Feeding Goats for Improved Milk and Meat Production
Many factors can have major or minor effects on the goal of improving milk and meat production of goats. Computer programs are available (at least for cow) that will solve by least-cost formulation the maximization or the optimization of production. In either case it is important to focus on net return as the ultimate goal. Maximization of production is not guaranteeing maximization of net return. The reason is that the law of diminishing returns governs much of animal production, especially feeding and the relationship to reproduction. It means that for additional units of input, such as feed, there is an ever-decreasing increment of benefits in units of milk and meat dollars or other output, until certain general bases and levels are lifted for a new set of overall conditions. It also means that additional feed will produce additional pounds of milk and meat up to a certain biological limit, but in the meantime may already produce negative income dollars from a certain point on.
FACTORS INFLUENCING PRODUCTION IMPROVEMENT
Other important factors influencing production output and income from goats are genetic merit, udder quality, health and marketing, besides feeding. Genetic merit comes from:
Selection of native goats can be very effective, because of the inherent adaptation to the
climate, especially if it is tropical, hot and humid, and the resistance to native diseases, insects and parasites.
Selection requires regular record keeping of each herd animal in terms of production traits, milk, composition,
meat, growth. In the USA this is done through the Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA) record keeping system,
which provides monthly individual data on management efficiency (Table 1). If it is done on an official, non-biased
basis, it provides also regular data for sire proving with a certain degree of reliability, which when published
annually allows selection of buck semen and doe ova from proven individuals for superior herd selection by anyone
domestically or for import by foreign interests.
Crossbreeding has the advantage of selecting presumably superior genetic producing ability,
but adaptation to climate, diseases, insects and parasites is usually a big, often insurmountable or at least very
expensive problem, which may only be solved by using for continued breeding crossbred offspring rather than purebred
parents. In either case it is necessary to realize that improved feeding is wasted if there is no simultaneous
genetic improvement of the basic producing ability, because
heritability of milk yield by goats is about 25 percent,
heritability of goat milk composition about 50%, and
heritability of goat weight gain about 40%.
Heritability values can be used to predict the expected average progress from selection, assuming
that environment, management, feeds and feeding, and climate is not changed between generations. Improvement in
milk yield is often the most profitable choice and the predicted progress would be per generation:
heritability X selection differential or
25% X (milk yield of selected sire - milk yield of dam).
For example, if the selection differential from the buck proof is + 400 lb and the milk yield of the doe is
1,500 lb, then the expected average genetic improvement in the performance of the offspring in the next generation
(25% X 400 lb) + 1,500 lb = 1,600 lb
indicating that genetic selection is important, but 75% of milk yield performance progress is due to management,
environment, diseases, climate and especially feeds and feeding.
The udder is the most important part among the inherited physical capabilities of the animal
in its body parts and constitution (Haenlein, 1981). For centuries, this was one of the principal goals of attention
of Swiss goat breeders, to improve the udder quality and conformation, and they accomplished this without parallel,
making the Swiss dairy goat breeds the milk production leaders in the world. Today type evaluation is available,
called the Linear Appraisal System, which can effectively aid in the selection for and improvement of goat milk
production. Other programs like type judging competitions in the field and in goat magazines, county and state
shows and fairs for 4-H, FFA and adults, milk-out programs for champion competitions and star milker recognitions
on pedigrees all aim towards improvement of the inherited physical capability of the milking animal.
Health is the other important factor for success in goat management. Elevated, slotted floor barns have become popular in humid and hot climates for better health of goats, especially for internal parasite control. Such barns are easily and cheaply constructed, provide cool shade and dry areas for feeding and rest, they keep udders clean and free from contaminations and infections, and they prevent reinfestation from internal parasite eggs in feces, because the goats are resting on the slotted floors away from their feces. Without such basic provisions for optimum health of goats any attempts in feeding improvement are wasted.
FEEDING FOR HEALTH
The feeding program needs to aim for more than just higher milk yield or weight gain; it needs to provide the
best possible health also through feeding, because this will directly affect readiness and success in reproduction.
