Lush, Green Grass May Lack Sufficient Nutrients


Lately I have been hearing from a number of commercial producers in the Southeast that one of their biggest problems is that the moisture content of the vegetation in their areas is so high that their goats are practically starving to death because they cannot eat enough to get the nutrients they require. When the first one called I thought he was joking since this problem is just about inconceivable to a rancher in West Texas where most areas average 2 feet or less of precipitation per year, and we haven't even come close to getting that much in recent memory. Then the calls kept coming.

These producers all wanted to know what I recommended they do. My initial thought was, "how the hell should I know, I'd be happy if my pasture was any shade of green instead of the browns (bare dirt and rocks) and yellows (dead plants) I've grown accustomed to the last few years." It was kind of like a rich man complaining to a poor man about the repair bill for his Ferrari.

Then the other day I was out at the ranch admiring how good my does are looking. They look better now then they have in several years. They are filled out, and not only are their bellies full but they have a lot of meat on them as well. Yet if you look at the pasture it is nothing but dried up dead rye grass. The rye grass died back in June and nothing else has grown since then because of the dry conditions. Keep in mind I have not been feeding these animals, with the exception of the youngest kids that have access to a creep feeder.

I got to thinking to myself why do these animals look so good? Then the complaints I had been hearing about overly lush pasture came to mind, and the light bulb went on. These goats look so good because their diet is concentrated. There is almost no moisture in that dry rye grass to dilute the nutrients. I haven't had it tested, but apparently that dry rye grass is reasonably high in protein because my goats have actually been gaining weight eating it.

Those of you in the Southeast who are wondering how this helps you read on. There are many possible solutions to your problems. I will leave it up to you to figure out which ones, if any, are cost effective for your operation since the answer will vary for each producer.

The first suggestion I have is that you determine which times of the year pasture conditions are a problem in your area. Then try to manage your herd so that the times the goats require higher nutrition (breeding and lactation) coincide with periods that your pasture conditions are optimal. The times your pasture conditions are poor should coincide with times that your does are dry and open or pregnant. This may require you to limit your herd to producing one set of kids per year, so you need to compare the lost revenue from the reduced production with the reduced cost of having to feed lactating does and nursing kids during times when the pasture is too lush. One benefit that you should also consider is that for most of you this will mean kidding in the fall, so your kids will be ready for market in the spring when the prices are highest. Depending on market conditions you could receive an extra $.20-$.40 per lb for your kids by doing this.

You may also want to look at the types of plants in your pasture. One rancher was complaining that in the spring his pasture has a lot of clover, and the type of clover he has is almost all water that time of year. The obvious solution to this problem is to eradicate the problem plants, and replant with something that will not cause the problem. Whether this is feasible or not will depend on a variety of factors. How easy is it to eradicate the problem plants? Is there another type of plant that will work better in your area? How expensive will it be to establish the new plants and how long will it take? This is an extreme approach, but under certain circumstances may be your best option. I actually did this on my place last fall since it was becoming infested with prickly pear and mesquite.

Another possibility is for you to cut the pasture and bale it before feeding it to the goats. By doing this you can get the moisture out of the plants and solve your problem. The downside is that goats are notorious hay wasters so you may need to invest in feeders to minimize the waste, and of course there is the added expense of cutting and baling. You will need to balance the costs with the benefits to determine if this will be of benefit to you.

Finally, you could supplement the goats during the times that conditions are a problem. This requires determining what nutrients the animal's diet is deficient in and formulating a ration to correct the deficiencies. As with any of the suggestions listed you need to compare the costs and benefits of doing this with the costs and benefits of your other alternatives to determine what to do.

One or a combination of some of these alternatives should help most producers in the Southeast obtain better production from their meat goats. This isn't a problem I personally have had to deal with, so if someone else has a solution I haven't thought of that has worked well for them feel free to forward it to me and I will include it in a future column.

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This page updated 09/21/01