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How to Feed a Goat


I love my goats.  They are charming.  Each has its own personality and likes and dislikes.  Some will happily munch on the goat greens I put in their feed occasionally.  Others will push all the kale, lettuce, greens, cabbage, etc. aside to get to their grain.  They are sweet and loving animals right up until they trip you in the mud and walk across your back.  OK.  In point of fact, that has never happened to me but I think it's a possibility.  They are a size I can deal with.  I can manuver one into the goat box on the back of my truck and get it to the vet.  I can give them shots as needed and collect fecal samples when necessary.  They are smart.  They know when I want to catch them and will scamper away from me.  They know when I don't really care if they come or not and they are glued to my ankles. You would think the day to day operation would be easy peasy.  Feeding them, however, comes with some challenges.

My goats range in size from knee high to hip high and can be really quick.  They are moving trip hazards.  They will swarm me if I walk in with a full feed bucket and make it nearly impossible to pour out feed into their feeders.  While the horns make great handles at times, they are also weapons.  Over the years I have had an amazing collection of bruises show up between my knees and my shoulders - all goat related.

I have a small goat herd of seven animals.  If I had 70 goats like my friend Nancy Whitbeck or thousands of goats like the huge breeders do, the rules would be different but here are the feeding rules I operate by. 

(1)  Always put the food out while the goats are somewhere else.  Preferably beyond a closed and locked gate.  I walk out calmly with my bucket of feed and perhaps a plastic tub of goat greens.  I can distribute the feed between all the feed buckets calmly and without interruption.  When all is right, I open the gate and the goats rush in.

(2)  Always have at least one more feed buckets than there are animals wanting to eat.  For my seven goats I always have an 8th feed bin.  The goats will run around and push each other out of the way completely sure that the other guy has better food.  As long as there is an extra feed bin, everyone gets a similar amount of feed.  No one is left hungry.  This same rule applies to piles of hay for horses in the pasture.

(3)  Feed is the best attractant there is.  It's even slightly better than the apple/oat flavored horse treats that they love.  If I need to catch one of the goats, the stall is the place to do it so they get fed in the barn periodically.  I need them to accept running into the barn for breakfast.  Food is the perfect draw.

(4)  I can give shots quickly and efficiently while a goat is standing at their feed bin.  You need to be quick and there is no way to get the second shot into them before they dart away but I can do the first one pretty well.

I bring up these rules because yesterday it all fell apart for my husband who kindly offered to feed the animals for me.  My friend Barb Burghardt was visiting this past weekend.  Barb and I went to high school together and have only recently reconnected after having no contact for over 50 years.  I went up and spent a weekend with her in Chicago last fall and she came here this winter.  I managed to escape the end of summer at its worst here and she managed to escape high winds, driving snow and really cold temperatures.  Yesterday morning I drove Barb back to the airport for her flight home.  Ron said he would feed for me.  He's such a nice man.

I did warn him that the gate between the feeding pen and the pasture was open so the goats had access to the back end of the barn.  He said that was fine and he would deal with it.  I probably should have given him a more strident warning but he feeds the animals regularly, if not frequently, so I didn't think of it.

Ron had the full bucket of goat feed in his hand when he opened the barn door and was rushed by seven starving goats who felt that they hadn't been fed in at least a year and would surely die if they didn't get to that feed in the next five seconds.  They nearly knocked Ron over and rushed past him into the barn.  I only got a very cursory explanation of what happened next but I gather there were goats running everywhere, he had a horrible time getting the feed into the feed bins, he couldn't get the llamas out of the goat's feeding area.... you get the idea.  Complete chaos.  Yes, people.  This was the perfect example of not following the rules of how to feed a goat.

By the time I got back from the airport all the animals were happily munching on grass out in the pasture.  There were no tell tale signs of feeding adventures.  Even the harrowed look I'm sure was on Ron's face at the time had faded.  I'm not a believer in following the rules just because someone tells you to.  But the tried and true rules, the rules that keep you on your feet and out of danger, those rules needs to be obeyed.