As ruminant animals (like cows, sheep, and deer), the primary food for goats is hay.
Their stomachs comprise 4 compartments, the first one being the rumen, which digests long fibers in the hay.
But how do you know how much hay goats need?
And if given free access to hay, will goats eat too much hay?
Goats generally cannot eat too much hay. They self-regulate the amount of hay their rumen can handle and will consume about 3-4% of their body weight in hay per day. The right type and quantity of food are crucial, whether you are working with show goats, a pet goat, milking goats, or meat goats.
Among many other considerations, figuring out how much feed your goats need is essential for new goat owners.
If you do not have goats yet but are considering getting started with these lovely animals, planning for feed requirements is a great place to decide whether they are the right choice for you.
Read on for a brief outline of goat nutrition and learn more about the types of food needed to keep your goats well-nourished.
How Many Bales Of Hay Does A Goat Need?
To calculate the number of bales a goat needs daily, determine how much your goat weighs.
Since adult goats should eat at least 3% of their body weight in hay per day, multiply their weight by .03 to get the number of pounds of hay needed.
Next, weigh a bale of your hay and determine how many flakes or bales are equivalent to the amount calculated using the 3% figure.
Once you have a general sense of how many bales this is, determine the amount of daily roughage by eye, rather than weighing it out exactly each day.
It’s not very practical to weigh the hay regularly.
Still, the method above helps anticipate how much hay you will need and figure out a feeding budget to keep your goat happy and healthy.
Below are these calculations in equation form:
If you’ve determined you have ample hay for your goats, there is no need to weigh the hay daily.
An easier option is to provide your goats with good quality hay on a free-choice basis (basically all-you-can-eat access to grass hay where you don’t need to measure it out).
This system is good for goats since they will not eat more hay than their rumens can handle, and the dry roughage will aid in digestion.
It is also a more natural way for the goats to eat since they are a grazer by nature and prefer to frequently eat smaller amounts of food.
Variations In Feed Requirements For Goats
Although the 3-4% body weight’s worth of hay is a good rule of thumb for hay requirements, some goats require supplemental nutrients and/or different amounts of food depending on what kind of goat they are or what their life stage is (kids, pregnant goats, etc.).
Goat products require greater caloric inputs, and goats in the following circumstances will require more hay:
- Lactating and pregnant goats
- Growing baby goats
- Meat goats
- Larger breeds of goats in general (Boer)
- Fiber goats
- Goats, in general, during colder months
On the other hand, some goats will require less daily hay:
- Smaller bodied goat breeds (Kiki, Spanish)
- Goats with access to plenty of browse and lots of grazing time or dry grass forage
While non-meat goats and smaller goats will be content with hay and browse, the goats in the first list will likely require supplemental feed such as grain and alfalfa grass or alfalfa pellets.
Generally speaking, if your goal is to obtain goat products, plan to provide supplements in addition to hay.
Alfalfa is rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins, making it a great choice for goats raised to produce milk or meat.
Grass hay protein is about 7-8%, while alfalfa protein is about 16%.
Tips For Efficiently Feeding Goats
Use High-Quality Hay
Traditional goat food is primarily grass hay, but not all hay is equal.
Poor quality grass hay will not provide the calories and nutrients of good quality hay.
If you are buying your hay from elsewhere, make sure it has not been rained on after cutting, left in a field wet, or bleached.
Rain can deplete the nutritional content of grass blades and make the grass hay go moldy.
Check with fellow goat raisers in your area to determine what grass hay sources are quality and what sources to avoid.
Use an Off-the-ground Feeder
The type of feeder you use will significantly decrease the amount of hay getting wasted.
An off-the-ground feeder is much easier for goats to eat from and will lead to less waste, whether you are using a free-choice basis or providing hay a couple of times per day.
When placed directly on the soil, hay will get moldy and dirty faster.
A good feeder is easy to make using fence wire, and this type of feeder will simplify life for both you and your goats.
Further reading: Great hay feeders for goats reviewed
Bloat occurs when there is an accumulation of gas in the rumen, and the goat cannot burp.
Restlessness, loss of appetite, and a belly that feels like a hollow drum are all common signs of bloat to look out for.
Bloat often occurs when domestic goats have access to lush pasture (green grass), wet grass, fields with lots of leguminous plants, or sudden changes in diet in general.
When placing your electric fence, make sure your goats do not have access to lush pasture and other types of rich foods, causing a buildup of gas.
When changing your goats’ diet, do it gradually to avoid causing a significant imbalance in their digestive system.
This is especially important when incorporating grain, pellet feed, concentrate, green grass, kitchen scraps, or new types of pasture into the diet of these natural grazers.
Allow your goats access to adequate pasture, but also practice good pasture rotation to keep the plant cycle healthy in those areas.
Although there is a wide variety of foods goats can eat, be mindful of potential poisonous weeds your goats may have access to.