Feeding your goats this winter

Forages, be that grass silage, hay or haylage, will make up the largest proportion of a goat’s winter diet. With feed likely to be the largest cost on most goat units, making sure forages are high quality, and stored and fed correctly, makes economic sense.

Feeding goats this winter 720

“With forage as the bedrock of many diets, knowing its nutritional content is crucial in order to build a balanced diet that delivers high performance,” says ForFarmers’ Fred Power. “Get ensiled forages analysed, ideally using dry NIR technology, to give an accurate picture of what you are feeding.”

With dry NIR analysis, silage samples are dried overnight to remove moisture before being finely ground, placed in a vial, and scanned at multiple points to ensure the whole sample is analysed. All of these factors improve the accuracy of the final result.

Understanding the analysis

“It is also important to understand the information provided by a forage analysis,” Fred adds. Below are a few of the key terms on an analysis explained:

Dry Matter (DM) (%) - a measure of how dry the forage is. Very wet forages, with low DM values, can mean goats find it hard to get the intakes needed to meet their nutritional needs. Ideally you are looking for a DM value above 25%.

D-value (%) - a measure of feed digestibility.

Metabolisable energy (ME) (MJ/kg/DM) – a measure of the usable energy available to the animal.

Crude protein (CP) (%) – is a measure of the protein content of the feed, but not the protein quality.

pH – is a measure of the acidity of the silage. The target pH will vary on the DM% of the silage but generally less than 3 or higher than 5 suggest poor fermentation in the forage.

NDF (Neutral Detergent Fibre) – is required to promote good rumen function and development. Excess fibre can slow down fermentation in the forage, reducing intakes, while too little fibre can mean to a rapid fermentation, leading to the risk of acidosis.

Sugar (%) - shows the sugar content of the forage. Usually the higher the value, the better.

Ash (%) – a measure of the mineral and trace element content in the forage. Values above 9% may indicate soil contamination and can lead to poor fermentation in the forage. Soil contamination is a particular issue for goats because of the risk of listeria.

Storing your goat forage

“Forages also need to be stored correctly to ensure they maintain their nutritional quality and reach the goats in the best possible condition. Make sure forages cannot be contaminated by pest or vermin and that all feed areas are easy to access and kept clean,” Fred concludes.