Growing Cheap and Nutritious Feed for Goats


A goat eating oat leaves

Four months ago, my husband finally caved and let me get goats. Ever since, I've been reveling in our does' antics...and trying hard to keep two voracious caprines fed.

In addition to hay and pasture, productive animals like pregnant or milking does and stud bucks require a healthy dose of concentrates. And while most goat keepers provide store-bought goat chow --- a mixture of grain, soybeans, and minerals --- to keep the fat on these working animals, everything I've read suggested that goat bellies don't actually handle grains very well. Plus, the homesteader who grows her food on a small acreage with hand tools will be hard pressed to thresh and winnow sufficient grain for hungry goats. Luckily, roots and other easily grown vegetables can fill the same dietary niche while also keeping your goats in top health.

Chopping roots for goats

Feeding roots to livestock is nothing new. Way back in medieval Europe, farmers dried off dairy animals and slaughtered all but the breeding stock among meat breeds as soon as cold weather hit, but that wholesale slaughter soon came to an end. The popularization of turnips spurred a culinary revolution because the roots provided enough supplemental feed to carry cows, pigs, and other animals through the cold months. Soon farmers were adding fodder beets, rutabagas, mangels, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes to their livestock gardens, and meat and dairy became a larger part of the year-round human diet.

Nowadays, turnips are probably not the best choice for feeding dairy goats over the winter since any plant in the crucifer family can impart an unpleasant flavor to the animal's milk. On our farm, we find it easy to grow carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and sunflower seeds for our goats, and we may branch out into mangels in the year to come. Your own selection will vary depending on what you have success with in your garden, and will likely lean toward crops that you also enjoy cooking for your human family. In the end, you may be surprised at how little extra garden space it would take to grow feed for your goats, and how healthy your herd will be when consuming homegrown carrots and parsnips.

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