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How to Grow Goat Feed on Your Homestead

Sarah Hamelman

Have you been wondering how to grow goat feed so you no longer need the feed store? In this piece, I’ll show you the basics of goat nutrition, what your herd needs from you, your feeding options, how to reduce their feed intake, how much space it takes to grow their feed, and what that will cost you.

This is part of our series on how to grow your animal feed without the feed store. If you haven’t already, be sure to read why it’s important to create a closed-loop system for yourself and your animals, how to grow chicken feed for your homestead flock, and how to grow rabbit feed on your homestead.

Alright, let’s get into it. I hope you’ve treated yourself with a coffee because this is a 7,000 word post. 😀

What Do Wild Goats Eat?

Their diet typically includes grasses, leaves, shrubs, herbs, and other vegetation found in their natural habitat. Depending on the region and seasonal availability, wild goats may also eat tree bark, twigs, and even small fruits or berries.

Most goats choose higher elevation in the summers, and lower elevation in the winter to escape deep snow. These hgihest altitudes usually make browse more scarce.

In lower elevations the go for saplings, grasses, leafy perennials, acorns, some briars, and bushes. For instance, the Spanish Ibex goats mostly eat Holm oak saplings, bark, fallen branches, and acorns, with up to 85% of their diet coming from oak trees, and only 15% of the diet consisting of forbs and grasses.

At higher elevations, most wild goats search for lichen, mosses, wildflower shoots, and sparse grasses. In forested mountains, they browse on pines, firs, and juniper trees. They tend to prefer the younger trees, but will eat the lower branches, fallen branches, fallen trees, and bark if necessary.

If you want to go into more detail about wild goats, check out this piece I wrote for The Happy Chicken Coop- 10 Wild Goat Breeds to Know About.

Can I Treat My Domestic Goats Like Wild Goats?

If you have enough land, especially forests, maybe.

I have Nigerian Dwarf goats, and in my first year of owning them I did not fence them in at all. They gleefully free-ranged. They had free-choice hay but strongly preferred the native grasses and evergreen saplings all over our property. Even with three and four feet of snow, they made pathways through the woods and helped themselves to the younger trees. As the snow built up, they had better access to the higher branches.

In the spring and summer, they feasted on berry bushes– both the berries and the briars, plus lots of shrubs and brushy, leafy vegetation like skunkbrush sumac, golden currant, wood’s rose, coyote willow, white snowberry, and spirea. They loved our invasive oxeye daisies, but also the Shasta Daisies and irisis, which I was not as thrilled about.

They also seemed to like the purple harebells, blanket flowers, and maximillian sunflowers. They left most of the lupine alone, which is good because that will cause spontaneous abortions or serious birth defects.

I ended up building a fence for my goats and then rotationally grazing them on our property for two reasons:

  1. Goats will eat your landscaping, like, all of it, starting with your flowers. Now those first few years we were here, I was more concerned about keeping my two under two (human) kids taken care of. But now I’m finally able to breathe a bit, and the aesthetics of our little homestead are becoming more important to me.
  2. My sweet, smart, amazing and very kind neighbors began giving our goats little treats every time they rode their ATVs over to visit us. It did not take long for the goats to put two and two together and start hiking up to their cabin to beg for more treats on their porch. After I got a few calls to retrieve my goats, I knew their days of freedom were over. It’s probably for the best; we do have a lot of predators, like bears, mountain lions, and wolves around here. Keeping them penned up may have saved our goats’ lives, honestly.

My two goats only ate about sixty pounds of hay or alfalfa during a two-month period– and most of that was wasted. Goats love to throw their hay around like expensive confetti, rather than eating it.

So when they free-ranged they ate about fifteen pounds of hay each, and that was per month. They sourced about 60% of their diets all on their own, saving me about 150 pounds of hay each month (for the both of them).

Now they drank water like nothing I’ve ever seen before, they needed about three to four gallons a day (total) even in the cold days of winter. In the summer, they drank from our ponds and streams, dropping the water consumption from my bucket down to maybe a 1/2 gallon a day for the both of them.

When I first brought the two goats home, they went through one five-pound mineral block in two weeks. After that, they slowed down considerably. The next five-pound block lasted them approximately eight months. I think they had a little deficiency to start with, and once they fixed it, they stopped relying on the mineral block as much.

