As a lifelong goat owner, I’ve raised countless happy, healthy kids by following optimal feeding guidelines. There’s much more nuance to it than simply giving them milk. Read on for a comprehensive guide to baby goat nutrition.
Baby goats can start eating small amounts of hay and grain at 1-2 weeks old to aid rumen development. They should be completely weaned by 8-12 weeks of age. The ideal baby goat diet consists of milk, hay, grain, vegetables, and pasture.
Feeding baby goats the right foods at each stage of growth is vital to raising healthy, thriving kids. Keep reading for details on what to feed baby goats from birth through adulthood.
Newborn Kid Goat Nutrition
The first 24 hours are the most crucial for newborn goats. Making sure baby goats ingest adequate colostrum sets them up for lifelong health and immunity.
Colostrum is the antibody-rich first milk produced by does immediately after kidding. It provides vital nutrients and immunoglobulins that protect newborns from disease.
Kids should consume 10-15% of their body weight in colostrum within the first 12 hours. For example, a 5 lb kid needs around 0.5-0.75 lbs of colostrum shortly after birth.
Colostrum can be obtained by:
- Allowing kids to nurse from their dam
- Milking colostrum from the dam and bottle feeding
- Using frozen colostrum from another doe
- Purchasing powdered or frozen colostrum
After the initial critical colostrum feeding, kids should continue receiving colostrum for the first 2-3 days of life.
Milk or Milk Replacer
Once colostrum production declines, does will produce transitional and eventual mature milk to nourish kids. Newborns can continue nursing or be bottle-fed goat milk or milk replacer.
Goat milk provides ideal nutrition and immunoglobulins for proper growth and health. Milk replacers designed for goat kids can be used if goat milk is not available.
Ensure fresh, clean water is always available. Though kids get most of their fluid intake from milk at this stage, providing water encourages consumption.
Kids start nibbling on hay and nibbling their dam’s feed within days of birth. Provide access to a high-quality goat kid hay like alfalfa or grass. Avoid dusty, moldy hay.
Though they won’t consume much yet, early exposure helps rumen development essential for weaning.
1-4 Weeks: Transitioning to Solid Foods
The early weeks are when kids transition from milk to solid foods. Feeding a proper goat kid starter diet during this period sets them up for success.
Milk or Milk Replacer
Bottle feeding or allowing kids to nurse on demand provides necessary protein, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals. On average, kids need 16-20 oz of milk per day. Very small or weak kids may need milk fed in smaller quantities more frequently.
Gradually reduce milk intake as solid food consumption increases.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times once kids are over 1 week old. Provide water in shallow containers to prevent drowning.
High-quality grass or alfalfa hay should be offered free choice. Alfalfa provides more protein and calories for growth. Grass hay is lower in protein but an excellent source of fiber. Provide the best quality hay possible – green, leafy, and mold-free.
Kids will begin to nibble and consume a little hay at this stage. Access allows rumen development as they mimic nibbling behaviors of adult goats.
Introducing grain helps transition kids from milk to solid feed. Provide a small handful of high-quality goat kid grain or pelleted feed once or twice a day. Look for 16-18% protein goat starter feed. Allow kids to consume what they want without over-stuffing.
Allow kids access to pasture or browse (shrubs, trees, weeds) if available. They will start to mimic grazing behaviors. Not much will be consumed yet, but it allows learning and rumen development.
Small amounts of vegetables like carrots, celery, cabbage, lettuce and squash can be offered. Limit high-sugar fruits and vegetables. Introduce one new vegetable at a time to allow adjustment.
4-8 Weeks: Weaning
Weaning describes the process of transitioning kids from milk to solid feed. Gradual weaning beginning at 4 weeks prevents nutritional complications and distress.
Between 4-8 weeks, gradually reduce milk or milk replacer while monitoring weight gain. Spread feedings farther apart and decrease quantities per feeding.
For example, reduce from 4 bottles a day to 3, then 2 over a week or two. Slowly decrease bottle size from 16 oz to 12 oz, then 8-10 oz.
Stop milk feeding completely once kids reach 8-12 weeks or are consuming adequate amounts of solid feed.
Free access to fresh water is even more important as milk intake decreases. Check water multiple times a day.
Quality hay should now make up the majority of the diet. Alfalfa and orchard grass are excellent choices. Hay provides nutrients and promotes rumen development.
Kids will eat approximately 0.5-2 lbs per day depending on weight, breed, and quality of hay. Provide free-choice hay at all times.
Increase grain quantity to 1/2 – 3/4 lb divided into twice daily feedings. Look for a 16-18% protein goat starter grain or pellet. Limit feeding grain high in carbs.
Provide access to pastures, shrubs, saplings and browse. Kids will increasingly forage alongside dams and adult goats as long as parasites are controlled.
Vegetables, fruits and edible garden plants can supplement feed. Introduce new items slowly. Offer 1/2 cup daily for treats, training and supplemental nutrition. Avoid high sugar fruits.
Provide free choice loose goat minerals changed weekly. Goat kids need additional copper and selenium not found in grass.
8-12 Weeks: Post-Weaning
Fully weaned kids rely entirely on solid feed for nutrition and growth. Feed a balanced diet with adequate hay, grain, minerals and fresh water.
Quality grass hay, alfalfa and legume hay should make up the bulk of the diet. Allow free choice feeding for maximum growth.
Feed grain twice per day according to weight and growth needs. Feed 1/4 – 1 lb per feeding based on size, growth rate, and activity level.
Transition from goat starter feed to a 12-16% protein grain mixture. Whole grains are preferable over processed feeds.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Change water twice a day or more in hot weather.
Rotate pastures frequently to provide varied vegetation. Make sure browse trees and shrubs are available for foraging.
