What to feed your dairy goat

In Greece there is a saying, “Goats look up and sheep look down.” This is because goats are browsers, meaning they like the leaves of trees and bushes. Sheep are foragers, meaning they like grass. Goats will nibble here and there at grass, but they will do a very poor job of mowing your lawn since they will be so busy defoliating your roses. So, whatever you do, don’t buy a goat and put it in your yard thinking it will mow your lawn. You will be sorry.

You will need to feed your goats fresh hay (more on that later), alfalfa pellets (a good source of calcium), and a mineral supplement. I like to add to this mix lots and lots of blackberry bushes. Your goats won’t eat the branches, but they will devour the leaves.

There is a wonderful website called eatwild.com filled with information on the environmental and health benefits of meat and dairy products of animals who eat what they are naturally intended to eat. For example, factory farmed beef fed mostly grain is far less nutritious than beef from cows who are allowed to roam and are fed mostly grass. You will need to give your lactating does some grain (mine get 3 cups per day) but the bulk of their diet should be greens.

Hay: There are all types of hay and they are all very different. Second cutting orchard grass is generally the best type of hay to feed goats, but timothy and alfalfa work too. The downside of alfalfa is that the goats leave the stems so there is a tremendous amount of waste.

Alfalfa Pellets: Goats do need alfalfa because it is rich in calcium. Alfalfa pellets are simply alfalfa ground up into pellets. There is little waste if you feed alfalfa pellets, however, you cannot feed only alfalfa pellets. Goats need long fiber and this is only available from hay or leaves.

Mineral Supplements: Goats do best with mineral supplements and the best mineral supplement out there is called Sweetlix Meatmaker for goats. Don’t ever buy a mineral intended for both sheep and goats since it won’t contain copper. Copper is poisonous to sheep but of vital importance to goats. The pictures of goats with copper deficiencies found in veterinary medical texts are upsetting. Also, do not buy medicated feed. You should only use medicine if your goat is sick.

Blackberry bramble is so ever-present in Seattle that I keep a canvas log carrier (really just a big bag with the slides slashed), a set of clippers, and a pair of welder’s gloves in the trunk of my car. On my way home from the grocery store or some other errand, I always come across a good patch, hop out of my car, and collect. There’s another goat keeper in town who uses a similar system, but she carries the bramble on her back while riding her bicycle. She’s got a special system with some sort of thick blanket, and a retrofitted back pack.

Goats don’t like to eat anything that’s been on the ground, so I’ve created a blackberry bramble feeder. Between these two posts, there are two sheets of stock panel. One panel is stationary. The other swings open from the bottom to allow you to put in the bramble. You fold the stock panel back up, clip it shut with a bungie cord, and the goats can eat just as they would from a bush. Two goats can eat a bundle of blackberry leaves as pictured above, every day!

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