Anyone have GRAIN FREE dairy goats?

WildersMilkMaid

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I’m just curious if anyone raises their dairy goats without grain, and why/why not?

I keep hearing that Goats need grain, but also to limit/cut grain because of bloat. Is there an alternative? Alfalfa perhaps? Is that too expensive or ineffective? Doesn’t it increase milk production? What are the perks to grain versus alfalfa, forage, hay, etc.?
 

farmerjan

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If you are diligent, you can do dairy animals without grain. You have to have the forages tested for protein levels and should also have other things figured in. By feeding a specific amount of grain, you can control the amount of protein, and other nutrients more easily than constant testing forages. If you buy hay from Joe, then go buy some from Bill, then get a deal from John, each different hay should be tested. The amounts and kinds of fertilizers they use will change the nutritional value of the hay/forage. How it is made, the quality of the hay, getting cut at optimal nutrition levels, getting made without getting wet, not over mature.....all factor in.
Dairy farmers nearly all have nutritionists that take forage samples of each crop after it is put in the silo, the hay, the corn silage, the wheatledge, the rye haylage..... everything. Then they will come up with a formula of what needs to be added to produce an AVERAGE X lbs of milk. You are looking at vitamins and mineral packs that are added to the mixers that mix all the forages together for them to feed a blended and NUTRITIONALLY BALANCED product.

What I am trying to show by example..... is that the dairy animals today have been bred to "way over produce" for their own offspring. For someone wanting to milk them, that is great so you get the milk. As @Baymule said, if you want more milk, they need the nutrients to not only produce the milk, but to also feed their own body so they stay in good flesh, so their reproductive systems get back in a healthy state so they will breed back. Granted a cows longer gestation will make it more critical because she needs to have a calf every year and carries for 9 months, so she only has 3 months to get back into the swing of it and get bred back..... a goat having a shorter gestation, she can have a little more time to put on weight if you are only going to have her kid once a year.

Most GOOD grain rations, that are for lactating animals, have added vitamins and minerals..... they have been balanced to provide the basics so that the animal is not mal-nourished. Quantities will help with the body being able to put some of that feed to just milk and not body maintainance.

Alfalfa is great protein, has many micro minerals due to the root systems that go down much deeper than many of the normal hay crops...... BUT it is something that they can bloat on very easily.... if it is grazed, especially in the spring/lush growth time..... as well as clovers.... It is very stemmy if allowed to grow too long. We don't grow it because we just don't have the time to devote to making it right. 1st cutting of alfalfa is nearly always chopped for haylage here and then later cuttings the stems aren't near as stemmy and make better hay. Less waste.

Grain is a cheaper and easier way to balance a ration if everything else isn't real good. @Mike CHS does a phenomenal job with rotating his pastures and gets exceptional growth on his lambs off his ewes. Most do not and can not do that good. And I do believe that he fees some grain to his lambs early on.
If your pastures are limited, then grain will provide what you cannot because you do not have the space/area to be able to grow sufficient grass/forage to keep it in a vegetative state that is optimal for growth.

It is also a great training tool..... our cows come to a bucket when called and the calves (lambs, kids, pigs etc.) learn right along with them. We are the good guys, they get treats that come in those buckets.....Makes catching/loading even having to get an animal caught that is injured or has a problem,,,, soooooo much easier.
 

Ridgetop

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If you have high yielding dairy animals, you are going to have to feed some form of grain.

Remember that in the wild a doe will produce her kids and nurse them for about 2-3 months, with her milk production tapering off as the kids switch to solid food and wean themselves. The remainder of the year she is building her body back up for the next round of breeding and gestating a new set of kids. Wild goats are not high yield milkers. Humans have bred dairy animals to produce more milk than normal for longer than normal in dairy animals for our benefit.

When you are milking for your home (or raising calves or other animals on the milk), you want to keep the amount of yield up as high as possible. After all, why feed and milk a dozen goats that are each giving about 8 ounces a day when you can milk one high yielder that is giving a gallon a day? To get that amount of milk you need to feed grain.

