I had a hard time organizing my thoughts into an orderly fashion regarding feeding high production goats. There are so many factors, and they all inter-relate to make a whole. I know everyone is anxious for a magic formula with details on exactly what to feed and how much. I get asked that all the time, and have ever since I knew enough to be dangerous. Over the years I have developed some hypotheses, some of which I have seen coming up in recent years more and more and seemingly becoming proven theory. I think every farmer has a bit of the scientist in him; if we didn’t we wouldn’t succeed… or at least stay afloat. So, this brings me to our next topic; the gut.
While feed is important, the gut is the place where all the conversion takes place. Without a healthy gut feed is next to useless. To give an example, my youngest child has celiac sprue. It is an inability to digest certain proteins known as gluten. All his life he ate, and ate well. He was always hungry, and the more solids he ate the worse it became. He was fed whole grains, vegetables, meat as he got older, and dairy. Sugar was pretty taboo in our home. This should have been a child with the picture of health, but his nails were deformed, he wouldn’t grow, his teeth were brittle and cracked at under the age of two. He was so hungry he would eat fibers in carpet, clothing and blankets. You see, the celiac induced a defense by his body; it caused his gut to become pitted and unable to absorb even the foods that he would have been able to digest. He was literally starving to death from eating.
Goats are the same. The gut is where microbes and bacteria live that help the body break down nutrients into something usable. When the gut is thrown out of whack or damaged the goat cannot digest the food given, even if it is of the highest quality. Parasites, antibiotics, too many refined sugar foods, and even dewormers can throw off gut balance. Coccidea is a good example; it is a protozoa, yet when allowed to flourish unchecked it damages the lining of the gut and causes growth to slow or stop, food to not be digested correctly, nutrient imbalance, and eventually death if not dealt with. Other parasites also affect gut health. Barberpole, stomach worms, tapeworm all live off of nutrients your goat needs and cause harm to the body in large numbers.
The first thing to remember if you have a high producing goat is to understand parasite life-cycles, what parasites you have in your area and how they affect the animal, and how to treat correctly. Repeatedly I have seen goats that were not managed correctly for parasites. It wasn’t on purpose, but the management programs at best were acting like a finger in the dam and often when the goats kid and were producing heavily they would suddenly succumb to the parasites. Often the owners were pretty clueless to what was happening until it was nearly too late or worse. There are many methods of dealing with parasites, and I am not going to go into all of them here, but if you are deworming with chemical dewormers or even herabals constantly and having closely recurring issues, or if your goat will not gain weight even though she is eating you out of house and home, you should take a careful look at parasites.
Besides parasites, treating every little sneeze or runny nose or cough with antibiotics will kill the gut. Instead, you need to support the body with foods that boost health. The goat should have plenty of minerals and vitamins, sunshine and fresh water and clean air. An ounce of prevention and building the body will do worlds more than treating problems. Save the big guns for when you need them and the goat will be healthier for it and reward you. In nearly 10 years I have had only 2 cases among my own goats where I resorted to antibiotics. In each of those cases the goat was sickly and had more trouble longer than those that never received an antibiotic. It takes a long time to rebuild a gut, and a gut where the good bacteria has been evicted is an open door to bacteria that can harm.
I could quite seriously write a book on this topic alone, it is huge! I would encourage you to look into gut health and how food and micro-nutrients affect it. The gut affects taste, mood and behavior, digestion, immune system, parasite resistance, everything. Our whole bodies are designed around the gut, goats included. You can do many things to change the gut, to restore or hurt it. You can even get around certain genetics if you delve deeply enough into gut health. I consider the gut to be the key and genetics the door to production. I hope this brief overview has given you something to chew on until next time. Hats off to the gut!
*If you are just catching this and would like to read the first installment of this series of blog posts, please visit Feeding the High Producing Dairy Goat Part 1: Genetics.