It has been said often that the goat has been neglected in research and numbers of publications, but this was true
only until 30 years ago. Meanwhile there has been a ground swell of efforts recognizing the goat as an important
part of agriculture, especially small holder agriculture, and in the production of valuable food for human needs
for selfsufficiency, diversification, risk stabilization, natural resource utilization like no other animal, gourmet
foods and for people with medical needs like cow milk allergy, digestive malabsorption and cholesterol problems.
There have been new research stations and funding for goats, many national and international seminars, symposia
and conferences with their voluminous proceedings, nutrient requirement bulletins from the US, British and French
national research councils, the USDA Extension Goat Handbook, the monthly international Small Ruminant Research
journal besides many new books, videos and trade magazines, and the standard cow research journals, which now also
carry articles on dairy and meat goat topics.
A major concern in feeding for better health is the problem of enterotoxemia or overeating disease (Haenlein, 1982). Many goat managers vaccinate against it successfully, to prevent the associated toxin produced by Clostridium perfringens. Actually, enterotoxemia is caused primarily by acidosis in the rumen due to faulty feeding. At any age, symptoms of diarrhea, depression, incoordination, digestive upsets, coma and death are observed after excessive feeding of kids or mature goats, when sudden changes of feeds occur, when goats are hungry and had free access to palatable, readily fermentable feeds, when goats are fed too little calcium supplement and when too little roughage with too short fiber is fed. The best prevention for nursing kids is to have frequent feeding or nursing immediately starting after birth, so that kids are never hungry. Large meals, once a day and of little variety should be avoided. Goats are by nature browsers and like to select various feeds. High levels of grain feeding relative to roughage in the ration (> 60%), especially in early lactation lead to rumen acidosis, followed by inappetence and indigestion. Feeding buffers like sodium bicarbonate and magnesium oxide and stemmy hay will help alleviate the early symptoms and prevent enterotoxemia. Other effective feeds are sunflower seeds, cottonseed, oats, dry brewers grain.
Fiber is a feeding requirement unique to ruminants, because:
Fiber is rarely stated in nutrient requirement tables, but from dairy cattle research it is recognized, that
at least 17percent of the daily dry matter intake is needed. However, it makes a difference whether this fiber
is shorter than 1 inch or longer. Effective fiber needs length to stimulate chewing and rumination. Feeds and diets,
which cause significantly less chewing are potential problems leading to acidosis and enterotoxemia. When less
frequent chewing is observed and before other more serious symptoms occur, a drop in milk fat content of 1 to 2
percentage units will be noted in a few days, the socalled low fat syndrome. Feeding of buffers should immediately
commence, besides a reexamination of the ration formulation. Table 2 lists some feeds like sunflower and cotton
seed, which are very high in fiber contents, but also have high fat and protein contents, so they are ideal for
maintaining the high energy and protein supply needed for early lactation high milking goats, besides providing
the extra protective fiber content to avoid low fat syndrome, acidosis and enterotoxemia (Haenlein, 1982).
Feeding ruminants and their rumen microflora correctly should result in sufficient amounts of rumen synthesized
B vitamins (Haenlein, 1981). However, any change and upset in feed intake may reduce the amounts significantly.
Niacin is a water-soluble B vitamin functioning as coenzyme in energy metabolism and is needed
by high performing dairy animals, especially in early lactation when ketosis or acetonemia may be a problem. Some
supplementation has been beneficial, especially when there is much corn in the ration, since corn is low in the
amino acid precursor for niacin, and niacin deficiency may develop.
Thiamine deficiency may occur after heavy grain feeding or if certain feeds with antithiamine
activity are ingested. Blindness can result and thiamine supplementation may be needed.
Pyridoxine is another B vitamin synthesized in the rumen and is required for biosynthesis of
fatty acids, transport of amino acids and minerals. Upset rumen metabolism can lead to deficiency in pyridoxine
synthesis and symptoms of anemia in the dairy goat. Not all anemia in goats is necessarily due only to internal
parasites, but not much research into vitamin requirements and metabolism of goats has been done in recent years.