Oh, and both of their horns grew unbelievably fast. That was really reassuring to me that they were getting the nutrients they needed.

What Should Homestead Goats Eat?

Goats still have strong nutritional instincts. Unlike many humans (myself included, unfortunately), they are naturally drawn to what is good for them, and will eat according to what their bodies need.

If a goat is lacking in fiber, they will go for more fiber-dense foods. If they are lacking protein, they’ll seek out feeds with higher protein percentages. While they can make mistakes, for the most part, their instincts are good, and it’s okay to trust your common sense by letting them choose what they need.

There are goats who will gorge themselves on the “goodies” that are too sugary or calorically dense. But in my anecdotal experience, goats generally have a good idea of which browse items to choose.

Now with all of that said, some goats will absolutely eat grains until they die. They can eat themselves to death on concentrates, so you need to keep that stored somewhere they can’t reach it. That’s a painful death that you don’t want to see.

Browse

Bushes, branches, briars, saplings, leaves, evergreen needles, tall weeds, and mosses are good examples of browse. Nuts, fruits, and berries also make up part of their browse diets, if this is available to them. Foods that grow at or above their heads and take much more effort to chew are preferable. I’ll talk about that in more detail below.

Goats love climbing up for their meals, rearing up to snag quick bites, and eating what is growing off the ground. Part of this is because of the nutrition profile of these items, which I’ll get into later, and because they are less likely to ingest parasites this way. The further the food is from the ground, the less likely parasites are to infect it. This is why ancient wheat varieties are usually “cleaner.” They have longer stems. These longer stems mean the plants have less energy to put into making the wheat berries, but the plants are cleaner. Commercial wheats are much, much shorter with larger heads but are more prone to these parasites.

By the way, most goats can browse up to six feet over their heads, which is twice the height of most goats’ bodies. This reaching up motion makes them stand on their hind legs a lot; this is great for the body condition. If you’ve ever picked up a goat, you know that most of their weight is on the front half of the animal. Actually, if you’ve ever had a Boer or Garnica goat step on your feet, you REALLY understand this concept. The shoulders are heavy, and theres a ton of blood in the chest cavity, which adds weight. Not only that, but their necks are pretty beefy, and their heads have some weight too. About 2/3 of their weight is on the front legs. Because of this, standing on their back legs builds up the muscle in the hindquarters, leading to a more balanced animal. Plus, that extra muscle on their haunches is a fantastic way for them to store up energy, which is crucial for breeding season (for the bucks) and kidding season (for the does) when they are more likely to drop weight.

I intentionally built my feeder above their head level for the purpose of keeping the right posture. Note, that it is possible for a leg to get caught, but I believe the risk is worth the benefit of the upright positioning.

Grasses, Hay, and Legumes.

These items are more palatable (which is usually not good for goats), and the nutritional profile is not as ideal.

Legumes, like alfalfa, especially young alfalfa, is slightly more nutritious than many grasses and hay varieties.

Eating these items requires goats to graze, which puts their heads down, and does not do as much to build their hindquarters up. Most people have to give their goats this type of forage because browse is not as readily available. It will absolutely sustain life, but its not the goats’ preferences, and often needs supplementation.

If at all possible, I highly recommend testing your hay or alfalfa at your local extension office, in addition to your soil. This will give you so much incredible information about what they’re getting, and what they need more of. Please don’t blindly supplement feed, supplement based on testing or preven needs.

Grains

Grains, often called concentrates, are the opposite of browse and forages, nutritionally speaking. Concentrates are high in energy or protein, and low in fiber. While a goat can live exclusively on forages or browse, goats cannot survive on grains alone. This needs to make up a small part of their diet.

Most goat concentrates are made of corn, oats, brewer’s grains, and/or soybeans.

High-producing animals really need grains to get more calories and nutrition into their bodies. If we expect animals to grow unnaturally fast, make an unnatural amount of milk, or do a lot of physical labor like packing, we need to feed them an “unnatural” diet to meet those high demands.

How Much Feed Do Homestead Goats Need?

Goats need about 3-4% of their body weight in browse or forage per day. Goats will eat around 2.5% of their body weight, waste about 0.5% to trampling, and then we’re leaving a 1% buffer just for security sake. With dry forage (hay) that’s usually 2% because it’s denser.

Dry matter is usually 86-92% dry matter, while forages and browse are only 12-35% dry matter– because there’s a lot of water in fresh forage.

