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Forage only dairy goat  RSS feed

 
Posts: 89
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Has anyone ever had a forage-only fed dairy doe? While she's in milk? We have 2 nubians, one of which is about to kid. We have 2 acres of dense brush. These goats did come from a regular dairy goat farm where they got grain, but I am having to cut back their grain because they are gaining weight quickly. Mostly I am just curious if anyone has ever successfully maintained a doe in milk on only browse/forage.
 
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I tried this many years ago when we were new, and my does got insanely skinny. I have only heard of one person doing it, and she said that she can't do it with goats that have ever been fed grain. If they are born on her farm, and they never get grain, they do just as well as the does getting grain. But if they came from somewhere else and she tries to stop feeding them grain, their production drops and they lose weight.

I don't normally feed grain to does in pregnancy until they are within a few days of kidding, and then I just start giving them a tiny amount to get their rumen used to it again, so they'll be fine with it when in milk. If they are getting fat, that means they will probably have some big babies because those calories have to go somewhere.

Here's a post I wrote on grain during pregnancy: https://thriftyhomesteader.com/do-goats-need-grain-during-pregnancy/
 
pollinator
Posts: 1467
Location: northern California
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In my experience it mostly will affect the amount of milk you can expect.  If she has twins, and you are leaving them both to nurse her, you might not get much after the first few weeks as the growing kids will drink a lot.  Once they are weaned, you might get something like a quart a day, or even less...which is less than half what a goat getting grain might give.  I would usually keep just a bit of corn around mostly to give them something to occupy them while milking them and to get them to follow me readily.  But I found that even things like old winter squash and sweet potatoes would do, and were probably good supplements too.
 
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I’m working on this. I would start by saying it is absolutely possible- I have an Ober doe who last year produced a gallon a day on blackberries with some alfalfa pellets to keep her occupied on the stand. I’m working on a plot to get all my goats onto homegrown food. I’m planting trees and shrubs for them to eat, I want bamboo but my land lord doesn’t (sigh), and I have invasive blackberries. There are tons of “weeds” with a protein content equal to or greater than alfalfa. Until my shrubs and trees are established, my planting my land with sweet clover, chicory (where they can’t access it all the time so they can’t flavor the milk), comfrey, and biserrula. In the fall I’m planting on planting a deer plot brassica mix (Im is the Pacific Northwest so winter forage is an option). I’m filling my garden with BOSS and carrots and radishes and winter squash to provide winter calories. My summer species are all selected for deep taproots to survive the summer drought (the blackberries have deep enough roots to thrive all summer, but all the grass dies back). It works out well for me, because tall plants tend to have deeper roots, and goats will refuse to eat short plants. Which I encourage because it is a sensible evolutionary strategy for an animal that suffers from the barber pole worm. In short, I think a forage dairy goat scheme is not only possible, but probably healthier for the goats than trying to make them eat hay when they aren’t grass-eaters by nature. However, it will take input and work. Unless you are lucky enough to live in a young forest you don’t mind them destroying. I looked into deer mixes for seed ideas, then just deleting all the low growing species and added a few weird ones I want to try
 
Posts: 81
Location: SW New Mexico, 5300'elevation, 18" precip
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chicken goat hugelkultur
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I am working towards this goal with my herd. I've been following a woman in New Mexico , Nancy Coonridge, ( you can do a search online for Coonridge Farm, there are several good articles on her) who has been successfully browsing her herd of 75 goats for many years on 300+ acres. She only feeds the occasional alfalfa when the weather is bad a few days per year and the goats won't go out. She's got some Maremma dogs who go out with the herd and they spend all day browsing the rim rock country.
They are fed no grain whatsoever.
I have not been to her place and seen her operation but have corresponded with her to ask questions. She suggests working towards a no grain/hay herd over a few generations by breeding the does that do well in this situation and culling those that do not. She says the quantity of milk is less than if they were fed hay, of course, but with 75 goats it does not matter that much. She makes an exquisite chevre that she sells at markets and online and is certified organic.
I am already seeing, in my herd, that the kids that are raised browsing in the wild are becoming more adapted to the browsing lifestyle than their moms who browsed less. Each generation should become hardier and more resilient and more able to turn the less concentrated foods into milk production.
In the meantime, I grow a lot of comfrey, chicory and other weeds for the goats, as well as winter root crops to feed as I decrease their grain consumption. It took many generations to create goats that "need" grain and alfalfa to produce milk and probably will take a few to have them adapt again to a more natural diet. And I think it depends on the environment too. Goats need a wide variety of browse to choose from. They have a high need for minerals and they can only thrive while in producing kids and milk if they have lots of different forbes, shrubs, trees, etc available.  
 
