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Don’t kid yourself: goat diets differ

Goats are ruminants, belonging to the same family as cows but as competition from herbivores increased they went down a
different evolutionary path and developed an ability to browse rather than just graze.

Goats grazing alongside cattle will consume tannin rich vegetation, woody plants, weeds and brush not normally consumed by cows. Although they have a smaller digestive capacity, they can eat up to 6 percent of their bodyweight in dry matter compared to nearer 4 percent for cows. Goats, like red deer, are considered intermediate between grass/roughage eating cows and concentrate selecting white-tailed deer. They are therefore blessed with an ability to deal with mature forages and are able to consume a more concentrated diet than cows so they can utilise grain-based starchy feeds well. They are driven to seek out a diet with more variety and their appetite can at times seem fickle. They are very sensitive to feed which has spoiled or even picked-over by other goats.

Like dairy cows, breeds of dairy-goats have been selected for milk production for centuries and are very productive for their size. Goats that are pregnant do need more energy and protein late-term and energy requirement may double maintenance requirements. Supplementary feeding may be necessary in late pregnancy if the condition of a doe is slipping. Energy requirements can increase to three times maintenance at peak milk production. Lactating goats respond well to supplementary feed like the NRM Dairy Goat Pellets which have been formulated from non-GMO ingredients.

Trace minerals

The National Research Council (NRC) puts the copper requirement of lactating goats at 15mg/kg and the maximum dietary tolerable level cautiously at 40mg/kg. NRC puts the iodine requirement of lactating goats at up to 0.8mg/kg DM, goats can tolerate much higher rates of iodine intake but there is a concern that too much iodine finding its way into the milk may not be ideal for people who consume the milk or milk products. It’s good to prevent deficiencies but care should be taken if feeding goats minerals and compound feeds designed for other species.


Kids are vulnerable to the debilitating and even deadly coccidiosis caused by Eimeria species protozoa. Prevention and treatment is possible by feeding Deccox® (containing Decoqionate) or Bovatec® (containing lasalocid sodium) which are found in most starter feeds. A calf starter feed is typically preferable to a lamb starter feed for kids because they require copper at a higher level than lambs.


Entire billy goats can be smelly so pets are often castrated. Early castration can increase the risk of stones blocking the urethra pipe from the bladder, especially when water intake is low. Compound feed designed for milking animals contain added minerals which can form stones in the male’s water works, so for this reason it is best not to feed them regularly to castrated males. Feeding NRM MultiFeed with access to a multimineral salt block is a safe way to keep condition on wethers whilst encouraging water intake to help prevent stones.

Goats are similar to cows in many ways but for optimum health and performance they should be fed to meet their specialist needs.

For more information, contact your NRM Nutrition Specialist or the friendly team at your local Farmlands store.

Dr. Rob Derrick, NRM Lead Nutritionist.