Hay, forage, etc. are all roughage feeds. The goat converts them to energy and calories through the action of her 4 chambered stomach and regurgitating her stomach content to chew again (cud) and remove more nutrition from it. They need roughage for a healthy rumen and healthy goat, BUT they cannot produce enough nutrition, calories, thus energy, from roughage alone IF you are milking them for a 10 month lactation.

You need to grain a milker if you want a steady milk supply for any length of time. Farmerjan is exactly on point with her description of necessary nutrition for dairy animals.

Also, like MisfitMorgan so wisely said, those "non GMA" and "gluten free" labels are mostly for fad labeling. Right now everyone is concerned about "Gluten Free". Very few people actually have a real problem with gluten or even know what it is. For a while it was "red meat will kill you", and eating bacon and eggs was a death wish! Now eggs are healthy again, bacon is not a killer when a part of a healthy varied diet, and even coffee is deemed to be healthy for something or other. LOL

Frankly, as a person who used to milk 12-15 high yield standard size dairy goats every day on test for a 10 month lactation each, let me just say this. Dairy animals are already very labor intensive. You want the most milk for the least amount of labor and cost. Instead of worrying about trying to come up with some fancy feed mixture, a standard goat or dairy cow grain mix will do the trick easily when combined with free feed forage or hay.

"Challenge" feeding on the milk stand will get you the best results when comparing cost to yield. Goats only have trouble with grain and bloating when they don't have the need for the extra protein, or gorge themselves on it.

Thus most cases of bloat occur when a buck, wether, dry doe or kid is fed grain. Those animals do not need any grain at all. Dairy goats only need grain when milking. Small amounts of grain can be used to finish off meat goats. Many owners of pet goats feed grain because they think they have to do it, not because it is necessary. In fact, too much grain and not enough roughage is dangerous.

In male animals, the calcium in alfalfa can cause urinary calculi if the phosphorus ratio is off. This can be avoided by the addition of ammonium chloride to their drinking water if they have problems. I have kept goats and sheep for 30 years now and have never had one instance of urinary calculi although the only hay I feed is alfalfa. I do not add ammonium chloride to their water at all. Perhaps I have been lucky, or it may be that the breeds of goats and sheep I raise have a higher tolerance to excess calcium in the feed.
 

Mini Horses

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@farmerjan has provided a nicely detailed explanation! Forages vary greatly. Supplementation assures nutrition is provided.

You must consider that "wild" isn't the same as years back -- with the civilizing of most areas & chemicals. BUT -- many of the "natural" browse growth can provide varying degrees of protein, sugars, tannins, roughage at different stages of growth. Plus weather affects them, as well as the nutritional content of the soils.. So browsing animals can taste this and eat accordingly -- sometimes not in a good way. LOL As said, nuts, seed, fruits/berries, leaves & bark, even dirt, can supply vit/min/proteins, etc.

As to the fish meal -- more natural than you may first think. All fowl eat bugs, worms, fish, other meats, with gusto!

The type of goats you raise makes a difference in their feed needs -- high producers require more -- like the cattle. Plus many goats can be "milked through", thus not breeding every year. Our own desire for these animals to provide a set quantity, for a set time, demands far more nutritional requirements than just kidding and nurturing their offspring to weaning.
 

misfitmorgan

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If you have full size diary goats that are high producers, I dont think you could do grain free. Even with grain they are as mentioned skeletons for at least 4-6 weeks and even after then only a slightly filled out skeleton. Our goats are free to roam 12 acres and eat anything they like, they have a hay feeder with 1st cut alfalfa and a round bale of 1st cut grass hay, raspberry bushes, acorns, clover, trefoil, 3 acres of bush popular to browse, grass, rhubarb, apple leaves/trees, loose minerals, etc and when in milk they still need grain.

Also for your animal feed you might as well skip the non-GMO part. Non-GMO is just marketing, just like putting gluten free labels on food that is naturally gluten free like oats, rice, beans, eggs, etc. or cage-free/free range on eggs/meat.