There are other feeding related disorders in goats, which are preventable (Naylor and Ralston,
1991). When goats are becoming fat at the end of lactation, they risk getting acetonemia, pregnancy toxemia or
ketosis problems at or soon after kidding. Bearing triplets or quadruplets can aggravate the condition triggered
by hypoglycemia. Prevention of undue weight gain in the dry period is often easier than treatment and correction
when symptoms of dullness, depression, acetone odor in the breath, recumbency occur, which can lead to death. Gradually
increasing feeding of 1 to 1.5 lb of concentrates 3 to 4 weeks prior to kidding is usually a best practice. Calcium
deficiency soon after kidding in the form of milk fever or parturient paresis is not frequent in dairy goats as
it is in certain breeds of cows. A reduction of calcium supplementation and replacement of alfalfa hay with grass
hay during the dry period can prevent the problem.
Several minerals besides calcium require particular attention in proper goat feeding: phosphorus, magnesium,
selenium, iron, copper (Haenlein, 1992).
Urinary calculi or urolithiasis in male goats are due to nutritional imbalance, especially
on high grain feeding with too much phosphorus in relation to calcium and potassium, and more in confinement management
than on pasture. Calcium to phosphorus ratio should be 2:1, but grass hay feeding is preferred to alfalfa. Increasing
salt in the ration to 4 to 5 percent promotes higher water intake and diuresis. Acidifying the urine with 2 percent
addition of ammonium chloride or potassium chloride to the ration also helps (NRC, 1981).
Selenium deficiency can be suspected in areas with deficient soils, when goats have various
reproduction problems, early embryonic death, repeat estrus, retained placenta after kidding, metritis, weak newborn
kids. Intramuscular injection with a selenium - vitamin E preparation one month before kidding can prevent symptoms,
but addition of 0.2 ppm selenium to the ration provides a more constant protection. Selenium status in goats can
be tested best in milk or blood besides hair samples.
Iron stores are minimal in newborn kids in contrast to calves. Therefore anemia can be a problem that can be treated with an iron dextran injection or with iron supplementation to the ration.
Magnesium deficiency and grass tetany can occur in early spring grazing on lush pasture, which
may be high in potassium, especially cereal grain pastures. Intravenous injection with a calcium - magnesium preparation
may be needed to prevent death, but prevention is best by hay feeding prior to turning out to pasture and time-limited
grazing of this kind of pasture. A magnesium mineral mix feeding, e.g., 15 percent magnesium oxide in the ration,
is also helpful (Naylor and Ralston, 1991).
Zinc is an element that needs to be supplied continuously, since it is not stored in the body.
Blood, milk or hair samples are useless in assessing zinc status of an animal; only rib contents are good indicators.
Legumes contain more than grasses, but contents decrease with increasing maturity. Zinc supplementation and treatment
helps reduce and cure mastitis, stimulates male reproduction, wound healing, prevents parakeratosis and lameness
from foot fissures. Recommended levels are 10-50 mg/kg dry matter daily feed intake.
Copper is needed by goats at the level usually provided in dairy cattle or horse rations, in
contrast to sheep, which are sensitive to such levels and will develop toxicities. Leaves and certain browse contain
more copper than stems of forages, but this will decrease with maturity. Copper deficiencies can be prevented by
adding 0.5 percent copper sulfate to the mineral mixture.
Energy is the nutrient most frequently deficient in goat management, not only of high yielding milkers. Abortions
can occur, especially during the time of 90 to 110 days of pregnancy, when undernutrition stresses goats, due to
hypoglycemia. Insufficient energy supplies will reduce weight gain and milk yield, but also change the fatty acid
composition in the milk fat to less medium chain fatty acids, which are the most desirable fatty acids for human
nutrition (Haenlein, 1995). Increasing the energy density of the ration is often necessary as the volume of feed
intake is limited, especially in early lactation. Adding fat to the grain ration is increasing energy density effectively
as long as it does not interfere with the normal rumen flora. Rumen unavailable or protected fat has been effective
at 5 percent supplementation, increasing milk yield, milk fat and protein contents, however, the kind of fat makes
a difference in results. Calcium salts of fatty acids are insoluble at normal rumen pH, and reach the abomasum
unchanged, where they then can be digested (Morand-Fehr, 1991). Another means of increasing energy density of the
ration is by pelleting, which improves gains and milk yield by increasing feed intake, but often reduces milk fat
content, if effective fiber length is insufficient in the ration.