Provide supplemental fruits and vegetables to add variation. Introduce new items slowly. Limit high-sugar produce like grapes, bananas and apples to occasional treats.
Continue offering loose goat minerals changed weekly. Never feed sheep mineral mixes.
Monitor growth rates and adjust feed accordingly. Weigh kids weekly and aim for steady weight gain. Consult a veterinarian if kids seem underweight or malnourished. Some major health events like coccidia may require nutritional supplements.
Provide plenty of play structures, toys and social contact for proper emotional and physical development. Kids raised for breeding stock benefit from continued human interaction. Avoid stressful situations like loud noises, predators or isolation.
3-12 Months: Maturing Diet
As kids mature, their dietary needs change. Adjust feed to allow for optimal growth, health and preparation for breeding or production.
Grass hay and alfalfa should remain the bulk of the diet. Avoid low-quality hay. Mature goats need 2-6 lbs of hay per day depending on size, activity level, and production status.
Feed grain according to individual needs and purpose. Limit or eliminate grain for companion or fiber goats.
Bucks, does and wethers being conditioned for breeding or market:
- Feed 0.5-1.5 lbs grain morning and evening
- 14-16% protein grain mix is sufficient
- Increase grain 3-4 weeks before breeding
- Feed high quality 16-18% protein grain mix
- Adjust quantity based on body condition
Clean water must be available at all times. Monitor intake and supply ample, fresh water.
Browse provides essential variety and enrichment. Rotate grazing areas and avoid overgrazing. Separate pastures for bucks or wethers and breeding does for parasite control.
Limit fruit and vegetable quantities to no more than 10% of the diet. Offer for enrichment but avoid overfeeding.
12 Months & Beyond: Adult Diet
At 1 year old, goats reach adulthood and their diet matches the rest of the herd. Tailor feeding programs to activity level and production goals.
Continue feeding free-choice grass or alfalfa hay. Mature goats require 2-6 lbs daily depending on size, activity and milk production.
Analyze hay nutrient levels every 2-3 months. Supplement low-quality hay with alfalfa, grain or concentrates.
Adjust grain feeding levels and protein content to match needs. Limit grain for pets, fiber animals and low-activity goats.
Higher grain quantities are warranted for late gestation, lactation, growing kids or conditioning. Avoid obesity and enterotoxemia from overfeeding.
Fresh, clean water is an absolute necessity. Monitor consumption and supply ample water.
Allow grazing and browsing to supply as much feed as possible. Separate bucks and wethers from does except during breeding. Rotate pastures and avoid parasites.
Treats should comprise no more than 10% of the diet. Avoid feeding large quantities of fruits high in sugars. Limit treats for obese or diabetic goats.
Provide loose goat-specific minerals formulated for your region. Change weekly and offer free choice. Never feed formulas designed for other livestock species.
Monitor body condition and adjust feed to maintain an ideal score. Increase feed for underweight goats. Limit grain and treats for overweight goats prone to enterotoxemia and pregnancy toxemia. Consult a vet if condition deteriorates.
Feed Amount Guidelines
How much should kids and adult goats eat on a daily basis? Use these feeding guidelines as a starting point and adjust according to individual needs.
|Newborn||10-15% of body weight|
|1 week||16-20 oz|
|2 weeks||16-20 oz|
|3 weeks||16-20 oz|
|4 weeks||12-16 oz|
|6 weeks||8-12 oz|
|8 weeks||4-8 oz|
|Birth-4 weeks||Free Choice||Alfalfa or grass|
|1-3 months||0.5-2 lbs||Alfalfa or grass|
|3-12 months||2-4 lbs||Grass hay or alfalfa|
|> 1 year||3-6 lbs||Grass hay or alfalfa|
|1-4 weeks||Handful 1-2x daily||Starter 16-18%|
|1-3 months||0.5-1 lb split feedings||Starter 16-18%|
|3-6 months||1-1.5 lbs split feedings||Grower 14-16%|
|6-12 months||0.5-2 lbs split feedings||Maintenance 14-16%|
|> 1 year||0.5-2 lbs split feedings||Maintenance or custom mix|
- Adjust grain quantity based on size, growth, activity level and production
What NOT to Feed Baby Goats
While baby goats can eat a wide variety of nutritious foods, some items are dangerous and should be avoided.
Milk from Other Species
Feeding milk from other animals like cows or sheep can lead to floppy kid syndrome. The proteins and fats differ from goat milk and may cause nutritional complications. Purchase goat milk replacer if goat milk is unavailable.
Whole grains like corn, barley or oats are difficult for kids to digest. Stick with crimped, rolled or pelleted starter feeds instead of whole grains.
Dog, Sheep or Cow Feed
Do not feed livestock feed designed for other species. Formulas, especially minerals, vary wildly between goats and other animals.
Moldy hay or grain can contain dangerous toxins leading to illness and abortion in pregnant does. Always discard molded feed – do not attempt to salvage good portions.
Ensure kids do not have access to poisonous trees, shrubs, or flowers. Common poisonous plants include rhododendron, azaleas, nightshade, hemlock, larkspur and milkweed. Remove or fence off toxic plants.
Medicated chicken feed can contain coccidiostats that interfere with coccidia immunity in goats. Never allow access to any feed medicated for other species.
Abrupt Diet Changes
Sudden large dietary changes can disrupt delicate gut flora and cause upset. Transition kids and adults gradually when introducing new grains, hay, or supplements.
With proper nutrition tailored to their age and production needs, your kids will grow into healthy, productive herd members. Following these feeding guidelines provides the building blocks for robust development and long goaty lives. Let me know if you have any other questions in the comments!