Usually, you can expect them to eat 2-4 pounds per goat per day.

Alfalfa tends to be higher in protein, with richer vitamins, and minerals than most hay. Get your soil tested for about $20 with your local extension office. This is much higher if you go through a private company, sometimes $700 or so.

The results will tell you what your soil and forage is doing well with, and which vitamins or minerals it is lacking.

If you want your goats to gain weight faster, you may give them up to 0.5 to 1 pound of grain each, per day. These grains are generally not as dense in vitamins or minerals, but they are good sources of fat, carbs (calories), and protein, which may be helpful depending on your goals.

In short, a Nigerian Dwarf or Angora will need around 1.5 pounds of hay per day, or 3 pounds of browse. If you choose to add grains, this will be about 1/2 a pound a day. For a year, that’s 547.5 pounds of hay, 1,095 pounds of browse, or up to 182.5 pounds of grains.

A Boer or Kiko goat needs 4 pounds of hay per day, or 8 pounds of browse. If you choose to add grains, this will be around 1 pound per day. For a year, that’s 1,460 pounds of hay, 2,920 pounds of browse, or up to 365 pounds of grains.

Creative Ways to Reduce Your Goat’s Feed Needs and Costs

Buying hay and grain for your goats can add up quickly, especially if you have a large herd– and especially if you are working on making this a business, or want to make this aspect of your homestead pay for itself. Here are a few ways to help out.

Pasture Time / Rotational Grazing

Turning your goats loose in a large field or forest, or moving them through small rotational pens every day does a lot to reduce or totally eliminate the need to supplement with hays or grains.

You can put your goats out in a hundred-acre pasture all summer, or you can move them daily with small mobile pens.

Whenever possible, choose intensive grazing. Intensive grazing means putting a lot of animals on a small section of land. This makes the animals compete for the forage, making them less selective in what they eat. They eat quicker, and don’t leave any plants behind. Then, they move on, allowing the soil to absorb the nutrients from their waste and from the grasses that their split hooves pushed into the ground. It’s better for goat and ground.

Here are some good options for rotational grazing.

  1. Electric Fence. Section off the field into smaller parcels, and move your goats to a new space several times a day (really small areas) or once a day (larger areas). Electric polywire, or semi-rigid poultry electric netting are common choices.
  2. Goat Tractors. Just as you can make a movable box or crate for chickens and rabbits, you can also make one for goats. Four metal panels would work. You can also affix four small (maybe two 8-foot and two 16-foot) cattle panels in rectangle. You could also “fold” the panels in half like arches, and line 3-4 of them up to make a tractor that’s enclosed from the top. Don’t keep your goats in these panels all day, but rather for a few hours in the morning and evening. Let them go back to the barn and their usual paddock overnight and during the heat of the day so they can stretch out, exercise, and chew their cud with more “elbow space”. This is probably best for small herds, and is not as ideal for larger groups.
  3. Tethering. Tie your goats on a lunge line or high line so they can graze. ONLY do this if you are watching them closely the entire time they’re outside; they are way more susceptible to neighborhood dog and wildlife attacks. They’re also likely to tangle or strangle themselves, so they need your supervision at all times. Move the goats a few times a day. If you have two goats, alternate tying them so one is free and one is tied. If you have three goats, tie two and let one loose, taking turns being free. If you have four or more goats, all but one (or all of them) should be tied. If you let two or more goats loose, those two will venture off on their own, leaving behind the tethered goats. I have used tethering for two summers, and while it works, I will be changing my system this season. Goats prefer to be in the woods, and that means you’ll need to help untangle them from the trees. I liked to tie mine out when I was getting firewood or cleaning up the woods around our house, so I was close by at all times, but this is very time-consuming.
  4. Free-Range. If your property perimeter is fenced in, or you have enough property to keep the goats from traveling to the neighbors, you can free-range them.

Toss Browse to Your Goats

Here in NW Montana our wildfire risk is scary high. Part of good property management includes clearing or at least thinning trees that are within 100 feet of your infrastructure. I have been cutting down gangly little saplings and low branches within this range and tossing them directly into the goat pen. The goats turn the needles, bark, and branches into compost, and then I remove and burn the remaining log (and then put those ashes in my garden, too). I leave the tree angled downward so it’s easy to remove what’s left without even walking into the goat pen.