Protein is the more expensive nutrient in feeding and therefore often limiting maximum productivity. Industry
by-products often are less expensive sources besides the traditional major supplies of oilmeals. However, as forages
have higher fiber and lower protein contents with increasing maturity, the least expensive sources of protein are
usually forages, alfalfa, clovers, well fertilized grasses, harvested at prebloom or immature stages. Protein supplies
to the rumen in the form of degradable protein are necessary for optimum growth of rumen bacteria, but they require
energy at the same time, without which some proteins will be wasted into ammonia in the rumen. A minimum of 7 percent
crude protein in the diet dry matter is required for normal rumen function, and forage intake will be decreased
at lower protein levels. The supply of some rumen protected protein has been effective in increasing milk yield.
Excess protein feeding is not only wasting money but is stressing the goat by increasing her blood urea levels,
increasing urine excretion and interfering with efficient reproduction. Protein deficiencies will reduce feed intake,
rumen function and retard fetal development.
Non-protein nitrogen, such as urea, can be utilized by goats very well, as long as it does not exceed one third
of the total nitrogen in the daily diet or 3 percent of the grain ration . A gradual adaptation of at least three
weeks is required. Urea may be a cheaper means of providing some of the required nitrogen to goats, but it must
not interfere with maximum feed intake. The nitrogen content of feed grade urea is 42-45 percent in contrast to
feed protein with 16 percent. Good urea use in the rumen depends on rations with at least 75 percent TDN and the
availability of sufficient starch and sugars like molasses to convert the urea nitrogen into microbial protein,
and when the ration protein content is below 12 percent. The addition of alfalfa meal, extra vitamin A and salt
helps urea utilization. Feeding of urease containing feeds like raw beans, legume seeds, wild mustard must be avoided.
A common thumb rule is that 6 lb corn plus 1 lb urea equal 7 lb soybean oilmeal nutritionally, but the economics
of that relationship have to be calculated to be positive (Ensminger et al. 1990). Aside from grain mixtures, urea
is effectively used as a liquid molasses-urea lick or as urea salt block.
Flushing is an effective practice of temporarily increased energy and protein supplies in sheep feeding to stimulate
estrus in ewes and synchronize pregnancies. This has not been studied much in goats, but practical experience has
shown that the principle works in goats as well, making out-of-season estrus, kidding and milk production possible,
in addition to increasing litter size.
Practical feeding of goats can be grouped into three types:
Effects and expectations in meat and milk production obviously differ with these types of feeding under extensive
or intensive management. Proper rations must then be calculated differently, depending on the degree of nutrient
supply expected from the amount of grazing provided.
Under free grazing providing no other sources of nutrients, the grazing strategy must aim towards
finding the best pasture in each season without excessive travel and with a stocking rate, that is compatible with
good renewal of the vegetation and the best sustainability of forages and browse. The presence of a goatherder
will assure this and improve productivity over un-supervised grazing. Nevertheless the nutrient composition varies
tremendously from season to season and despite the selectivity of grazing goats, the daily supply often falls short
of nutrient requirements of production and at times even of maintenance, so that the goats actually lose milk production,
weight and potentially health (Table 3) (Ramirez et al., 1991; Papachristou and Nastis, 1996).
Limited grazing will be a normal consequence by goats when fed supplementary grain. The strategy
could be based on the amount of daily milk produced at the rate of 2.5 lb milk per l lb grain or more depending
on the price of grain to the price of milk ratio. An example calculation would be, if the milk price is $12/100
lb, the grain price $200/t and the cost of feeding is 50 percent of total milk production costs:
2.5 lb milk @ $0.30 (12.-/100x2.5)
= $0.10 grain cost (200.-/2000)X 2,
= $0.30 - 0.20,
leaving $0.10 for other production expenses and profit.
