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.
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.
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
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!