats. He’s constantly conditioning and using them on long pack trips deep into the back country with heavy loads, then his animals, young and old, would benefit most by a alfalfa or alfalfa / grass mix.
On the flip side, if you take someone who only gets out a couple of times a year with little pre-conditioning of their fully grown goats, then a straight grass hay would be best. Regardless of what hay you plan to feed, there is one universal important factor. Quality. You should aim for the highest quality hay you can find. If you feed your goats crap hay, then you can expect to grow crap goats. Saving $2 a bale on poor quality hay, will cost you more in the long run with added supplements and upkeep. If you can get tested hay in your area, even better. This will give you some insight into what else your feeding program might need.
Davis recently did a study on the effects of alfalfa on wethered goats and urinary calculi. Here is a link to that study. http://www.ansc.purdue.edu/SP/MG/Documents/SLIDES/Urinary%20calculi.pdf
The study actually found that alfalfa helped to prevent stones in wethers. NOTE: Just because alfalfa might be the best thing to feed your goats, doesn’t mean you will be able to. Keep in mind that the protein levels in alfalfa can range anywhere from 12% to as high as 30%! With the norm being 16%-20%. High protein hay can in rare cases lead to sheath scalding. This is where the sheath over the pizzle (tip of the penis) becomes inflamed and often infected. It doesn’t happen often but can. So just ad a quick inspection of that area to your typical daily inspections.
(((IMPORTANT INFORMATION:))) Some things to know about hay and how they are grown. Prior to the growing season, hay fields are sprayed with a fertilizer. This makes first cutting the hottest and most nutritious cutting. It also makes it have the highest level of fertilizer residue. A lot of growers use the cheapest fertilizer they can. Many of these fertilizers use Molybdenum. It makes a great growing crop but it also can cause many minerals to bind to it during consumption. This effectively causes a mineral deficiency in your feeding program. And because its in their gut, even the consumption of a quality loose mineral mix, often isn’t enough to offset it.
Most hay growers have no idea about / what Moly does or if the fertilizers they use contain it. I suggest talking it over with your grower. Personally I prefer a first cutting for my does. The stems of alfalfa are where most of the fiber is located. Fiber slows down the digestion process and allows for better processing in the stomach(s). Its hard to find a hay grower who knows how to put up a first cutting right. Most over dry and then don’t bale tight enough. But for pack goats, a good 2nd or 3rd cutting is what I would aim for.
On the flip side of fertilizers, organic hay may even be worse. Lots of organic growers use cow manure on their crops. This manure comes mainly from cow dairies. Cow dairies across the USA are heavily infected with Johne’s. Here is a link for more information on it. https://johnes.org/goats/faqs.html If you don’t know what that is, its worth it to read up on it. But if the manure isn’t prepared correctly, your organic grower may be infecting his land with one of the top 3 dreaded goat diseases. So take your time in finding what kind of hay you plan to feed and where to get it.
It’s here that you round out your pack goat nutrition program. The second most important part of your feeding program should be your loose mineral mix. There are 4 main minerals that goats need high amounts of. Selenium, copper, zinc, and magnesium. Magnesium is least important for pack goats but very important for does. First you need to find out on the selenium map, what your area rates in selenium levels. There is a link to that map on my website, www.trinitypackgoats.webs.com and can be found under the How To page. This is a vital piece of information to have when searching for a loose mineral mix. Too much selenium can be worse then not enough. Which is why things like BO-Se and Multimin90 are vet prescribed only supplements. I will get into M90 shortly.
As you can see, I said “loose mineral” above. This is the only kind of mineral you should be given to your goats. On this topic, there is no discussion or alternative. Blocks and tubs can not give adequate amounts of minerals to goats quick enough. Goats metabolize minerals very quickly and need a steady source of minerals at all time. Often times a goat will wear down their teeth to the gums just trying to get enough minerals out of a block. Your loose mineral mix needs to be left out free choice (available all the time) in a dry place. The more you can keep their feet outta it the better as well. Once dirty, a goat will refuse to consume the mix.
You can offer things like cobalt blocks into addition your loose mix. I also highly suggest you have a second loose mineral mix that is mostly salt available for them. If your mineral mix has a high level of salt, then your goats may not visit it as often as they should. Or if reversed, they are in need of salt but good on minerals, then they could over due it. Not likely, but possible. Here we use the CHS (Payback) brands. 16/8 goat mineral plus and their true trace mineral. We like this brand because the minerals are more amino acid based as opposed to the sulfate and oxide based mixes. The true trace mineral mix is mostly salt but also has a high level of selenium. Which is good for us as we are in a very low selenium area. If you are located in a high selenium area, then just a straight salt would be best.
