Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I am what I eat!

The farmer spends a lot of time and money trying to figure out what is best for me and the other goats to eat. Eating is a very important part of our day (OF COURSE!) and is the one thing that the farmer can have the biggest impact on. Right now it is winter and where I live the winters last for 6 months from the last day of fresh grass in the fall to the first day of new grass in the spring. This means that I spend half of the year eating dry hay and grain with no fresh food. Yuck! Couple this with the fact that I am usually pregnant during the winter and start my lactation before the snow has melted and winter is a huge draw on my bodily resources.

The farmer has been very concerned about making sure that we have lots of good stuff to eat during winter so we don't become unhealthy. When I was a kid and the farmer was new to owning goats, our diets consisted of dry hay and lots of pre-mixed, store-bought goat grain. Our pasture was confined to the small area next to the horses. We had a mineral/salt block to chew on and some plain grass to eat in that pasture.

The first thing the farmer learned that mineral/salt blocks were not useful to goats and that we need loose minerals made specifically for goats. We weren't getting enough copper, calcium, selenium, or zinc from a block. She started giving us Sweetlix Meatmaker 16:8 loose mineral for goats. At first we didn't like it but now we are used to it and eat it up! We get a dish of it in each of our goat pens. The farmer cleans and refills the dish every other day so we always have fresh loose minerals to eat (stale minerals are gross and we won't eat them!). After being on the loose minerals for one year, the farmer noticed that our coats where shinier and our kids were born stronger. No more kids born with bent ankles and too weak to stand up right away.

The next thing the farmer figured out was that goats need a calcium to phosphorus ratio of at least 2:1 in order to stay healthy. The easiest way to accomplish this is to add alfalfa pellets to our grain ration. The farmer changed our diets to give us 3 cups of alfalfa pellets to every one cup of grain. Alfalfa pellets are high in calcium and grain is high in phosphorus so they need to be fed in a 3:1 ratio in order to achieve a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. After a few months of the alfalfa pellets, the farmer noticed that our milk was no longer pink from blood in it (a common ailment of a calcium deficient goat) and that we looked healthier.

The next year, the farmer changed our grain. The grain we were getting was a sweet feed mix called "Caprine Challenger" from Blue Seal Feeds. It was yummy with lots of molasses and corn. The farmer became worried that too much molasses was not good for us because it is high in iron, which can throw off our mineral balance, and molasses and corn are used as a filler to add empty calories to otherwise inferior grain products. Also high corn  diets can cause our rumen pH to become acidic which is not good for our rumen bacteria who help us digest our food and synthesize B vitamins. The farmer did some research online and found that many people feed a homemade mixture of 50% oats, 30% wheat/barley, 10% cracked corn, 5% black oil sunflower seeds, and 5% Calf-Manna grain supplement. The farmer mixed up a batch of this and has been feeding it to us ever since. The good thing about this grain mixture is that it is less expensive ($30 a month versus $50 a month for pre-mix grain), and it encourages us to eat more of our loose minerals since it doesn't contain any added minerals. The lack of added minerals is a good and bad thing. It's good because we can decide how much minerals we want by eating our Sweetlix. Our bodies' tell us what minerals we need and we can adjust how much Sweetlix we eat based on this. It's bad though because there are no fail-safe minerals in our diets and we MUST have loose minerals available all the time or else we can become deficient. The farmer has to be extra-diligent about refilling our mineral dishes and keeping them fresh.

During these changes to our feed and minerals the farmer also changed our pasture set-up. She bought some ElectroNet fencing from Premier One Supplies and uses that to move our pasture area every three days during the summer. We, goats, take only three days to mow down one section of the netting fencing, so the farmer has to keep on top of things and move the fence every three days or else we won't have anything to eat. Sometimes the farmer puts together two or three sections of netting to give us a big pasture to graze in. We have a large main pasture area but also have many smaller areas according to how the farmer sets up the netting fence. This works great because we can spend most of the summer on fresh grass and don't have to settle for too much boring, old hay.

The last thing the farmer has done recently to change our diets is to stop giving alfalfa pellets and start giving a chopped alfalfa silage product, called Chaffhaye. It comes in 50 lb. plastic bags that can be stored for up to two years. It's pure alfalfa with a little molasses (a very little bit!) and a some yeast culture mixed in to make it ferment. The fermentation helps to preserve the alfalfa for storage and makes it easier to digest because the yeasts have already started to break it down. At first we didn't like it because it smelled sweet and tasted funny. But after a few days we developed a taste for it and now can't get enough! We pound on the gates and make a raucous until the farmer gives us our daily Chaffhaye ration. She feeds us about 2 lbs. of Chaffhaye per goat per day. The farmer started using it because it costs about the same as alfalfa pellets but is a much better product. Being roughly chopped alfalfa, instead of alfalfa dust like the pellets, Chaffhaye has a much higher digestible fiber content. This is very good for goats because we need lots of long-stem fiber each day to keep us healthy.

Currently my daily diet is: 3 cups homemade grain mix of oats, wheat, barley, corn, sunflower seeds and Calf-Manna; 2 lbs. Chaffhaye; 1 flake of grassy hay; Sweetlix Meatmaker 16:8 (as much as I can eat); baking soda (just for the winter to keep my rumen pH neutral or slightly basic); and fresh water. This diet is split between two feedings per day.

I think I am looking good this winter. Normally my fur gets dry and sticks up during the winter, giving me a "hoof stuck in light socket" look. This year my fur is shiny and laying flat. I am pregnant right now and hope to keep up my good condition through having kids and making milk.

I think we might be up for a new diet change soon. I have seen the farmer Googling "fodder systems" and how to grow seeds for us to eat. I will report back on any changes, should the farmer get some new crazy ideas in her head!


  1. Lucy tell your farmer that I raise dairy goats too and made a fodder system for them. I did a series of blog posts on the system at my blog. Here's the address

    My goats like the fodder best with a little molasses water drizzled over it when I take it out to them in a 5 gallon bucket. I'm sure you'll love it too.

  2. Hey Brenda! I just started reading your blog yesterday! It's what gave me the idea for fodder and getting started. I will keep you updated on how I progress and you keep those super helpful blog posts rolling! THanks.!

  3. Thank you! The most important thing to remember when growing fodder is to be EXTRA clean and sanitize everything that touches the fodder while it's growing. White mold can grow very easily in it in the warm moist climate where the fodder is growing. I spray a little bleach water over the top of the seed trays after I get them set into place. This has been helpful at keeping the mold away.