Hay and Browse
We take our does on a long browsing walk just about every day. They also have free access, in good weather, to 2 acres of grasses, browse, and forbs. They relish such wild delicacies as poison oak, madrone, manzanita, pine, oak, fir, lichens, blackberry, grape, star thistle, and an assortment of other seasonal plants. We keep them moving so that they don’t gird up smaller trees. We also do some forest thinning and lop off branches for fire abatement and more food for the does. They also are fed locally grown high quality alfalfa and orchard grass hay. (Adult wethers and bucks do not receive alfalfa due to the disproportionate amount of calcium to phosphorus – which will cause urinary stones that can kill them ).
Browse and a varied diet may slightly alter the flavor of milk, but this is something that can be desirable when marketing an artisan cheese; the uniqueness of your goats environment helps create a unique product. If provided with a variety of feeds, goats are known to instinctually eat what they need. Without a doubt, the more variety, the greater possible natural health. The extra exercise helps keep the does in shape, but the high browse and activity are not what is done in settings where volume of milk is the goal. There you want the animal to spend it’s time eating and making milk. I believe that our milk will be a healthier product and our animals will live longer with fewer ailments.
I must admit, that the goat walk is one of the highlights of my day; being out on our little mountain and or land with the does; bells tinkling and the sounds of them munching along with the wonderful smells of the forest.
How to Get your Goats to Eat Poison Oak or other “new” foods: Since none of us ever let our goats get that hungry and most of them are pretty spoiled when it comes to quality feed, it can be difficult to get your goats to love poison oak. I couldn’t figure out how to do it without having them first kill all the trees in an area before they would try it. I finally hit upon the very simple idea of actually feeding it to them. When their manger was empty (right before the evening hay feeding) I harvested armloads of it and put it in the mangers. It took three times of this and then they all fell in love with the stuff. Now when we go out on the walks they attack it. Hooray!
Concentrates (High Carbohydrate Grains)
We feed a very limited amount of grain to the milking does (bucks, weathers, and kids receive none) An adult Nigerian doe may get up to 1 cup per day, if she shows signs of a greater need, though, such as weight loss, then she will get a bit more. The grain mix we make consists of 50:50 rolled oats and barley along with about 5% black oil sunflower seeds. We do not feed corn or soy and avoid pelleted and highly processed products.
Wet Brewers Grain
We were fortunate enough to finally develop a source for local web brewers grain (WBG). WBG is a byproduct of brewing beer. It is a highly nutritious feed for ruminents. As it is a “waste product” it can often be obtained for little to no cost if you are able to pick it up from the brewery. The problem is that even the smallest micro-brewery often has thousands of pounds each week. So they usually want on large producer to take it all. We were finally able to work with a wonderful local brewmaster who was willing to let us form a co-op of small producers. Now, each week, three of us show up at the same time to have the 1000 pound tubs loaded into our trucks, we then take it to our farms where other small producers can come fill their bins. Poultry and pork raisers as well as gardeners (it makes marvelous compost as well) are just some of the happy users of this “free” grain source. We hope this model will work for other brewers and farmers.
Here are some things we have learned when feeding WBG:
To prevent mold growth- drain the grain as well as possible, pack tightly, and cover well. We use a piece of black plastic and press it down on the top of the grain and then cover that as well. The more you can limit oxygen, the less likely it will mold.
Do not feed WBG that is off in color or aroma. We scoop the top layer off before every feeding and smell the grain below it. It should smell like cooked cereal grains.
Consider adding dolomite lime for calcium if you don’t think the rest of your ration will bring the ratio up to 2:1 calcium to phosphorus. WBG content varies, but it is not high in calcium.
Remember, WBG is high in protein- up to 23%- but low in energy (fats). So if you have animals that need more energy feeding, you will have to accommodate this need.
Salt, Minerals, and Vitamins
Access to free choice, loose minerals is extremely important for herd health. Our milking does receive Sweet Licks brand Caprine Magnum Milk (with a 1:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio), mixed with kelp meal, Diamond XPC yeast, vitamin E and selenium crumbles, and probiotic granules. Bucks receive a similar blend but using Meat Maker minerals (with a 2:1 ratio – for a grass hay diet) and twice the amount of kelp meal, since they do not get out to browse like the does do. Fresh baking soda (which the animals can eat when extra rumen buffering is needed) is also always available.
If you want to copy our recipe, here it is, but I must remind you that I am not a professional nutritionist, you should pay attention to the results of any feeding program in your own herd and be prepared to make adjustments.
Doe Mix: 1 bag Caprine Magnum Milk, 2 coffee cans (about 1 gallon worth) kelp meal, 1/2 coffee can (about 4 cups) Diamond XPC yeast, 4 measures (scoop included with product) vitamin E and selenium crumbles, 1/2 cup probiotic granules.
Buck Mix: 1 bag Meat Maker minerals (unmedicated), 4 coffee cans (about 2 gallons) kelp meal, 1/2 coffee can (about 4 cups) Diamond XPC yeast, 4 measues vitamin E and selenium crumbles, 1/2 cup probiotic granules.
Clean water is also extremely important for their health. If the water is dirty or not a pleasing temperature, then intake will be less than needed. Clean water troughs will also help limit the spread of some diseases. Your water mineral balance can negatively affect the absorption of minerals by the animals. I recommend having water tested. Here is a link to what is believed to be acceptable mineral levels for most livestock: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/news/columns/dairy-focus/dairy-focus-water-it2019s-what-you-don2019t-see-that-counts/