|This is Ruby's "can I have some more?" face.|
I’ve been asked to share my feeding protocols for the goats here at Owl Tree Farm, so I’m going to take some time to write about both what I feed and why I feed it. Just as a side note, my current farmhand takes home milk each week and a few weeks ago she also purchased some goat’s milk from another farm. She and her family decided to do a side by side taste test to compare (something I’ve never actually done). They concluded that my milk was better and tasted “fresher.” I attribute my high quality milk to the feeding protocols that I have in place.
This regimen has developed over years and the rationale for doing it this way comes both from my extensive research and my personal experience and observations. First, let me say that you don’t have to get to 100% immediately. You also don’t have to do it my way; it’s not necessarily the right way for everyone, but it works for us. Start slow, observe your goats, add and subtract, modify and adjust until you get it right.
To start with let’s talk about the methods we use. For the boys (we have two barns with five boys between them) we measure out a small amount of food and pour it in a trough. They have to duke it out to get feed. This feed is likely not at all necessary for them, so no one worries about the jostling too much because they all get some (and they are all well-fed chubby bubbies). The feed might not be necessary, but it does two things. First, it keeps the boys trained to coming in at night and distracts them enough for us to shut the doors on them. During rutting season they are wild and rambunctious, but are always willing to come in to eat. Second, it allows us to add in supplements every day that they otherwise wouldn’t get. So, the boys get some small amount of feed (I’ll elaborate on feed in a moment) and about a 1/4 cup of black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) and they get Tablespoons each of: flax seed meal, kelp, and minerals. Every couple of weeks I spend a few minutes measuring the supplements out into 4oz jars. We scoop out the feed, dump a jar, shake it, then dump in the trough. Feeding boys is easy-peasy and they get some extra nutrients this way.
The method we use for the girls is much different. It can be laborious and tedious, but this works for us. We have 9 girls in the milking barn, each has a collar and lead that she wears ONLY when she eats. In the evening we systematically collar and tether the girls to their “spots.” We do this in order of crankiness, so if someone is being a jerk she gets hooked up first. The last one to get hooked up is generally the mellowest girl or the one that is being picked on (goats do this for various reasons, but mostly because they are jerks).
Once the girls are hooked up they are fed their own special rations in their own buckets. This allows us to feed the fat girls very little, but still give them supplements. Though we only milk in the morning we split the milkers rations so they get half at night because it tends to be a lot. Not only can we monitor who is getting what, we can watch for anyone being “off feed” which might indicate illness and a closer look. We also add the supplements to each girls ration. Instead of doing it as a mixture the girls get the “supp of the day.” More on supplements in a bit.
We feed Coyote Creek Organic feed that is formulated for lactating does. We feel very strongly that organic is the best option for us. Coyote Creek is located in Elgin, TX which is 3.5 hours from us, so my dedication to organic is tested three times a year when I spend 7 hours on the road to pick up a ton of feed.
Rations range from as little as 1 Tablespoon of feed (for fat girls like Scarlett and Vaca) up to 12 cups for a super-milker (like Ruby). Individuals rations are determined by several things: body condition, bred or not, in milk or dry. These rations are frequently adjusted. We use a blackboard to keep track of them.
Supplements are done by the day:
Monday: Herbal Deworming (from Molly’s Herbals (online), follow the instructions)
Tuesday: Kelp (1 Tablespoon) (Thorvin Organic Kelp….available through Amazon)
Wednesday, Flaxseed meal (1 Tablespoon) (Organic, golden, from Costco). Also, you can use unground flaxseeds (we get Organic from the bulk section at HEB or Kroger)
Thursday: Pumpkin seeds (small handful) (Organic, from the bulk section at HEB or Kroger)
Friday: Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) (6 drops or so) (from the health food store or Amazon).
Sat: Prunes (because everyone needs dessert sometimes) (1-3 depending on weight) (organic, bulk section at HEB or Kroger). We also give them raisins sometimes.
Sun: Vitamin C (500 mg…chewable) (milkers get 1000 mg every day on the milk stand) (these are the chewable Nature’s Made available at our HEB or on Amazon)
Always available: baking soda and loose minerals (we use Bluebonnet Techmaster special ordered through Teskey’s)
As for hay, we feed hay twice a day when there is little to no browse….Fall, Winter, and very early Spring. As the pastures and paddocks begin to green up and sprout we dial back the hay in late Spring and all through the Summer we do not throw hay. We do keep a few bales on hand as we will throw hay if it is a rainy day and everyone wants to stay inside.
We have decent browse for nine goats and I’m still learning to manage it using corrals and electric fences. Every year I get a little better at looking at a space and determining that it is a “one day browse” or a “one week browse”…On the matter of hay…we feed a coastal bermuda and that’s it. I know that many goat folks feed alfalfa and we did too when we first started out. We ceased feeding alfalfa when it was approved as a GMO crop. Because I don’t feed alfalfa I am relying on my browse and my feeding regimen to keep my girls healthy and producing well. They are a healthy and happy herd so I think I must be doing something right.