FDA and USDA have no real rules against marking any carton "Cage-free" or "Free Range" with no certification for either as long as you dont add the word eggs into either. E.g. "Cage Free Eggs".

For GMO or Non-GMO plants grown commercially...sorry your getting ripped off most of the time. Plants cross pollinate either by wind or insects, so field A is Non-GMO and Field B is GMO which can be literally planted 6 inches apart. They cross pollinate and what do you think they make? Bingo
Yes that just an easy way to say it but go drive anyplace growing row crops that not much different. Fields are often only separated by a road, farm drive, hedge row, tree line, or ditch. Bees alone will travel 2 miles and cross pollinate.
Add the fact that Field A farmer just has to show his receipt that he planted non-gmo seed, so his product is non-gmo no matter what pollinated it.

Dont get to carried away with the fads or labels on things. Also most of the northern states dont actually use Soy for soy because we can't grow it...still labeled and sold as soy though :lol:

The food industry is crazy.
 

misfitmorgan

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I would say coat improvement is from the BOSS, a lot of people feed it just for that reason. Alfalfa pellets would be considered "grain" I would say. Most local (ruminant)grain here includes alfalfa pellets in the mix, the sweet feed we use is mostly alfalfa pellets with a tiny bit of cracked corn and molasses.

I wouldnt worry about making people here mad, we have pretty thick skin. If your semi-grain free herd is working for you that's awesome. Keep in mind to, anyone that recently freshened won't be showing their true calorie needs for a couple weeks, then a couple more weeks before it's really noticeable. Least thats how our goats do it, they look good for a few weeks after they kid but then suddenly your looking at them going wait why are you skinny?? :barnie I would think it would take the same amount of time to see the full effects from taking them off a commercial grain.

We never had a problem with our nigerians or minis but we didnt milk them either. i have heard several people say their nigerians get fat on nothing but grass so maybe their needs are different.

I do know some people with just a dairy cow or two feed nothing on the stand but straight alfalfa pellets and have great results. They are also not demanding top production and pushing for more milk though.

We also only give our goats 1 cup of grain a day. I'm not milking them atm though.

Dont forget loose minerals. That will make a huge different in appearance and milk, as well as they need it.
 
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WildersMilkMaid

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It would be the % of protien....there is much more protien in grain than in forage.....dairy goats need extra protien to produce milk and stay healthy....even meat goats need some while nursing young....goats are also sensitive to excessive protien in their diet and it can cause issues too.....such as ya mentioned "bloat"......grain is not a bad thing, but a very necessary thing for most livestock to be healthy and productive....... :)
Makes sense. I have often thought about the fact that goats in the wild don’t eat grain besides some seed heads in the Fall, and instead stick more to broadleaf grasses and leaves of trees & bushes. Not much grain to be had, yet they produce healthy young. On the other hand, none of us raise wild goats! We have domesticated ones that have been bred to accommodate grain as part of their diet. And wild goats aren’t on demanding milk schedules, of course! Very interesting discussion, thank you.
 

farmerjan

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I am not sure that the gluten in grain is actually translated into the milk but I am not one to say that with authority. It would be something good to look at. There is a grazing magazine(paper) called Stockman Grass Farmer. It is all about growing grass, as pastures/hay you name it. It might be something you want to look at. TSC used to carry it for someone who might want to try it.... they might send a single issue for a price. I am not a goat person.....

I have my "grain" mixtures made custom at a local mill. They use very little "by products" using more all grain type rations. I get the DE put in it, I get the kelp for micronutrients,. Get all our feeds done pretty much custom. We feed a "calf feed: that is a sweet feed 14%, and I get a custom blend of 17% protein pellets and I mix both for the dairy cows that I milk or have calves on the nurse cows. I get the layer mixed custom also because I want the DE in it. 16% layer and they stay fat and sassy and lay good. The meat birds grow good on it without all the leg problems from the higher protein, growing rations that puts the meat on them. The sheep get the same pellets and sweet feed , but again I don't have goats.
 