Posts: 78
Location: Appalachian Mountains
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  Unfortunately, American goats are bred for high grain input and it is hard to find one who can maintain their weight and produce milk on just forage; however, I believe it is doable.  It would never work with the Registered Saanens I have, they are high production and need high input.  I have one Nubian doe, two years old, who gets a little grain, but stays fat and produces 2 1/2 quarts of delicious, high butterfat milk per day.  Not a high producer by any means, but sustainable on very little, very hardy and healthy too.  Her legs and fetlocks are straight and she wears down her hooves evenly, so I only trim her feet about once a year, and honestly, she doesn't need it then.  By little grain, I mean about a cup twice a day, of sunflower seeds and oats with a dash of dried molasses on top.  She also gets free choice goat mineral.  If I could grow enough butternut or pumpkin, have enough dried tree leaves and acorns for her year round, I think she would pass muster.  She's slick and shiny, and in good flesh.  

 I've tried making "hay" for goats, out of things other than grass...such as lespedeza, dried tree leaves such as black or honey locust, maple and mulberry.  The lespedeza, locust and mulberry are all high in protein.  Past winter, I ran short on pasture and hay due to having a cow/calf I normally don't have on my small farm.  I cut branches from the bamboo, which they loved.  Even the cow would come running when she saw me walking down there with the pruning shears in hand.  It is about 15 percent protein.  High humidity here, in temperate rain forest, means even the best dried and cured hay won't keep long.  They also love a handful of acorns all winter, in place of grain ration.  It gives them good essential fatty acids, starch and protein.  Makes the milk taste good too, with higher than normal butterfat.  I grew butternuts and pumpkin for them last year, and all winter, I split and cut up one per day for them until I ran out.  This spring I'll plant a bigger patch as now I know how much they love it.  Pumpkin or squash seed kill tapeworm too, so it helps keep them wormed.  

  It should be pretty easy to grow a patch of sunflowers, and dry them for winter forage.  Sunflower can get buggy if stored too long, so be aware.  One or two goats would certainly be easier to feed than a herd.  When green, they love the whole head (try it, you'll like it too).  The leaves make excellent dried fodder.  So can corn leaves.  


  Summers are easier, and even spring, when the wild roses put on new growth, and the honeysuckle grows rampant.  Blackberry briers are a high nutrient, high mineral plant for goats and they will clean out a patch.  Goats love both of those and need them to have truly good health, but sometimes cut their udders on the thorns.  I planted wild roses along the long driveway coming in so it would grow through on one side into the pasture, and they would trim it.  They certainly do.   I planted Forage Feast Chicory on the back hillside, along with lespedeza and a mix of dandelion, trefoil, clovers, various grasses for summer.  I have to rotate them off quickly or they would graze the chicory to extinction.  It is another high nutrient crop, and makes them gain weight quickly and produce more milk with higher butterfat.  That particular variety was developed in New Zealand to have greater nutrient density and higher digestibility.  The goats and cow search it out.   I haven't noticed that it flavors the milk in a bad way, but they are getting a good mix.

 Root crops are a good source of calories, but turnip roots, fed in much quantity can give them bloat and also give the milk a bad taste.  

 It's very important to NOT feed young goats grain.  Make them work for a living, get out there and eat and develop their rumen.  If they get grain or even too much of mama's milk, they won't be hungry and will lie around and sleep all day and the rumen is never developed as well as it should be.  Yes, give them their milk, but let them go part of a day without it so they will eat forage.  If the rumen is not developed when young, it never will be to full capacity and then, no matter how great the forage is, they can't eat enough to sustain themselves.  Goats don't do well with grain anyway, their stomachs aren't made for it.  However, an animal giving two gallons of milk a day would starve if she had to forage for enough to provide the nutrients to make that.  Keep in mind too, that green forage contains a lot of water, and they need something starchy and something dried to get more calories.  
The more moisture in the forage, the more dried matter they need to counter balance so they don't get bloat.  Just like cows.  As they get used to it, they will bloat less, but even then, they need the calories.  
 