So even if you can’t let your goats leave their pen, you can always bring the “tree-ts” to them.

Rent Your Goats Out

Since goats target sticky underbrush and dense thickets, they are incredible at removing wildfire hazards. In some places, people rent their large (2,000 animal) goat herds out for as much as $30,000 a month. That’s right, you can get paid to let someone else’s property feed your animals. Why? Because goats are eco-friendly, much quieter than machinery, they do not put giant tire or track ruts in the ground, and are not hazardous to creeks, parks, or community areas.

Use a Creep Feeder

One thing about goats is that they know how to throw a party, and their favorite confetti is your expensive hay.

In my anecdotal experience, giving goats hay directly on the ground or in a bucket ortrough means they will waste 80% and eat 20%. If you make a creep feeder (also known as a slow feeder) they will eat about 80% and waste 20%. They have to work a bit to get that feed out, otherwise they’ll pull it all out and then waste the majority of it by trampling it, laying on it, and peeing or pooping on it.

To put it nicely, goats don’t give an F about your budget.

Use Artificial Insemination or Borrow a Buck When Possible

If you’re in the business of breeding and raising goats, one buck will likely eat 1.5 to 2x as much as one doe. Not keeping a buck on your property can drop your feed needs by 600 to 2,000 pounds of hay every year.

If you’re on a budget, or simply don’t want to go through the hassle of growing that much extra feed, consider eliminating the buck when possible. There are drawbacks to this– bucks may protect their does from predators, and introducing new bucks may make your herd more suseptible to picking up new diseases. On the bright side through, it’s less feed for you, you don’t have the risk of keeping a (sometimes dangerous) hormonal, stinky, or destructive buck on your homestead.

Now we have the option of using artificial insemination, basically an injectible straw full of semen; or the low-tech route of sharing a buck.

You can offer your neighbor the first choice of new doelings in exchange for using their buck to service your herd. They get to have a good quality doe, and you didn’t have to feed a smelly buck for 11 months of the year.

How the Goat’s Digestive System Works

Goats have four major sections of their stomach, called compartments or chambers. These four chambers operate remarkably similarly to fermentation vats.

First, the goat uses their upper lips to selectively browse their forage options (cattle cannot do this), and then use their teeth to snag and bite off their food. They briefly chew the food, coat it in saliva, and then swallow it, sending it to down the esophagus, through the reticulum, and into the rumen.

The rumen is oxygen-free, and its where fermentation begins. All the microorganisms start breaking down the food here. Most of the food particles float to the top, and thats where these microorganisms are fermenting it.

The reticulum is basically a pump, and it squeezes the stuff that is floating at the top, turning it into a blous. This bolus is the cud, which you’ve likely seen goats chewing on before. The cud travels back up the esophagus for the goat to chew again before swallowing once more. Basically, the reticulum is the bouncer who decides who is small enough to stay inside the club. Too big? You’re getting chewed again until you’re a more digestible size.

The next time you’re hanging out with your goats, watch their necks carefully. You can actually see the bolus (cud) travel up and down their necks like an Adam’s apple. And if you’ve ever had a goat stretch her neck up to greet you, she’s probably burped right in your face- that’s because of all the gas that this fermentation process causes.

If your goat ever stops burping, she will get sick with bloat, and this gas will build up in an incredibly uncomfortable way. Bloat is very deadly, too.

Next, the feed is finally small, dense, and heavy enough to fall to the floor of the rumen and then travel to the honeycombed reticulum. This honeycomb reticulum pumps the food into the omasum.

The omasum takes all the water out of the slurry of food, and absorbs as many nutrients as possible. This is where the volatile fatty acids are absorbed, which gives your goat energy.

From here, the particles are forced into the abomasum, also called the true stomach. This works similarly to the human stomach. It uses hydrochloric acid (HCl) to further breakdown and digest the now dry food pieces.

Finally, the food travels into the intestines, where the rest of the nutrients are absorbed into the body. The waste passes out of the goat.

What To Feed Your Goat

Here is what you should know about the macro and micronutrients. Once you have a good understanding of this, it’s much easier for you to make educated, helpful decisions on what to feed your herd. You check this PDF out, from the Manitoba, Canada government for more depth on each nutrient.

