From Field to Feeder
Good nutrition is essential throughout a goat’s life. Kids need good nutrition to grow, and to lay down the foundation for high production and good health later in life. Dry does need adequate (but not excessive) feed to maintain their energy reserves, and in-kid does need energy for both their growing kids and future milk production. Good nutrition is needed for high conception rates, good growth rates and high milk yields. It also provides resistance to disease and parasites. You can spot well-fed goats when you see them; they are energetic with bright eyes and beautiful glossy coats.
The quality of the feed affects the quality of the milk. The taste of goat milk varies between farms. Many farmers believe that a healthy diet and good management results in good tasting nutritious milk. High quality feed is also important for fibre production. Angora goats have higher nutritional needs than either dairy or meat goats, and underfeeding can lead to abortions, slow growth of kids, and poor yield and quality of mohair.
Organic goat feed is formulated to meet the needs of goats at all stages of life. Feed requirements vary depending on the age, season, state of breeding, milk yield and forage quality. Dry does during the early stages of gestation have the lowest nutritional needs; lactating does in early to mid-lactation have the highest needs. At all times, goats should have free access to high quality forage, either pasture or hay, along with access to trace mineral salt, goat (or sheep) mineral and kelp. When not on pasture, adult goats need about 2.3 kg (5 lb.) of hay per day.
Colostrum is essential for newborn kids. Kids should start to receive colostrum within an hour after birth, and at least four times a day for the first three days. Kids are best fed with their dam’s milk (either bottle-fed or on the doe) for at least the first 2-3 months of life, and up to 4-5 months. When a few days old, kids can be fed lamb/kid starter free choice in a creep feeder. A creep feeder is a part of the barn where feed is provided at all times for the kids. Kids can enter and leave the creep whenever they want. Creep feeding helps with the development of the rumen of the growing kids, and increases weight gain. By six weeks of age, kids should be eating 250 g (0.5 lb.) of lamb/kid starter per day, along with hay.
By four months of age, kids will need 500 g (1 lb.) of lamb/kid starter per day. Most dairy and meat kids weigh 3.5-4 kg (8-9 lb.) at birth and reach 25-27 kg (55-60 lb.) at six months of age. Feed up to 350 g (0.77 lb.) of ewe ration to yearlings, divided into two feedings per day. Some farmers feed 250 g (0.5 lb.) per day when the kids and yearlings are on good pasture, and up to 500 g (1 lb.) per day during their first winter. Kids should always have access to trace mineral salt, goat (or sheep) mineral mix and kelp.
Flushing increases the ovulation rate. Start flushing the does three weeks before breeding by increasing the protein level of their feed. This will increase the ovulation rate. This is particularly effective for dry does in poor to moderate condition. Feed up to 150 g (1/3 lb.) per day of dairy feed. Another method is to move the goats to a lush legume pasture, or to increase the quality and quantity of the hay.
Nutrient needs are low for the first three months. Give does unlimited access to hay. Provide dairy feed at the same rate as before breeding, up to 350 g (0.77 lb.) per day for dry does and 0.5-1.4 kg (1-3 lb.) per day for lactating does (as described below). Dry off lactating does two months before kidding so that the doe’s energy can be devoted to the rapidly growing young. Some organic farmers slowly introduce apple cider vinegar, mixed in the grain ration, until they give 30 ml (2 Tbsp.) of apple cider vinegar per day during late gestation. The vinegar provides potassium and is considered to contribute to trouble-free kidding.
Late gestation (4-5 months)
Feeding during late gestation is particularly critical. Underfeeding can lead to underweight kids, poor kid survival and low milk production. Overfeeding can lead to enterotoxemia and milk fever. After the goat is dry, 6-8 weeks before kidding, start feeding 150 g (1/3 lb.) per day of dairy ration. Gradually increase up to 500 g (1 lb.) per day. If poor quality hay is being fed, and triplets are expected, feed up to 750 g (1.5 lb.) of dairy ration per day. During the two weeks before kidding, some farmers replace up to half of the feed with bran moistened with water or apple cider vinegar. The bran should improve digestion and reduce the chance of milk fever.
Immediately after kidding, many farmers give does one half cup of molasses mixed in a bucket of warm water. Dried raspberry leaves, or raspberry leaf ‘tea’ or tincture can also be given. Feed lightly right after freshening to reduce the risk of mastitis.
Bucks should be well fed but not overweight. Feed ewe ration at a rate of 500-700 g (1-1.5 lb.) per day for 3-4 weeks before breeding and continue after breeding until the buck has recovered any weight lost during breeding. For the remainder of the year, the buck needs pasture or hay. If his condition is poor, supplement the diet with ewe ration. Provide access to trace mineral salt, goat (or sheep) mineral and kelp at all times.
Goats are sensitive to changes in feed and feeding routines. They sometimes reject feed after a new bag is opened or a new feed bucket is used. Consequently, it is important to avoid abrupt changes in feed. When a bin or bag of feed is almost empty, mix some of the old feed with the new feed so that the change is gradual.
Angora, cashmere and meat goats
Angora goats are raised for the production of mohair; Cashmere (pashmina) comes from Cashmere goats. In the winter, angoras require extra energy as their fall-shorn coat provides little insulation against cold weather. If undernourished, angoras have many health and fertility problems. If in-kid does are underfed, they may abort or have stillborn kids. On the other hand, if angora goats receive excessive levels of protein, they produce coarse mohair. Fleece and meat goats are often fed ewe ration, a feed formulated for sheep with 13% protein, rather than the 15-16% protein dairy ration fed to milking goats.