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I fed my goats on a cup of grain a day, but they could manage without it. It reduced the milk yield a little. It really depended how much time you spent herding them on fresh graze/browse every day. The cup of grain reduced the workload.
Good hay worked well, in winter, especially if full of broadleaf plants. If it had had a drop of rain on it, they would throw the grass on the floor and eat the broadleaves. Cut oak branches made good winter feed, but were bulky to store. Most other tree leaves dropped off the branches or crumbled into powder when dried and stored. I'm sure there is an invention waiting to be made which dries large quantities of leafy tree branches, and turns the leaf, bark and small twigs into powdered feed. They loved acorns. I think they are happy to eat most poisonous plants in small quantities occasionally, just not every day.

It's a question of breeding. If you are happy with a smaller yield of excellent milk and have time to herd them or large areas securely fenced, you can do it.

One of my elderly neighbours kept goats and I discovered he didn't know how to open a sack of feed.
 
gardener
Posts: 1889
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Not sure what you mean by forage only.  Does that include dried feed like hay, are you just meaning to exclude grain.

I don't feed my girls any grain, but they do get a handful of sunflower seeds on the milk stand.  And I have maintained lactation two and three years on one freshening.  But on small amount of ground (2 acres), there was not enough to feed them year round, so I supplemented with alfalfa hay and oat hay when I could get it.  I don't like my girls to go below 3 on the goat conditioning scale.  And when they are not getting plenty of feed, they are not giving me plenty of milk.

I think an important part of your question depends on what climate you live in, and how many animals are eating your two acres of heavy brush, and if you are going to turn them in to the whole tow acres at once, or allow them access to a new portion every day.  I had 2 acres, and though it was not heavy brush, it was not adequate feed alone for 4 does and the kids that showed up regularly expecting to be fed.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1664
Location: La Palma (Canary island) Zone 11
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For a meditarranean climate, Tedera....
https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bituminaria_bituminosa

This fabacea is not well known but is a very good dry forage crop, that we gather just when the flowers are finished, so that the seeds do not fall. This is very good for goats, and they will not eat it fresh. It is in flower right now.

Our canarian goats are still used to forage, but of course grain has been added to their diet though last years.... They also eat a lot of the famous tagasaste, the tree lucerne.
 
Faye Corbett
Posts: 78
Location: Appalachian Mountains
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  We also need to selectively breed for those traits we want.  This was why I kept the one Nubian doe out of several, because she has those traits.  Interesting to see how her kids turn out, as she has a doe now 2 1/2 months old, that I plan to raise exclusively without grain.  She has excellent rumen development and is a good forager like mom, and thankfully, not a jumper the way her mom is, clearing 5 foot fences.  Her mother has longer legs, which is sometimes a selenium deficiency when they are born.  The dam was not born here, but the kid was, and I put selenium on all my pastures (east coast is deficient).  Lot of difference in their overall conformation, leg length versus body.  

  I'd love to hear ideas from other people about forage we can grow for our goats to minimize outside input on hay/feed.  

 
Anna Morong
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The main barrier to production is protein, followed by energy. Most commercial goat feeds are only about 14-16% protein. Which is less protein than many forage plants. True grain (not soybean enriched feed), only runs about 10% protein. Something is very weird when goats eating 14% alfalfa hay and 15% dairy ration and eating a relatively mineral-poor (compared to the variety of nutrient dense plants forage has to offer) diet give more milk than goats eating high-protein, high-nutrition forage. I’m trying to figure out what could cause this phenomenon and I have a few theories.

1) Foraging does spend too much time moving around burning calories. I’ve noticed my does on the sacrifice lot with alfalfa spend a lot more time sitting around than in the summer when they are always out at the edges of the field eating non-stop.
2) Modern goats have been bred to having less rumen room, and therefore need concentrated and dried food and can’t intake adequate calories for high milk production from “wet food” and/ or, growing up on grain, they stop eating when they feel full, even if they are just full of water and haven’t eaten enough dry matter.
3) (related to 2) Protein is less of a limiting factor for quantity than we’ve come to believe. I’ve heard lots of homesteaders foraging their goats who get decent production simply feeding oats (8% protein, wheat 12%, or barley 9%). Perhaps goats get plenty of protein from forage and simply need some calories in a concentrated form to really kick start production. Perhaps protein plays more of a role in quality than quantity, and that is why foraged goats produce better milk and why the breeds moth high butterfat milk like Nubians seem to tolerate foraging better.
4) Calcium is a limiting factor, and that’s why goats produce well on alfalfa.