A superior feeding strategy would be based on body condition scoring (Table 8). Low scoring goats (1 - 2.5)
receive grain supplementation at < 2.5 lb grain :1 lb milk ratio, while the higher scoring goats (3.0 - 5.0)
are fed at a feed:milk ratio of 3:1. This will correct production loss due to undernutrition and it will prevent
problems of fat goats (Santucci et al., 1991). Body condition scoring has been successfully developed for dairy
cattle, but applies equally well to dairy goats even in the absence of published suitable picture guides. Body
condition score is the visible end result of appropriate or insufficient feeding in relation to production. Out-of-target-range
scoring goats will produce less milk and a lower meat price. Reproductive efficiency is significantly reduced by
out-of-target-range body condition scores. Also disease frequency is increased.
Confinement feeding abrogates any nutrient supply from pasture, although for better health of udder, feet, vitamin
D supply from the sun and control of internal parasites some outdoor yards should be provided. The entire nutrient
supply must be calculated from composition and requirement tables. Software programs for dairy and beef cattle
are available, which have some scaled-down provision on bodyweight. More appropriate would be goat specific programs
based on the current NRC (1981) and up-dated tables. The University of Wisconsin developed a program, which has
not seen widespread use, partly because in the USA no silage is fed to goats as it is the major feed for cows on
The concept of free choice feeding without rationing to individual goats has been tried successfully
(Haenlein, 1978). Over a 2-year period 5 Saanen, weighing 133 - 205 lb, produced in 2 lactations from 2,033 - 4,554
lb milk with 3.0 - 3.3 percent fat. Their free choice intake of mixed hay per year ranged from 393 - 459 lb, their
grain ration 1,688 - 1,692 lb per year, besides green chop grass, fodder beets and dry beet pulp. The composition
of the grain ration was 21 percent crude protein and 10 percent crude fiber. Daily intake between high and low
milkers varied from 1 to 8 lb grain; highest daily milk production was 17.8 lb. Production cost analysis in the
2nd year between the highest producer with 4,554 lb milk showed $293.50 for total feed costs vs. $272.19 for the
lowest producer with 3,321 lb milk, or $6.44/100 lb milk for the high producer vs. $8.20/100 lb milk for the low
Total mixed ration (TMR) is another approach to free choice feeding, which is very popular
in dairy cattle feeding, except that with dairy cattle the major component is silage, mostly corn silage, which
is generally not used nor available for goats. Grass silage is fed in Norway routinely and successfully to dairy
goats. For many years I have used for my Saanen goats a total mixed ration free choice successfully, and they milked
heavy--above 10 lb per day-- even bred out-of-season, kidded twice the year, never had any over-eating disease
nor were they vaccinated against enterotoxemia, and had no internal parasite problems despite my not worming them.
A total mixed pelleted ration has been my TMR for years and it is commercially available as a horse "maintenance" ration, designed for horses, that are neither pregnant nor nursing nor working more than 1 day per week. Thus this ration is supposed to feed horses correctly without letting them get fat. The major composition was 12 percent protein and 26 percent fiber. The high fiber content prevented over-eating by my goats. This pelleted ration was provided to the goats in gravity-flow self-feeders and I have seen it being adopted by the Texas Goat Experiment Station at Prairie View, where turkey big round self-feeders are used for the goats. In addition to this pelleted ration I always provided mixed hay free choice and the goats usually ate less than under conventional feeding, but they preferred stems to get enough fiber. For very high milkers I would feed an extra quarter to half pound of straight soybean oilmeal or sunflower seed at milking time.
Individual feeding is the alternative to group feeding and free choice offer of feeds. It is
more labor intensive, may save some wasted feed and may better feed according to body condition. It has not been
demonstrated whether feeding success in production or profit from the operation is better than in group feeding.
Individual feeding requires individual stalls or temporary tie-ups or feeding at milking time or computerized feed
dispenser stalls. In any case it also requires detailed calculations of fitting rations according to individual
requirements and prevailing feed ingredient prices.
Calculating a ration requires 7 steps (Haenlein, 1995):
In addition to including the volume capacity of a goat's rumen when calculating rations (expressed in the 3 to 5 percent/body weight intake range), one must also consider palatability of the ration and the goat's preference for variety and selection of feeds (Table 4). Actually voluntary intake is more important than correct nutrient composition. Unless feed intake is maximized, production improvement in the short and long run is not secured. In a study with weaned kids in India, the addition of green chop forage to the usual browse pasture improved daily gains from 19 to 42 g/day, but the additional supplementation with a grain ration resulted in daily gains of 108 g (Devendra, 1987).
