Are Your Goats Getting Enough Protein?

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I occasionally get inquiries from readers wanting to know why their commercial kids do not gain weight very quickly. There are many possible causes for this including genetics, diet, weather, etc. In many of the cases I hear about the poor weight gains seem to be year-round, herd-wide, and are not specific to any subgroup of the herd such as the offspring from a particular herd sire. In a case like that I would tend to lean towards diet as being the primary cause of the problem.

In several of these cases I have been provided with information about the nutritional content of the browse in the form of hay. It is important to remember that if your goats are kept under typical commercial conditions then they are not eating hay, but are eating growing green plants.

Although the protein content of grass hay may range from 8% to 16%, if the goats are grazing, the protein content of their diet will be considerably less because of the moisture content of the grass. To make the math easy, if the grass in your pasture has a 50% moisture content than your goats' diet will actually be 4% to 8% protein.

In most of the cases I have seen, kids have the potential to do better as evidenced by the higher gains observed prior to weaning when their diet was more nutritious. If the weight gains of your kids decrease markedly after weaning, and the decrease is across the board, you should probably suspect their diet as the main culprit.

If you want better gains you will probably have to creep feed your kids, or reseed your pasture with something better for goats like a mixture of legumes, brush, weeds, etc. that will have a higher protein content while green and growing.

Your mature goats can do fine on a diet of 4% to 8% protein because they only require around .25 lbs/day of protein when they are dry, which they can easily obtain from the 7 lbs or so per day they are probably consuming even if it is only 4% protein growing in the pasture.

Kids are a different story. A kid requires about 1 lb of protein to produce 1 lb of gain (feed efficiency varies dramatically depending on the size of the goat with smaller kids requiring less and larger goats requiring more). So if you want your kids to gain .5 lbs/day they need to eat .5 lbs/day of protein. On 4% bermuda they will have to eat 12.5 lbs of grass to grow that fast. Depending on its size, a kid will usually only consume around 4 lbs/day, hence the reason your kids are only gaining about .15 lbs/day.

At the performance test the kids receive a 17% ration, and at weaning age only need to eat about 4 lbs of it to gain 1 lb. Even a weaning age kid can eat this much. As the kids get larger their feed efficiency goes down so at 80 lbs they need almost 6 lbs of 17% ration to gain 1 lb., but at that size they can still easily consume that much.

The answer to your problem is to creep feed the kids with a very high protein feed. I usually supplement the goats in my pasture during the winter with a 37% all natural protein 1/2" range cube (do not use urea in goat feed, it is toxic to them).

If you can get the kids to eat 1 lb/day each of the cubes in addition to 3 lbs of grass you should get around .5 lbs/day of gain from them. The combined protein content of their diet will then be about 12.25% protein. You do not want it much over 17% because goats cannot effectively utilize protein at concentrations much higher than that.

This should be relatively cost effective because the cubes I buy cost about $.11/lb so each lb of gain can be had relatively cheaply compared to the cost of 3-4 lbs per day of a complete 17% goat ration that would be required to obtain the same .5 lbs/day of gain. The supplement method might cost you $.22/lb as opposed to around $.90/lb using a complete ration.

This technique also works prior to weaning, although at that time the purpose is to provide your lactating does with more protein so they can produce more and better quality milk for their kids. The kids will also learn to eat the range cubes or other form of supplement by watching their mothers, and will start to eat it themselves before weaning making for a smoother and quicker transition.

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This page updated 09/16/02

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