This whole thing has me wanting to experiment and see what role protein really plays in feed for a forage goat, and whether one could forage a dairy goat for their “hay” requirement on high-protein forages, then supplement with easy to grow and store things like winter squash and fodder beets for calories. Because it just doesn’t add up for me that confined goats eating a much narrower selection of lower-nutrient plants can produce better than goats browsing their natural foods.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Posts: 1889
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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Anna Morong wrote:
2) Modern goats have been bred to having less rumen room, and therefore need concentrated and dried food and can’t intake adequate calories for high milk production from “wet food” and/ or, growing up on grain, they stop eating when they feel full, even if they are just full of water and haven’t eaten enough dry matter.



The issue of rumen size is important, and may be both nature and nurture.  I was taught that getting the kids on pasture early helped them develop a big rumen.  I am renting for the winter (,moving out in a couple of weeks) from a very conventional livestock handler.  A VERY wonderful woman, but I am getting a close look at her methods and assumptions as we each raise bummer lambs from the same crop, delivered to us on the same day.  I can see how her methods would not support the development of big rumen.  She also underfeeds her milkers.  And uses a lot of medications.  I keep giving her colostrum when I have it, and telling her how important rumen microbiota are, and the long term effects of antibiotics of microbiota, but it falls on deaf ears.  And after 10 days,  I have made a creep feeder for my lambs, and am feeding bottle twice a day.  

We have each had 20 % mortality in our bummers.

and I can contribute this observation to your research:  I have one doe I am milking through.  Others due to kid in the next month, one this week!  When the milking doe does not get as much feed (alfalfa only) she does not make as much milk.  I try to hold the feed back from the pregnant does ( I tend to 'over feed' but they are not beyond a 3.5 on the condition scale) because I don't want the kids to be too big at birth, but the milker is the lowest ranking doe, so I go back and forth, pushing the feed for the milk production, and holding back for the pregnant girls, and that's how it became VERY CLEAR that hay today affects milk to night and tomorrow.

If you get way in to observing for connection between production and types of feed, I'll be very interested along the way!
 
Faye Corbett
Posts: 78
Location: Appalachian Mountains
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I was just doing some research on forages to see what grows on my land that is equivalent in protein to alfalfa.  Greater ragweed, wild amaranth aka: pigweed, lamb's quarters, blackberry, honeysuckle, wild roses were top contenders.  Also have lots of purslane, dandelion, mulberry, all in their season.  I think one key is keeping pastures well mineralized, and I use ag lime, phosphate, kelp, azomite, hardwood ash plus the selenium and boron in tiny amounts.  The deer always come in after I've put out minerals, they need it too.  Goats digest broad leaf plants much better than grasses or hay made from grass.  They need some bark, or viney plants and brambles to maintain really great health.  

One of the keys to good rumen development is to keep the small kids, few days to a few weeks old, slightly hungry so they learn to forage well early.  This doesn't mean to starve them, you have to watch closely to make sure they do get enough milk.  They can't really digest that forage until about two weeks old, but they will start nibbling almost at birth, to taste everything.  This stimulates enzyme production for later and green forage has natural probiotics.  

I've never given my goats antibiotics, and I've been a goatkeeper over 40 years.    In the rare case they need something, I use fresh, organic, raw garlic, which works for everything.  I have had babies scour from too much milk (from nursing their moms), in which case I get them separated to fast briefly and give them wild roses.  Roses and blackberries are anti-bacterial, and can stop diarrhea.  
 
pollinator
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Location: Green County, Kentucky
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There are some people raising Kinder goats and getting good milk production without feeding much if any grain (a tiny bit on the milking stand to get them to stand still, possibly).  Kinders ancestry is half Pygmy and half Nubian; they are a dual-purpose breed used for both meat and milk.  I've had them before but had to feed them as we only had one acre at the time.  I'm hoping that here they'll have enough forage much of the year to not need supplements.  
 
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