A link to the above mineral mixes can be found on my website. NOTE: Sulfate and oxide base mineral mixes are not very effective. Animals can only absorb around 20% of these base minerals. The rest are expelled without actually getting into the goats system. Because they are the cheapest to produce, most mixes will be oxide and sulfate based. It will be nearly impossible to find a mix without one or both of these two bases. So just go with the best you can find. I have a little ace up my sleeve for you
This is what I consider to be a perfect mineral mix for goats.
Calcium 12%-16% (would prefer 16%)
Phosphorus 6%-8% (would prefer 8%)
Salt (naCl) 20% max
Zinc 5000-7000 ppm
Copper 3000-5000 ppm
Iodine 500-800 ppm
Selenium 70-100 ppm
Cobalt 80 ppm
Vit A 500,000 IU/lb
Vit D3 250,000 IU/lb
Vit E 1000-2000 IU/lb
Feed and loose minerals are the back bone of a good pack goat nutrition program. Past these two things, there is really only a handful of things to worry about. Now keep in mind. An animal that has a heavy parasite load can effectively cancel out any good effects gained from your loose mineral mix. And vise versa. A goat with poor / low mineral levels is much more highly susceptible to not just high parasite loads but general overall health issues. Minerals maintain coat health, bone strength, immune system and other key systems in your goat. Hay may be the nutrition foundation of your program, but minerals are the glue that makes it all work.
Now that ace up the sleeve I mentioned? Multimin90. M90 is an injectable mineral supplement. It has the 4 main minerals that goats need. So if you can’t find a decent mineral mix, or if you find they’re just deficient regardless of your program, M90 can give your goats what they need. Multimin90 is a vet prescribed only supplement. At around $50-$80 a bottle, its not an unreasonable expense.
Here we give it to our does 4 times a year while still leaving out their two different loose minerals. But we are dry lotted. The only feed our does get 10 months outta the year is bought locale alfalfa and this area is low in all minerals. You may find you only need it once or twice a year. I will say, this injection is painful and can leave your goat with a little limp upwards of a week. So do not use this with any kind of outing planned in the near future.
Ammonium chloride is a pack goat owners white knight. Its nearly impossible to get a perfect 2:1 balance to a pack goat nutrition program, AC is used to regulate a goats urine to help prevent UC. The best way to use AC is to mix 3 lbs of it to 50 lbs of loose mineral mix. But because its hard to regulate how much or often a goat will consume its mix, I also suggest giving a table spoon sprinkled over a hand full (about 1 lb) of grain once ever 2-4 weeks depending up their mineral mix consumption. This and tiny amounts of grain during training is the only time a wethered goat should ever get grain.
Grain is the leading cause of urinary calculi. If you feed alfalfa, you are allotted a little more room with grain due to the slightly higher calcium of alfalfa. But even then I can not express enough how deadly grain is for wethers. I am usually open to everyone coming up with their own pack goat nutrition programs, but this is the one area I don’t bend. There are those that feed it and swear by it, but for those that think grains are a good supplement or bonus for goats, they are rolling the dice.
Whole grains are only slightly better then pelleted grains as they are still highly unbalanced in the phosphorous direction. Pelleted grains are made from off fall and low end quality grains that don’t pass for anything else. The weight grains put on an animal are fat weight and do nothing for a working goat. Grain is also hard for goats to digest. Being ruminants, their guts are designed for grass, legumes and browse.
Water gets a small mention as its nearly impossible to change the quality of water on your property. Fresh. If nothing else, keep fresh water in front of them at all times. The more they drink, the more balanced their urine is. Water is the most important part of keeping UC out of your pack goats. Something to note, Iron binds other minerals. If you have high levels of iron in your water and are struggling with mineral issues, this could be the cause.
I will say again as its important to understand, there is no set program that will work for everyone, everywhere. What works for your neighbor, may not work for you. Do not let anyone, including myself, dictate what is best for your animals. Learn, practice, and refine your own programs. Not everyone has access to the same feeds. Not everyone has the same amount of money to spend. Not everyone is going to use their goats the same. Not every goat is the same. Do whats best for you and your goats and you will do just fine and so will they.
For more about young pack goat nutrition click here.
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