I think I have finally hit on the proper diet for my dairy goats. After years of struggling with poor coat quality, internal and external parasite problems, and lack of conditioning in my herd; I no longer have those problems. I feel that there are a couple of things that have contributed to this improvement.
The first thing I started doing differently was coupling herbal parasite prevention with traditional chemical dewormers. I began using Hoegger’s Herbal Dewormer and Tonic after I learned how to do fecal sample testing. I had been hesitant to rely on an herbal dewormer without being able to test its efficacy for myself. Plus it was time that I stepped up my parasite control to tailor it to what the goats actually were carrying and not what I guessed might be the problem. My first fecal samples a year ago showed barberpole worm, brown stomach worms, liver flukes and coccidia. My goats showed symptoms of pinworms by rubbing their tails on their stall walls and they had some lice that I could see. One goat had an intermittent cough from suspected lungworm infestation. I used Cydectin Sheep Drench and Sulmet 12.5% Drinking Water Solution to kill the intestinal worms and the coccidia. The whole herd was put on weekly doses of the herbal dewormer and tonic. I rotated out the Cydectin and used some Valbazen for the liver flukes and residual internal parasites. My next round of fecal samples two months later showed barberpole worm and some coccidia. The tail rubbing and lungworm cough had stopped. The lice were also gone. I gave a dose of Safeguard and didn’t treat the coccidia. All the while I continued with the herbs. Two months later, the fecal samples showed very small amounts of barberpole worm. The amounts were so small that I chose not to treat at all, but continue with the herbal dewormer. Last month, the goats’ fecal samples were completely free of all parasite eggs! The goats also have no external symptoms of parasites. Their tails have grown back, they don’t cough, they have no lice (the first spring I have ever had that was free of lice!), and their eyelids are nice and dark pink which shows they are not anemic from bloodsucking parasites.
The second thing I changed in my management this year was I started mixing my own grain. I was tired of buying commercial grain blends that were expensive. I had read that you could easily mix your own grain by using some basic ingredients. I had been using a sweet molasses grain blend but had read that molasses is a filler that can throw off a goat’s mineral balance. I wanted to get away from grain with molasses in it. I started mixing grain by using oats, chicken scratch grains which contain corn, wheat, and oats, and wheat bran. I mixed the grain in a big tote using 50% oats, 35% scratch grains, and 15% wheat bran. The big tote would hold about 60 lbs of mixed grain and that would last my herd of 5 goats for 5 weeks. The unused grain was stored in another tote in the barn to keep rodents out of it until I needed to mix more grain. I could get about two and a half totes worth of grain out of 3 bags of ingredients. Unfortunately the feed store stopped carrying wheat bran. I switched to Calf Manna grain supplement to take up the 15% that the wheat bran had added. The Calf Manna has lots of added vitamins and minerals so a little can go a long way.
When I started mixing my own grain I adjusted the feed ration my goats were getting. They had been getting 2 cups of grain and 2 cups of alfalfa pellets each day. In researching grain mixes, I learned that all grains contain lots of phosphorus and alfalfa contains lots of calcium. It is very important that goats get a diet of 1:3 phosphorus containing grain to calcium containing alfalfa. I adjusted my goat ration to 1 cup of grain and 3 cups of alfalfa pellets per goat per day. If a goat gets too much phosphorus rich grain in their diet and not enough calcium rich alfalfa, the phosphorus can block the absorption of the calcium and make the goat not able to supply calcium to its milk or its kids. A pregnant goat or a lactating goat have very high calcium demands so if dietary calcium is not available, they will pull calcium out of their bones until they are very weak and sick. This could be fatal to the goat. Phosphorus is necessary to balance the calcium absorption but too much phosphorus and not enough calcium is dangerous.
On top of the grain and alfalfa pellets, I added 1/3 cup of black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) to each feeding. The BOSS has lots of protein and healthy oils to maintain weight and make a goat’s coat nice and shiny.
Another change in my feeding program was to get proper mineral feeders installed in each goat pen. Previously I had used a small feed pan or a bowl on the floor of the pen for minerals. Lots of times the mineral pans would be stepped in and dumped or pooped in or the goats just wouldn’t eat the minerals from the pans. When I mounted small mineral feeders in each goat pen I noticed the goats ate the minerals more consistently. The feeders were often licked clean and needing refill. Also less contamination of the minerals by dirt or animal waste occurred due to the feeders being off of the floor.
Supplemental minerals are very important for goats. I use a loose mineral blend made specifically for goats. This blend has the right amount of copper, iron, selenium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and other minerals to keep goats healthy. I use hay, grain, alfalfa pellets, BOSS and forage to maintain weight and condition in my goats. I use the minerals to keep everything in balance and maintain health. Mineral blocks and salt licks are not adequate mineral supplements for goats. They are too hard for goats to get enough from and are not formulated correctly for most goats.
With a good parasite control program, proper grain feeding, and mineral supplementation my goats are looking great this year. Currently 3 out of five are due to kid in a few weeks. Those three look healthy and shiny right now. Usually by this time in the spring they are looking shaggy and gaunt, but not this year. My other two goats are young yearlings. They are both in good condition and carrying a proper amount of weight for their size. I am looking forward to a productive spring with lots of healthy kids and tons of fresh milk!