Carbs and Crude Fiber

The normal goat diet is high in crude fiber and will meet their needs. Digestible fibers, like starch and sugar, are called carbs. Indigestible fibers don’t offer much in terms of nutrients, but they really help the fermentation process and make sure that the goat doesn’t bloat or experience painful blockages.

Goats need at least 12% fiber, and 49% carbs. Carbohydrates are almost never listed on feed bags. To find this percentage, add up all of the ingredient percentages. Then, take that number and subtract it from 100. What you’re left with is the carbohydrate percentage. It will likely be around 50%.

Fat

Goats need about 3-5% fat. This is used to digest and absorb the rest of the nutrients that your goat recieves. It also makes it easier for your goats to pack on necessary weight for their health.

Protein

Goats, like other ruminant animals, need protein quantity over protein quality. Why? Because the microorganisms in their rumens can make their own body protein. Plus, these ruminants do not store excess protein. Instead, the extra protein is burned as energy, or it’s eliminated as nitrogen via the kidneys.

Goats, like other ruminant animals, need protein quantity over protein quality. Why? Because the microorganisms in their rumens can make their own body protein. Plus, these ruminants do not store excess protein. Instead, the extra protein is burned as energy, or it’s eliminated as nitrogen via the kidneys.

Non-production goats need about 11-12% protein, which is pretty similar to the protein content of grass hay.

High production (meat, milk, or highly active goats) needs 14-16% protein. This is pretty similar to high-quality alfalfa.

The next time you’re shopping for goat feed, check the backs of the feed bags. Not all feed bags will tell you the ingredients. But for those that do, check the first ingredient. Many high-protein goat feeds have dehydrated alfalfa meal as the #1 ingredient.

Vitamins and Minerals

Your goats need iron, copper, cobalt, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium, and molybdenum.

Goats need a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus for bone health. If this gets lower than 1:1, your goats are very susceptible to urinary calculi. If you suspect this ratio is not ideal, especially for your wethers (catrated males) add ammonium chloride to their diets to prevent urinary calculi. Urinary calculi is a painful blockage in the urethra, which will be deadly once fully blocked.

Many backyard goats are deficient in copper. They need 10 to 80 PPM (that’s parts per million). Overfeeding copper is not really an issue because the molybdenum will offset it as needed. Copper is the reason why many homesteaders can’t keep goats and sheep together. Too much copper does not affect goats, whereas exceeding 20 PPM will kill a sheep.

Goats need vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. They can make their own vitamin B if the rest of their diet is balanced.

Here is how much of each micromineral your goat needs in their daily diet. These are in percentages, meaning that is what percent of their diet they should make up.

  • Calcium 0.3 to 0.8%
  • Phosphorus 0.25 to 0.4%
  • Sodium 0.2%
  • Potassium 0.8 to 2%
  • Chloride 0.2%
  • Sulfur 0.2 to 3.2%
  • Magnesium 0.18 to 0.4%

These next macrominerals are best discussed as PPM (parts per million).

  • Iron 50 to 1000
  • Copper 10 to 80
  • Cobalt 0.1 to 10
  • Zinc 40 to 500
  • Manganese 0.1 to 3
  • Selenium 0.1 to 3
  • Molybdenum 0.1 to 3
  • Iodine 0.5 to 50

A Good Goat Feed Formula / Ratio

You can feed 100% good-quality forage/browse or mostly forage/browse with some grain supplementation.

Remember that the goats should always have 2-4% of their body weight (usually 1.5 to 4 pounds) in forage or browse per day, then you can add up to .5 to 1 pound of feed concentrate. Goats with lower quality forage or very little browse likely need some added grains/concentrated feed. Goats who are expected to grow quickly, produce a lot of milk, or do a lot of physical exercise like packing likely need concentrated feeds too. Remember that most goats are bred to depend on these extra calories or nutrients. Always ask about the feeding regimen when buying new goats so they’re fed fairly. If you need to make changes in their diet, do it slowly, and with a purpose.

A mixture of corn, barley, peas, wheat, soybeans, and oats is usually recommended as a concentrate.

If you’re really into making high performance feed, I highly recommend reading this 8-page PDF from pa-prgs.ornl.gov; it’s full of even more great information I’m not covering in this piece.

Protein, fat, and added calories (carbs especially) are the primary focus for these concentrates. Some commercial concentrates also have a balance of added vitamins and minerals to avoid major deficiencies. If you’re consistently feeding a commercial concentrate that has these added, you can skip the salt and mineral blocks.

