goats & sheep

Updated – Goat nutrition at Oak Hill

My last post on the full Oak Hill program was a couple years back.  I’ve learned more since then about what works best for my herd on my land.  This feels like a good time to update my readers on the tweaks to the program here at Oak Hill.

First some background and basics.  The 6 basic building blocks of any goat’s diet are fats, carbohydrates, proteins, water, vitamins, minerals. There are many excellent books and online articles, including peer-reviewed studies, dealing with the basics of goat diet. So let’s focus on the less-basic, less-mainstream bits of information that will be useful for your goats. Please keep in mind I am feeding for a long, healthy life, healthy kids, minimal medical/chemical intervention and cost-effective feed use, not necessarily the fastest growth.

Water. The quality of your goats’ water is extremely important. Studies have shown that water intake controls feed intake, milk production and weight gain. Some thoughts to consider: Do you have hard water? If so, do you use a water softener? There is anecdotal evidence that the salts in water softeners can be a health risk. Generally, force-feeding salt (what softened water does) is not recommended in most situations. Do you provide your water in galvanized metal troughs or buckets? Metals such as zinc, lead and cadmium can leach from the galvanized surface. Do you use soft black rubber buckets? Rubber is conditioned with the chemical ethoxyquin, which can leach into water, especially in the hot summer sun. There is debate whether ethoxyquin has harmful side effects. I personally take the cautious approach and avoid rubber water buckets and feed tubs, choosing instead to use hard plastic buckets and troughs. Do you water with garden hoses? Many garden hoses are made of PVC, which is stabilized with lead, and can leach lead, especially if left sitting in the sun. A simple solution is to use hoses labeled for potable water use.

Fats. Fats should not be more than 5% of the total diet, because they can suppress fermentation in the rumen. Fats are a good source of energy, and excess energy goes to weight gain as fat stores. My personal fat favorites are black oil sunflower seeds (watch out for chemical sprout inhibitors), chia seeds, and soybeans (heat treated, chemical-free, not genetically modified).

Carbohydrates. Carbs are sugars, starches and fiber that are used for energy, with excess energy stored as fat. Hay, browse and grain are the primary souces of carbohydrates. Looking to wild goats as the baseline, I feel goats should get the majority of their nutrition from their forage, and I select for goats that thrive on this program of free choice forages. For hay, I prefer a grass/legume mix like timothy/alfalfa or timothy/clover. Of course, add in browsing on living plant matter and field crops. I am cautious about feeding straight alfalfa because the high calcium inhibits iodine uptake (thyroid issues), suppresses magnesium, the high protein can stress kidneys, the high calcium suppresses copper and zinc (can actually cause calcium deficiency or calcium deposits in the body), and the minerals can contribute to the formation of stones/calculi. For grain, my favorites are oats and barley, as they are the least likely to be genetically modified (GM). I will only feed corn from trusted sources, as most corn is now GM and heavily sprayed with herbicides.

Proteins. A quick rule of thumb for estimating protein requirements. In my experience, animals are growing their fastest when nursing. So to determine the maximum protein level that should exist in their diet when protein demand is highest (growing kids, lactating does), look at their mother’s milk.  For goats, milk crude protein varies fairly widely, not going higher than about 5% at birth and dropping to 3-4%.  Additionally, look at the typical diet of a wild goat.  The protein level in leaves and twigs (browse) is fairly low.  So your typical goat with average protein demand likely needs no more than 5% total protein in the diet. Because goats are ruminants, protein is also required to provide nitrogen to feed the rumen bacteria. Excess protein cannot be stored, and can put strain on the kidneys during excretion.  These guidelines will not apply if you have does in heavy milk production, or are looking for accelerated kid growth to meet market demands.

Vitamins. Much good basic information exists on vitamins. Additonally, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, meaning these vitamins can accumulate in the body and become toxic if overfed. Also, goats make their own vitamin A (made from beta-carotene in green plants, stored in the liver), B (made by micro organisms in the rumen), C (made in body tissue), D (made in skin, requires sun exposure) and K (made by micro organisms in the rumen).

Minerals. Minerals are a favorite topic of mine. The macro, or major minerals, are Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K) and Sodium (Na). The trace minerals are Boron (B), Cobalt (Co), Chromium (Cr), Copper (Cu), Iodine (I), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), Selenium (Se), Vanadium (V) and Zinc (Zn). Minerals are sometimes referred to as organic or inorganic. Inorganic minerals are elemental minerals or mineral salts. Organic minerals are minerals bonded to amino acids. Plants are the original chelators, turning inorganic minerals into organic chelated minerals. Browsing and grazing animals do best on a mixture of organic and inorganic minerals (humans need organic). There are many different manufacturing processes to create chelated minerals. The cheaper processes often do not complete the chelation reaction, leaving a mix of chelated and non-chelated minerals, or create larger molecules bigger than 1500 daltons, too big to be absorbed. In order of least available to most, or ease of absorbtion:

  • Oxides (about 1% absorbable) 
  • Sulfates and carbonates (about 15% absorbable) 
  • Proteinates
  • Amino acid chelates (about 80% absorbable, small size of 800 daltons)

For my goats, I prefer a mix of 1/3 amino acid chelates and 2/3 sulfates and carbonates.