To increase the rate of ovulation, flush for six weeks, three weeks before and three weeks after breeding, by giving 150 g (1/3 lb.) of ewe ration per day. This should increase the likelihood of multiple births. While in-kid, angoras are very sensitive to changes in diet or stress (e.g. shearing, drenching or transportation). Any such change or stress can cause does to go off-feed and possibly abort. To reduce the risk of this, do not alter the feed or maintenance routine during the most vulnerable period (between day 80 and 120). Later in the gestation period, the does are more tolerant of stress.
Does in late gestation, and lactating does will need as much as 700 g (1.5 lb.) of ewe ration per day. Growing kids will need up to 454 g (1 lb.) daily. Angora kids should be weaned at 6 months old, at a minimum weight of 15.9 kg (35 lb.). Does can be bred at 18-20 months old, when they weigh at least 27.2 kg (60 lb.). If in doubt, wait. If the does are too small at their first breeding, their lifetime fleece production may be hampered. With good pasture or hay, wethers and dry does will need only salt, goat (or sheep) minerals and kelp. If however the pasture is poor, the wethers and dry does may need up to 350 g (0.75 lb.) of ewe ration per day.
Meat goats are often Boer, Spanish or a cross of one of these breeds with a dairy breed, raised strictly for meat production. Though hardier than Angora and Cashmere, meat goats are fed a similar diet.
Avoiding and treating health problems
The suggestions given here are for general purposes only. For specific advice, please contact your veterinarian.
Many health problems can be avoided through good management and nutrition. Clean housing, low densities and good pasture management all lead to healthy flocks. Healthy diets are essential for healthy animals; well-balanced nutritious feed helps to strengthen the immune system and to improve an animal’s ability to resist disease and parasitic infections.
Worms (internal parasites) are a major challenge for organic livestock producers. Worm problems can be reduced by rotating pastures, good manger design and using feed supplements such as diatomaceous earth and herbal dewormer. Both of these products are allowed to be used on certified organic farms, and there is no withdrawal period needed for either milk or meat. Hoegger’s Worm Compound for Goats is a mix of medicinal herbs which discourage worms in goats, sheep, cows and horses. The dose is 5 ml (1 tsp.) per 45 kg (100 lb.) of body weight. To help eradicate worms, give the dose twice a day for three consecutive days. To maintain worm control, provide one dose per week.
Scours (diarrhoea) can indicate disease, poisoning, worms or an upset in the microbial community of the rumen. Bottle-fed animals can develop scours if the milk is fed at the wrong temperature. To treat scours, try to identify the underlying cause of the problem. To treat the symptoms, provide the animal with dry hay, clean water and no grain. The animal can be drenched with charcoal mixed in water. Some organic farmers treat goats with 7.5 ml (1/2 Tbsp.) of vitamin C and 7.5 ml (1/2 Tbsp.) of dolomite. Electrolytes can be given twice a day (follow the instructions on the package). Probiotics are often used to prevent scours, or used during and after an episode in order to help restore the microbial balance.
Ticks, lice and fleas can be controlled using sulphur internally or externally and/or diatomaceous earth (DE). The sulphur and/or DE can be rubbed into the skin of the animal to control the pests. Adding sulphur to the feed at a rate of less than 2% of feed can improve the animal’s resistance to external parasites.
Mastitis in goats, cows and sheep can often be prevented by good management and good nutrition. Good milking procedures are essential. Mastitis is much less common in animals that are given feed with moderately low protein levels (such as organic feed). If an animal develops mastitis, the grain ration should be cut to 1/3 the previous level and the animal milked gently several times a day. A clay poultice can be made by mixing bentonite clay with warm oil, water or a mixture of the two; this can be applied to the udder after milking and left on for 3-4 hours.
Bloat is almost always caused by overeating grain or lush pasture, particularly legume pastures. Bloated animals should be kept on their feet and exercising. A common remedy is to drench with vegetable oil, 30 ml (2 Tbsp.) for kids, (¼ cup) for adult goats. Before putting the animals out on new pasture, give the animals dry hay. Some farmers drench animals with dolomite mixed with water, at a rate of 7.5 ml (1/2 Tbsp.) of dolomite per goat. Baking soda is also used. Some animals will eat it dry; others will need to be drenched with just small amounts, such as 10 ml (2 teaspoons) for adult goats.
Poisoning can occur from livestock eating poisonous plants, mouldy hay or other toxic substances. Activated charcoal can bind to the toxins and can be used to treat frothy bloat. Mix the charcoal with water and drench the animal. Several hours later, drench the animal with vegetable oil to coat the gut. There must be an interval of a few hours between the charcoal and oil drenches because if the oil drench immediately follows the charcoal drench, the oil will prevent the charcoal from working.
White muscle disease, also called stiff lamb disease, is caused by a selenium deficiency. The condition causes paralysis in goats and kids, and is fatal if left untreated. In regions with low selenium levels in the soil, such as in much of Eastern Canada and North East United States, does benefit from eating feed with added selenium during mid to late gestation. Some farmers give newborn kids a subcutaneous injection of vitamin E and selenium, immediately after birth. Some producers give the does an intramuscular shot of Selenium during the last month of gestation. Follow the directions on the bottle; overdoses are fatal.
Copyright © 2003 by Homestead Organics Ltd
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