For this example, I’m going to use the following ingredients to make up our goat feed concentrate. Feel free to swap these ingredients out for others with similar nutritional profiles.

  • Corn = 9% protein, 5% fat, 7% fiber, 73% carbohydrate
  • Oats = 13% protein, 7% fat, 10% fiber, 67% carbohydrate
  • Barley = 12% protein, 2% fat, 17% fiber, 73% carbohydrate
  • Field Peas = 23% protein, 3% fat, 28% fiber, 60% carbohydrate

Feeding these four ingredients in equal proportions (25% of each) will give you the following concentrated feed nutritional profile:

  • 14.25% protein
  • 4.25% fat
  • 15% fiber
  • 68% carbohydrate

I am actually a huge supporter of COB (corn, oats, barley) if you’re buying from a feedstore because you know exactly what you’re feeding your animals (because you can easily identify it in the bag). It’s relatively balanced for most species, from chickens, rabbits, goats, cattle, and even horses. If you want an all-stock feed, I believe COB is better than a sweet feed mix because it lacks the added super-sugary molasses.

Finally, it’s easy to use COB as the base formula and add to it as your animals or your personal goal(s) dictates.

Crazy Things You Didn’t Know About Goat Nutrition

Here are a few quick pieces of information that might help you understand your herd’s diet better.

Calcium “Steals” Zinc

Calcium significantly reduces zinc absorption. Calcium does not totally block the zinc, but it does decrease the rate of bioavailability. This is true for humans and goats. The two minerals bind together in the gastrointestinal tract, making an insoluble complex.

Zinc deficiency in goats looks like flaky dry skin, “ugly” dull coats (basically, they keep their rough looking winter coats, even through the summer), skin lesions, or even hair loss. It also stunts growth, stunts their reproduction abilities, and significantly weakens their immune system.

If you’re feeding your goat a diet rich in calcium—like alfalfa, for example—be intentional about your zinc supplementation. Salt blocks or mineral licks are good for helping out here. Other options include supplementing with liquid zinc or altering your feeding schedule a little bit.

Since I usually feed 50% alfalfa and 50% timothy mixed with grass hay, my goats get a lot of calcium. Something I have done to try to counteract this is by offering them salt blocks (with water) while they’re out of the barn on pasture. These wilder plants have a lower calcium content, so I’m betting that the zinc from the minerals blocks is getting better absorbed. This is not scientifically proven, but it’s an option if you want to try it out.

Goats Make Baking Soda

When goats are eating rougher, less palatable food like briars, limbs, and stemmy greens, it takes a while for them to eat it. This is a good thing. As the goats chew and rechew this, they produce bicarbonate to break this down. You’ll sometimes see them foaming at the mouth, this is why. The more a goat chews, the more bicarbonate they make. This stuff naturally neutralizes their stomach so that the fermentation gases don’t build up too much.

The less a goat chews, the less bicarbonate they make, and the easier is is for their body to have way too much fermentation gases building up, which causes bloat. Grass, alfalfa, grain, fruits, and many vegetables are highly-palatable, meaning the goats aren’t getting the chance to make enough bicarbonate.

So if you’re feeding highly palatable feed, set a pan of baking soda in your enclosure. Don’t mix it into their water or with their minerals, keep it in a seperate bowl. Goats are pretty intuitive and will use the baking soda as needed. It’s actually fascinating to watch them if you have the time.

Oh, and please don’t take away your goats’ minerals or baking soda because they are using them a lot. Yes, mineral blocks with added molasses are like candy, and your goats may get carried away with that. Switch to molasses-free minerals if you think they’re overdoing it. If your goats are still eating a lot of the minerals or baking soda, it’s because they need it. Let them have it.

So how effective is baking soda at treating bloat?

Well, the Iranian Journal of Applied Animal Science tested it with 42 goats and sheep. They gave all 42 animals breads, rice, fruits, and then vegetables. They then gave all of the animals sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to ease the bloat. 40 out of the 42 recovered.

Another study was later conducted, this time with 40 (different) goats. Every goat was given high volumes of grain. They gave half the herd baking soda, and the other half, the control group, did not get baking soda. Most of the baking soda group lived, while every single goat in the control group died. This same study also proved oral magnesium hydroxide, ginger, nuxvomica, cobalt sulfate, and dried ferrous sulfate helped ease the bloating, too.