Feeding strategies under the confinement system can include green chop, agricultural and industrial by-products besides commercial grain rations. This will provide variety, increase intake, lower feed costs, stimulate milk production, but may increase labor costs. Lopping of tree leaves, crop residues from the canning industry like pea and bean vines, fruit pulp, fresh brewers grain, fresh distillers grain, cotton seed, rice, maize, sugarcane by-products, and straw treatment with ammonia or urea have been successfully used in many tropical countries for goat production improvement (Table 5 - 7).
There are many feeding guides now available based on the NRC or similar official foreign tables of requirements and composition (NRC, 1981; Ensminger et al., 1990; Morand-Fehr, 1991; Haenlein, 1995; Peacock, 1996). In combination with regular body condition scoring of growing and milking goats, these tables should be adjusted up or down to provide the right supply of nutrients under the circumstances with enough challenge for improved production and growth, or with enough restriction to prevent overconditioning and health risks. If all this is well accomplished then it is time to negotiate the right price for milk, yogurt, cheese and meat from the goats, to proceed with aggressive marketing and promotion to reap the rewards for all this work and to assure that this farm will continue in business for years to come.
Devendra, C., 1987. Small ruminant production systems in South and Southeast Asia. Proceed. Workshop Bogor,
Indonesia, IDRC, Ottawa, Canada, Publ., 256e, 414 pp.
Ensminger, M.E., Oldfield, J.E. and Heinemann, W.W., 1990. Feeds and Nutrition, 2nd ed., Ensminger Publ. Co.,
Clovis, CA, 1544 pp.
Haenlein, G.F.W., 1978. Dairy goats do well on free-choice feeding. Hoard's Dairyman 123:1194.
Haenlein, G.F.W., 1981. Feeding dairy goats to maximize production. Dairy Goat J. 61(11):958.
Haenlein, G.F.W., 1982. Feeding sunflowers can prevent enterotoxemia. Feedstuffs, Aug. 2, 23.
Haenlein, G.F.W., 1992. Advances in the nutrition of macro- and micro-elements in goats. Proceedings Vth Intern.
Conference on Goats, New Delhi, India, ICAR Publ., III:933.
Haenlein, G.F.W., 1995. Topics of profitable feeding and milking of dairy goats. A.S.& A.B. Dairy Ext. Bull.
110, 118 pp.
Morand-Fehr, P., 1991. Goat Nutrition. Pudoc Wageningen Publ., Netherlands, EAAP Bull. 46, 308 pp.
Naylor, J.M. and Ralston, S.L., 1991. Large Animal Clinical Nutrition. Mosby Year Book, St. Louis, 576 pp.
NRC, 1981. Nutrient Requirements of Goats: Angora, Dairy, and Meat Goats in Temperate and Tropical Countries.
National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., Bull. 15, 91 pp.
Papachristou, T.G. and Nastis, A.S., 1996. Influence of deciduous broadleaved woody species in goat nutrition
during the dry season in northern Greece. Small Rumin. Res. 20:15.
Peacock, C., 1996. Improving Goat Production in the Tropics. Oxfam/Farm Africa Publ., Oxford, U.K., 386 pp.
Ramirez, R.G., Loyo, A., Mora, R., Sanchez, E.M. and Chaire, A., 1991. Forage intake and nutrition of range
goats in a shrubland in northeastern Mexico. J. Animal Sci. 69:879.
Santucci, P.M., Branca, A., Napoleone, M., Bouche, R., Aumont, G., Poisot, F. and Alexandre, G., 1991. Body condition scoring of goats in extensive conditions. In: Goat Nutrition, P. Morand-Fehr, ed., Pudoc Wageningen Publ., EAAP Publ. 46:240.
Cornell University, personal comm.;
Data grouped by quartiles 1 - 4 about the mean.
(1) From Ensminger et al. 1990.
(1) From Ramirez et al., 1991; body weight of goats 35 kg.
(1) From Peacock, 1996.
(1) From Devendra, 1987;
MH = medium plane of nutrition before kidding and high plane during lactation;
(1) From Devendra, 1987.
(1) From Devendra, 1987.
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