WildersMilkMaid

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I have a confession, you guys. I didn’t disclose this before cuz I was a little worried you’d all be angry. But hopefully you’ll forgive me for this :)



Part of my herd is actually GRAIN FREE. Before I decided to start milking my goats, I never fed grain except a few handfuls of oats on very rare occasion. I’ve recently added some new goats who have different diets which I’ll discuss below. As for my grain-free herd members, I have 3 Nigerians Dwarf does with free choice hay (whatever grasses are available locally, currently orchard mix I believe) & minerals, plus they get a ration of alfalfa pellets and sunflower seeds (is that a grain? Hmm...) twice daily, on the stand or in the stall, depending if they’re in milk or not.



They are from okay-but-not-amazing dairy lines, and I have a first freshener who had quads and is giving me 1/2 gallon of the creamiest milk ever. She is my most robust goat. She nursed her mom for 17 months 😳😆A second (2F, Twins then triplets) gives me a little less, but even creamier. I’m thinking about getting the milk tested because it’s out of this world. The third (2F, triplets then twins) had a kid on her for 3 months before I began milking her so she gives me about 5 cups daily.



Until very recently, I never had any health issues with these girls. If you saw another thread of mine, I have had a mastitis issue in my herd and these 3 were affected (plus myself!). The “new” goats were not being milked until after the problem was identified so I haven’t had any more spread. As someone kindly said, we all start somewhere, and I learned a big lesson on sanitation and have cleaned things up in a major way. 2 of my grain free girls, I was able to clear up naturally. The third is working her way through a round of antibiotics.



Now onto my “new” Goats, I have a mini LaMancha (pregnant), a 3*M Nigerian Dwarf, an Oberhasli, and a full size La Mancha. All acquired in the last month or so, all in milk except the mini. I thought I would try grain free with them since my original 3 seem to be thriving on it. Slowly weaned them off the grain over the course of 2 weeks just to see how they did.



My mini LaMancha has fattened up (of course, she’s pregnant!) but has also improved her coat. She was not fed much grain by her previous owner and seems to be adjusting fine.



My new Nigerian Dwarf (3F) is only 1.5 weeks fresh but is producing about 10 cups a day. Body and coat have not changed, both were in great condition. She is not thrilled to get up on the stand, but stays there fine. I suspect that has more to do with her not trusting me yet.



The full La Mancha (2F) seems to be adjusting poorly and I have added back grain slowly over the past few days. She had an increase in production but got skinny (and quick!). Probably as many of you were saying, the bigger producers certainly seem to need more calories than what grasses and legumes can provide.



My biggest surprise so far is my Oberhasli (1F). She was near her “peak” when I bought her according to her former owner. She was only producing about 4 pounds a day, approx. 1/2 gallon. Which is why they were getting rid of her. She was not their best Milker. She also had very flaky skin and was quite thin. She was from a quality herd known for taking good care of their animals but the other goats there were pretty thin as well, and I had assumed this was just the body shape of the breed. I switched her over before I did the others, and what a difference! She has fattened up nicely, not “fat” just healthy looking, and stays that way all day! Her skin flakes have disappeared completely and some missing hair on her head has grown back in (I think it was rubbed off on her feed bowl at the previous home). She looks great, but her production increase has been really impressive. From a “near-peak” of 4 pounds a day, she is now producing close to 8 pounds, just under a gallon a day.



I’m obviously going to keep an eye on them to make sure they maintain healthy form and skin, poop, appetites etc. Not afraid to re-introduce grain as needed, as was the case with the LaMancha (her production has dropped now that she is back on grain, by the way!) as their health is my biggest priority. I’ll be switching their grain ration off of pelleted form, however, as my family does not consume soy or commercially processed foods, and we don’t want our animals to either.



As a homesteader/farmer/milk maid etc it is always a learning experience, and I’m open to experimentation and figuring out what works for our family and our animals. Probably the dietary needs change based on breed, as well as the production and season of life as many of you have pointed out. I’ll be sure to share the progress as it goes along for anyone who cares to read :)
 
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