Selenium Deficiencies are Common in the US

I highly recommend you check out this map from USGS, it shows you where selenium is deficient in the soils.

After clicking the link to see the map, click on your county. You’ll get a full rundown of the average concentrations of elements in your county. You can see what it looks like for my county below.

Dish Soap Might Save Your Goat’s Life

Last year, my favorite little troublemaker, Fernie, head-butted the door of my chicken coop open and helped herself to fermented chicken feed right after breakfast one morning. It didn’t take long for her to start bloating and making the most awful cries for help.

She wanted to lay down, but I didn’t let her. I had her up and walking with me on the leadrope. She was miserable, but I kept her moving. We were all out of baking soda because I made biscuits the day before. Poor Fernie didn’t seem to be improving, and she started frothing at the mouth, a sign that the bloating was worsening. This froth is different from foam, it was wet and drippy, not at all like what goats do when they’re eating stemmy browse. She started to choke on it, and it was getting down into her trachea and lungs.

I was desperate, so I took a bottle of Dawn Dish detergent and force fed her about a tablespoon worth, mixed into a half cup of warm water to dilute it. It instantly started to neutralize the foam, and she was breathing better within about three minutes. After she could breathe again, I picked up like a gaint newborn baby, upright, with her head over my shoulder and started to gently bounce her. She cried at first because the gas was moving, but I kept going despite feeling like a monster. Finally, she burped loudly five or six times and then vomited all down my back. My human kids were horrified, but Fernie and I were instantly relieved.

It’s not ideal, but please keep dish detergent as a bloat saver in your back pocket, you might need that someday.

How Much Space Will You Need to Grow Your Goats’ Feed?

This will vary crazily from region to region. Dry climates will generally need more space, while wetter climates will need less.

Look at data for your state, or better yet, ask a farmer in your county what kind of yield you can expect. Ask nicely, preferably with some cookies in hand.

Forage-Only Diet for Goats

Each goat needs about 2% of their body weight in dry matter (hay or alfalfa) every day.

A Nigerian Dwarf or Angora needs about 1.5 pounds daily; a Kiko or Boer needs about 4 pounds. So smaller goats need about 547.5 pounds a year, larger goats need 1,460 pounds annually.

Here in Montana, you can expect 1.81 tons (3,620 pounds) of hay per acre for hay, and 2 tons (4,000 pounds) per acre for alfalfa. 

In Indiana, these numbers are even more favorable. Expect about 2.83 tons (5,660 pounds) of hay per acre, or 3.5 tons (7,000 pounds) per acre. 

So you need about a tenth of an acre per small goat, or about a third of an acre per large breed goat (assuming a 50/50 blend with an averaged yield).

A small-breed herd of 3 goats needs almost a third of an acre, while a large-breed herd of 3 goats needs almost one acre.

I really can’t give you a solid answer for space needed for browse in your forest, but I would estimate at least double each estimate since goats are going to trample some of the weeds, and because it’s not always going to be in season.

So, my estimate for browse-only is about one-fifth (1/5) of an acre for each small goat, or two-thirds (2/3) of an acre for each large goat. That means about two-thirds of an acre for three small goats, or two acres for three large goats.

Forage and Grain Diet for Goats

The forage amount will not change, your goats need forage as the basis of their diet. Instead, the grain is like the icing on top of the cake. Refer to the above section on that. So now, let’s get into how to formulate your own goat feed mix.

Before I mentioned a simple concentrated feed formula that is:

  • 25% corn
  • 25% oats
  • 25% barley
  • 25% field peas

with the following nutritional profile:

  • 14.25% protein
  • 4.25% fat
  • 15% fiber
  • 68% carbohydrate

So let’s get into that. Feel free to use different ingredients or ratios to make your own blend. Adding more corn will reduce the space needed (it’s compact), while adding more field peas will really up your protein percentage.

In this example, I’m assuming you’re feeding your small goats a half pound of concentrate, or one pound for the larger breeds.

That means small breeds get 0.125 of a pound of each ingredient, while large breeds get a quarter pound (0.25) of each ingredient.

The small goat breeds get 45.6 pounds of each ingredient per year. The large goat breeds get 91.25 pounds of each ingredient per year.

