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does supplementing w/hay result in less foraging?

 
ariel greenwood
Posts: 33
Location: piedmont north carolina
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hi all,

I'm new to raising goats and was recently hired at a farm amidst the departure of the previous farmer/partner, so I'm contending with managing livestock I've never kept before and learning as I go! (hence the ignorant nature of this question).

here's the situation: we have 8 milking does, 3 of whom are still being milked. they're all healthy, negative for CAE, worm-free, but most are a few lbs underweight due to mismanagement by the previous farmer.

I just moved them to a new pasture full of brambleberries, tan oak, poison oak, etc.--lots to munch on, in other words. I would like for most or all of their diet to be forage-fed, and I think there is enough in this pasture to do that.

however, I need to get them healthier than maintenance-level; hence, feeding them some alfalfa hay has made sense to me even though most aren't being milked (the ones that are being milked receive hay, organic dairy grain, etc. on top of forage). but it seems that when I feed them alfalfa it causes them to loaf around a couple of hours surrounding the time I feed them, waiting for the food instead of foraging. they're getting a lot of protein and nutrients at once in the form of the alfalfa, and not burning calories foraging, but if it means they weren't eating for a while before and after, is it just a wash?

however, one could also theorize that if they were hungry before I fed them they wouldn't be waiting around--they'd be foraging. that would imply that my feeding them some alfalfa is nutrition above and beyond what they would procure for themselves, which would be a good thing to do if I am trying to boost their forage intake.

again, my goal is not for them to be eating more forage necessarily--I just want the alfalfa to be in addition to what they are eating, not instead of.

any thoughts on this? for now, I have settled on feeding them alfalfa only once a day to reduce the amount of time they are loitering without eating. but I would love to know what others might do in this situation.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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They absolutely stop foraging if you feed them. Why waste calories working for food when it just shows up right here? They are a lot like people--give them a little welfare and they stop working for themselves.

We only feed hay in the milking stall or when absolutely necessary during winter or drought. You can feed them a handful of alfalfa pellets or flax meal as a "treat"--from your hand out while they are foraging to give a protein boost if needed. You should give them free choice salt, baking soda, and mineral to make sure they get the most out of the forage. But they need to work for their food every day possible.
 
ariel greenwood
Posts: 33
Location: piedmont north carolina
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thanks, R Scott. your perspective helps a lot. that leaves me confident to only feed those I am locking up overnight for whatever reason (predation is a fact of life around here - bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes... just lost a 5 week old overnight, so I'm locking up the babies again as a precaution).

I have been offering them free choice loose minerals and baking soda, and we're ALMOST to the point of them not completely devouring the minerals as soon as I refill it, so hopefully that means their cravings are subsiding as their bodies plug in what they need.

in the near term, to stabilize the health of this herd (and before I had any bandwidth for optimizing their nutrition), we have been feeding the milking does a whole array of oats, beet pulp fibers, shredded hay, etc. in addition to goat dairy grain as per the recommendation of a goat keeper and milker we know. I am uncomfortable their diet coming from that many off-farm sources, so I'm thinking we can transition to just forage, dairy goat pellets for milkers, organic sunflower seeds, and and organic alfalfa pellets to slow them down.

can you tell me a little bit about what you feed your milking does?
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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We get a custom no-soy, no-gmo (not completely organic) feed mix for our milking does and cows (same mix). It has oats, barley, flax meal, alfalfa, milo, field peas, plus a touch of kelp/mineral/DE and just enough molasses to keep it from getting dusty and hold it together. It varies from batch to batch based on what the mill has (sometimes they run out of milo or oats) and current prices. It is really high in protein--way too high for cattle--so we mix in extra oats or only give a handful on top of grass hay to the cows.

If I couldn't get that custom mix I would buy the ones you can find local and mix my own. Basically 4 parts grain and one part protein, depending on how many of those grains you source. You will find they may or may not like a certain part of the mix and refuse to eat it (barley in our case) or you need to bump the protein up/down depending on what else they are getting for browse.

You don't need to feed them overnight, give them water but most wouldn't be eating at night anyway. You are giving them cookies all night and they wonder why they don't eat their veggies in the day. Put any tree trimmings in with them at night--that way they are still eating browse while locked up and you are using a free resource, or a little bit of grass hay--more to keep them busy than fill them up.

We made the same mistake OVER feeding our goats initially. We had all sorts of problems from fast hoof growth to birth problems from oversized babies. Not to mention going broke on feed.

EDIT TO ADD:

I went and looked up the exact ration we ordered last time:

Recipe for Dairy Ration per 50 lb bag (Approximate)

organic oats (whole)- 14 lbs
organic wheat (whole)-12 lbs
barley (whole)- 9 lbs
field peas (whole) 3 lbs
alfalfa - 4.5 lbs
Flaxmeal - 3.5 lbs
Kelp - 1 lb
Aragonite - .25 lb
organic molasses- 2.5 lb
D.E.- .25 lb

That ration is fine-tuned over several iterations and it is well liked by our goats and they are doing really well--both in condition and production--over a range of forage conditions. YMMV.
 
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