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April 20, 2018

Lifecycle Feeding for your Meat Goats

by Steve Hart


It is best to feed your animals according their current stage of production to ensure they receive adequate nutrition, feed is not wasted, and animals are not overfattened.   A late pregnant or lactating doe has very different nutrient requirements from a dry doe.  Which class do you feed for if you have them all in one group? The dry does will be overfed while the late pregnant or lactating does will be underfed unless you have enough animals to form two groups and feed them individually. Using a controlled breeding system allows you to have all your does at the same production stage so that they can be fed at the same level. Body condition of animals needs to be monitored to fine tune the nutrition program.  A body condition tutorial is available at www.luresext.edu/?q=Library (in the Library section of the website of the American Institute for Goat Research, goats.langston.edu) and a free body condition scorecard is also available.  Mineral and vitamin nutrition have greater effects on health and reproduction whereas energy and protein have greater effects on body condition.

Forage quality, especially the protein and energy levels, determines how much supplemental feed is needed.  A few forages are high enough in quality for late gestation or late lactation animals whereas other forages are so low in quality that they would need supplementation for a dry doe.  Generally, hay is priced according to quality, with other factors such as cutting number, forage species, fertilization and naiveté of the buyer affecting what you will pay. The producer needs to consider the quality of hay that they purchase, and perhaps send a sample for forage analysis. Your county extension educator can help you understand what the forage analysis means. Even if he doesn’t understand goats, have him explain it the same way as for cows. Here are descriptions of visual and chemical forage analysis  https://extension.psu.edu/determining-forage-quality-understanding-feed-analysis, https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/SP437-A.pdf.

Visual evaluation of pasture quality is similar to visual evaluation of hay quality.  There should be a predominance of leaves as compared to stems, few or no seedheads, and a green color for good nutritious forage.  One deficiency of chemical analysis of pasture forage is that forage is cut near ground level and includes all leaves and stems.  Goats select predominantly leaves first which are high in quality and leave stems (low in quality) minimally grazed. Thus, results from a forage analysis will show a lower nutrient quality than what the goats are consuming unless they are forced to consume the stems by having a limited amount of forage available. Goats also skip grazing plants that they do not like. Animals will consume more of a high quality hay than a low quality hay. It is difficult to predict how much hay or pasture a goat will eat, which means supplement level will need to be adjusted based on changes in body condition.

The following supplement recommendations are a good place to start and are based on a 150 lb doe.  Supplementation will have to be adjusted based on changes in body condition which is also affected by forage quality and your animals.  It is so important to put your hands on animals and feel their body condition.  Sweet feed generally only has 10% protein and is inadequate for feeding late pregnant and lactating does. There are a few sweet feed formulations that have 14% protein and should provide sufficient protein for pregnant and lactating does. If goat feed may be unavailable or expensive, a cattle creep feed may be substituted and is usually more price competitive.


Dry and early pregnant does

Dry does and early pregnant does have the lowest nutrient requirements of any class of goats.  Pregnancy does not significantly increase a doe’s nutrient requirements until the last 6 weeks of gestation because early in gestation the fetus is small and growing slowly.  Most of these animals can do well with medium quality pasture; pasture that is leafy, has few stems, and has sufficient quantity to not limit forage selection.  If there is no green pasture available for these animals and they are consuming a medium quality hay (protein level 10% and TDN 58%), they will need a low level of supplementation.  Providing 1.0 lb of whole shelled corn or sweet feed per animal daily should be adequate.  This amount can be checked by going to Langston’s interactive ration balancer http://www.luresext.edu/?q=content/nutrient-requirement-calculator-and-ration-balancer. Supplementation calculations were based on an animal weight of 150 lbs, intensive grazing, and estimating the animal would eat 2.0 lbs of good grass hay (http://www.luresext.edu/node/1457).  Remember to monitor body condition by feeling the animal and adjusting supplementation as necessary.

The practice of flushing is borrowed from sheep management.  Flushing is providing supplemental nutrition from 3 weeks before breeding until 3 weeks after the start of breeding to increase the number of multiple births. Generally energy supplements such as 0.75 lbs of whole shelled corn are used since no additional response is observed from high protein supplements.  However, flushing is not always effective in sheep and does not seem to be effective in goats.  Generally, goats in good body condition prior to the breeding season (body condition score of 3 or better on a 5 point scale) will not respond to flushing.  However, flushing may help goats that are in poor body condition.

Late pregnancy and lactation

Goats have high nutrient requirements for late pregnancy and lactation.  In late pregnancy, the fetuses (hopefully, there are twins and maybe a few triplets) are growing at an ever increasing rate in the last 6 weeks of gestation.  The fetus(es) require considerable energy and protein for growth.  The fetus preferentially uses amino acids for growth and there is probably a need to exceed official protein requirement recommendations.  Goats are vulnerable to pregnancy toxemia in latter stages of pregnancy, especially fat animals which have fatty livers. An animal with the backbone buried in fat or their fat jiggles when they walk (body condition score greater than 4) has increased the risk of pregnancy toxemia. However, do not put goats on a diet at this time! It will certainly cause pregnancy toxemia.  Exercise and vigilant watching is all that can be done the last half of pregnancy.