Corn

Corn growth varies wildly from state to state. Iowa averages about 5.5 tons per acre, Texas was as low as 3.5 tons per acre. For this example, we’ll use the median of 4.5 tons per acre. 

Each small goat needs 45.6 pounds of corn; each large breed needs 91.25 pounds.

This would take 220 square feet of corn for small goats; 440 for large goats.

For a herd of 3 smalls, that’s 660 square feet. For a herd of 3 larges, that’s 1,320 square feet.

Oats

Oats yield between one and four tons of oats per acre. For this example we’ll assume that you can grow 2.5 tons (5,000 pounds) of oats per acre. 

Each small goat needs 45.6 pounds of oats; each large needs 91.25.

This would take 397 square feet of oats for each small goat, or 794 square feet for each large goat.

For a herd of 3 smalls, that’s 1,191 square feet. For three large goats, that’s 2,383 square feet

Barley

Expect about 1 ton of barley per acre. 

Each small goat needs 45.6 pounds of barley; each large needs 91.25.

993 square feet per small goat; 1,986 square feet per large goat.

For a herd of 3 smalls, that is 2,979 square feet. For 3 larges, it’s 5,958 square feet.

Barley takes a lot of growing space. If I were short on acreage, I would probably drop the barley and up the other three ingredients to make up 33% of the formula each.

Field Peas

Field peas average 2 tons of dry matter per acre.

Each small goat needs 45.6 pounds of peas; each large needs 91.25.

So you need 496 square feet per small goat, or 993 square feet per large goat.

For a herd of 3 smalls, that’s 1,489 square feet. For a herd of 3 larges, that’s 2,979.8 square feet.

Total Space Needed to Grow Goat Feed Concentrate

2,106 square feet per small goat; 4,212 square feet per large goat.

6,318 square feet for a herd of three small goats; 12,636 square feet for three large goats.

Total Space Needed for Growing Grains and Forage

You need about a tenth of an acre per small goat for their forage. Add on another 2,106 square feet per small goat if you want to give concentrated feed. Grand total: 6,462 square feet or 0.15 of an acre per small goat.

You need about a third of an acre per large breed goat for their forage. Add on another 4,212 square feet per large goat if you want to give concentrated feed. Grand total: 18,586 square feet, or 0.42 of an acre per large goat.

Cost to Grow All The Goat Feed on Your Homestead

Below I’m going to use True Leaf Seed Market to make all of these calculations. This is a trustworthy business that sells heirloom seeds at a fair rate all across the country. If you have a local feed store, you may be able to find seeds for an even better rate. I am not affiliated with or sponsored by True Leaf Seed Market; it’s just a good company I trust.

Corn Seeds

You need 1.87 pounds of corn seed to feed one small goat, or 3.74 pounds for a large.

If you purchase your seed from True Leaf Seed Market, you’ll pay $17.24 for a five pound bag. That works out to 46 cents per small goat, or 92 cents per large goat.

Oat Seed

You need 1.25 pounds of seed for 1 small goat, or 2.5 pounds for a large goat.

If you purchase your seed from True Leaf Seed Market, you’ll pay $27.55 for 5 pounds. That works out to $6.88 per small goat, or $13.76 per large goat.

Barley Seed

You need 1.24 pounds of barley for a small goat, or 2.48 pounds for a large goat.

If you purchase your seed from True Leaf Seed Market, you’ll pay $60.63 for 24 pounds. That works out to $3.15 per small goat, or $6.30 per large goat.

Field Pea Seed

You need a tenth of a pound (0.10) of field pea seeds for one small goat, or a fifth of a pound (1/5) for a large goat.

If you purchase your seed from True Leaf Seed Market, you’ll pay $8.21 for a pound. That works out to 83 cents per small goat, or 1.66 for a large goat.

Total Costs to Grow a Goat’s Concentrated Feed for a Year

$11.32 for a small goat. $22.64 for a large goat.

The total upfront cost to buy all of your seed (because you can’t buy your exact needs, and some of this seed can be put back for next year) is $113.63.

Don’t forget, you can save your seeds and then grow next year’s crop for free. For every fifty plants you grow for your goats, grow an additional 1-2 plants for the purpose of seed saving.

Thank You!

Kayla and I are working on making this site accessible and genuinely helpful, and we promise it will always be 100% AI-free. We want to share more recipes we have extensively tested and regularly share with our families. Alongside that, we will also add more nerdy-style homesteading content.

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