Most importantly, all parts of a goat’s diet act synergistically and antagonistically. This means some substances enhance the use of others (synergy) and other substances inhibit the use of others (antagony). So beware of singling out a single vitamin or mineral, without taking into account the entire program. For example, iron suppresses copper. So, is your goat copper deficient because of a lack of copper, or because of high iron soil? Rice bran is high in phytates and phosphorus, which tie up calcium and zinc. So is your goat calcium deficient, or overloaded with phosphorus?

Now that we have covered some of the basics, let’s take a look at what I do at Oak Hill.  Keep in mind this is what works on my own herd on my particular soil type and management style.  Each herd and farm will need to tweak a program to suit local conditions and herd goals.

First, the Oak Hill browse and grazing.  I have been using basic pasture rotation, moving them between large (at least a half acre) areas in pasture and the woods.  The goats rotate with our horses.  This coming season I am switching to high-density high-intensity grazing, using 50 square foot portable pens and rotating much more often.  I will do another post on the subject.

When the Oak Hill herd needs to supplement the live food, or is in the night pens, I offer unlimited grass or grass/clover hay. Our hay is raised locally without minimal chemicals or preservatives.  I no longer feed local alfalfa due to genetically modified organism (GMO) concerns.

I believe in minimal grain, as little as you can get away with and have good body condition.  At Oak Hill, we have 2 basic grain mixes that we use, depending on availability.  My preferred grain is a commercial 12% pelleted feed*.  When I don’t have the pellets available, or I’m looking for a simple local approach, I use a mix of  black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS), alfalfa pellets (AlfaGreen brand is GMO-free) and oats or barley. I muscle test my BOSS because many farms now spray sunflower plants with herbicide to make harvesting easier.  I muscle test my local grains in the store before buying them to make sure they are chemical free and healthy.  If you aren’t familiar with muscle testing, check out my book The Energetic Goat.

Now for the supplements.  You might wonder why I offer supplements in addition to fresh browse, grain, and free choice hay.  These days, most soils have been farmed for decades, if not centuries.  Unfortunately, the conventional approach to soil nutrition has some huge gaps, and most soils are addicted to nitrogen and depleted in very important minerals.  The feed and hay are only as good as the soil they are grown in.  So I offer supplements as well, and let the goats choose what they need.

The Oak Hill foundation program is a buffet of calcium/phosphorus mixes*, a trace mineral and fulvic acid mix*, natural loose salt* (read more about salt here), and my favorite amino-acid chelated mineral/vitamin mix for browsers*, all offered free choice.
The Browser/Grazer Mix is also labeled for sheep and is low in copper.  The 1-1 and 2-1 both contain additional copper to make up the difference for goats.  Additionally, as I live in an extremely low copper area, I put out a 1 gallon bucket of water with a tiny piece of bluestone (the size of a half pea) and allow the goats to free choice that water in addition to their regular plain water.  My area is also selenium deficient.  I have found a couple ways to address this.  I either offer a pinch of my favorite horse vitamin/mineral pellets* daily as needed (not year round) or a couple times I year I swap my favorite horse vitamin/mineral/salt free choice mix* for the browser/grazer mix*.  Both work for my herd.

I use my favorite herbal detoxifier* once or twice annually to cleanse the liver (not during pregnancy). 
Also, our goats get Waiora Natural Cellular Defense to remove heavy metals a couple time a year during their herbal cleanse.

You may be wondering about my mystery favorite product line, and why I use that line.

The first and best answer is that the products muscle test better than anything else I have investigated.  For me, that is reason enough.  For those of you not comfortable with muscle testing, here are some additional thoughts about my favorite company.

This is a family owned and operated business that has been around for many years.  They have been in business since 1982.  Decades of experience in nutrition are behind these products.

I have personally toured the feed mill where the pelleted feed is manufactured.  The mill is clean and chemical free, and you could eat off the floors.

All the products are sourced and manufactured in the USA.

My favorite company uses amino acid chelated minerals.  You can read more about chelation at www.albionminerals.com Amino acid chelated minerals are the easiest to absorb AND the easiest to flush from the body.  This means that for goats, where excess copper can be toxic, the goats should be able to easily flush any copper they do not use.

All the products come with a money-back guarantee, even if the entire container is used up first.

The company has never had a product recall.

I trust my favorite company.  These days, I feel even more compelled to support a business that I personally have met the majority of the staff, the staff use and love the products they work with, and the company is committed to making and selling only the best.   That philosophy matters to me.

I have also been asked about feeding trials and lab studies, and about nutrition formulation tailored to goats.  While I believe this is important, I also recognize the pitfalls and shortcomings of clinical trials and lab studies.  Simply observing any process actually affects the process (the oberserver effect).  Feeding trials attempt to isolate a specific nutrient, when in reality, all nutrients have antagonistic and synergistic partners in any biological process.  Feeding trials often also do not take into account the different forms of the minerals.  Rather than attempt to provide an exact balance of vitamins and minerals, tailored just to goats (and really, each goat breed and individual is different), I prefer to provide nutrients free choice and allow the goats to balance themselves, as nature designed.

I muscle test or dowse my hay and entire supplement program regularly, to make sure it is meeting the needs of my herd.  I use whatever products muscle test well for my circumstances.  I encourage you to do the same.

The Albion Chelated Minerals by Judy Sinner 1999 (please contact me for a copy of the article)
Minerals: Right on Target by Steven N. Harvey 1987


My favorite feed and supplement company*www.dynamitemarketing.com/carrieeastman

Copyright ©2016 Carrie Eastman.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or American Veterinary Medical Association, and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always consult your veterinarian about any changes to your animal’s health program.

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