It is man’s mismanagement that makes goats overly fat.  In the wild when goats looked after themselves, they had twins most of the time and no pregnancy toxemia. Another factor that affects feeding goats in this production stage is that the growing fetuses are pushing into the rumen, decreasing its capacity and thereby intake of the animal. When does are 120 days pregnant, their intake has dropped to two-thirds of what it was at 80 days of pregnancy.  At 140 days, intake is slightly less than half of what it was at 80 days of pregnancy.  This means that at the latter stages of pregnancy, if protein level is too low, the animal is drawing on its protein stores (muscle) to provide amino acids for the fetuses.  Basically, feeding 2.5 lbs of the above hay (protein level 10% and TDN 58%) and 2.0 lbs of a 16% goat feed will meet the requirements of a doe carrying twins at 140 days of pregnancy.  A doe carrying triplets could be fed 2.5 lbs of a 16% goat feed split into two feedings, but watch for acidosis.  During the last 6 weeks of pregnancy, the feed should be increased about 0.25 lbs. per week to reach 2.0 – 2.25 lbs of supplemental feed the last 2 weeks of pregnancy. If does are on lush spring pasture, they will need only about half of this amount of supplementation.

Once the doe kids, she must be fed sufficient nutrients to produce milk.  The biggest problem faced when determining the amount of supplementation needed is that there is very little and very poor data on how much milk meat goats produce, affecting nutrient needs.  Also, every producer knows that some does milk better than others.  A does raising twins produces about 50% more milk than a doe raising a single kid and a doe raising triplets or quads produces about 75% more milk than a doe raising a single.  Generally, target to feed does raising twins since most goat producers average less than twins, although, granted producers who feed heavily may average 2.5 or more kids per doe.   There are two big problems in feeding the lactating doe.  The first is forage quality.  The doe needs to consume a lot of nutrients at this time and poor forage severely limits intake. The other problem is acidosis from feeding too much grain, especially if the animal is not consuming sufficient hay. Basically, supplying the doe with 2 – 2.5 lbs of 16% goat feed and 3.5 lbs of good quality hay (as used above) can meet her requirements.  Generally, the problem is that goats cannot consume enough feed in early lactation to meet the nutrient demand for milk production, so they will lose some weight.  This is why they need to have a body condition score of a little better than 3 before kidding.  If a doe has triplets, she would need 2.75 lbs of a 16% goat feed and 2.75 lbs of hay.  The problem is that she will not be able to consume this much feed until she is 6 – 8 weeks into lactation, so she will lose weight.  This is the only time a doe should be in a body condition less than a 3. You must limit her grain to no more than the amount of hay she is consuming.  When an animal gets much more grain than hay, she will be more susceptible to acidosis and enterotoxemia.  Research has shown that vaccination for enterotoxemia does not provide good protection against enterotoxemia in goats for as long as in sheep.   The doe should have been vaccinated the last month of gestation to provide a high level of antibodies in the colostrum to protect her kids as well as protecting the doe when she is consuming a high level of grain while lactating.

Replacement animals

Replacement doelings or bucklings often need supplementation to get to target breeding weight and sexual maturity by breeding season.  On the other hand, you do not want to supplement them too much because they will overfatten and fat will infiltrate the udder, permanently reducing the amount of secretory tissue, and consequent milk production.  After they are weaned, if replacements are fed 0.75 to 1.0 lb of a 16% goat feed and have a medium quality hay or good quality grazing, they should gain sufficient weight to be bred by 7 – 8 months of age which is the goal of most commercial producers. The producer should follow their weight gains monthly and make adjustments as necessary to reach target breeding weight.  Registered breeders will likely wait until later to breed animals because size is important for selling animals and animals that are bred later will have a larger mature weight.

Market animals and bucklings

For growing market animals or bucklings, you want to put a maximum of muscle on animals and not get them overfat.  Half to three quarters of a lb of weight gain per day is a reasonable goal.  If they are fed about 1% of their bodyweight of a 16% protein goat feed, and have hay or adequate pasture, they should be able to gain 0.5 lbs per day depending on genetics and pasture.  If feed is increased much beyond this an animal may grow excessively fat unless they have a high growth potential.

Creep feeding

Creep feeding may be used to increase weaning weight of kids.  Kids with high growth potential may gain over 0.75 lbs per day.  Creep feeding is also useful in a drought situation to reduce nutrient requirements of the doe, allowing the kid to be weaned early.  Creep feeding is a method of allowing young stock access to feed by using small holes in a gate panel that only kids can squeeze through, excluding larger animals from the feeder.  This ensures that the young animals get their feed without having to compete with older animals. The feed efficiency is typically 6 lbs of feed per pound of gain, so one has to pencil in feed costs and animal prices to decide if creep feeding is economically viable.


Bucks require a minimum of feed, but should not be neglected.  Bucks under 2 years old require some supplementation for several months before breeding season for growth and increasing body stores.  Bucks tend to neglect eating during breeding season and will lose weight.  They need some body stores so they can perform their duty with maximum effectiveness.  Bucks above a body condition score of 4 will be slowed down in their job as will bucks with body condition of 2 or less. If mature bucks have adequate pasture and(or) hay, they will generally be in good body condition and require minimal supplementation.  You may want to give them a handful of grain mix to keep them tame.


Goats should always have a free-choice loose mineral available at all times to provide for their mineral and vitamin needs.  Your county extension educator or livestock specialist should be able to help you select a goat mineral.  Just tell him to pretend it is a cattle mineral.  If certain minerals in an area are deficient for cattle, they will also be deficient for goats.  Another problem is that goats are unable to read the mineral bag to know how much mineral they should be consuming.  Monitor consumption by calculating how long a bag of mineral should last.  If animals are not eating sufficient mineral, dried molasses or soybean meal can be mixed in it to increase consumption. Mineral and vitamins status can be assessed by blood tests, but liver analysis is the best for most minerals.  When an animal dies, a piece of liver the size of two fingers can be taken and frozen until submitted to the Michigan Diagnostic lab for analysis (they have one of the best analytical procedures for liver minerals).

Taking care of the nutritional needs of your goats will enable them to produce their best and have fewer health and parasite problems.  They will produce better quality and heavier kids at weaning time, and goat raising will be more fun.

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