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Pasture Feeding

Pastures are very important for keeping the costs of raising goats down. During a normal year we feed very little purchased feed from April through December. We purchase all of the hay we feed. In January and March our goats receive about 50% of their nutrition from purchased feed and hay, the balance from pasture. In February they receive all of their nutrition from purchased feed and hay. During droughts or cooler than normal winters we have to feed more. In north centralArkansas the two pasture plants with the longest growing season are fescue and white clover. While sprouts are great for goats they have the shortest growing season (5 months) of anything a goat will eat, and they will not survive more than three years in a permanent goat pasture. Some have suggested that permanent sprout pastures could be maintained for goats by rotational grazing. The problem with this theory is that the leaves on sprouts wax over shortly after they emerge and after waxing over they have very little nutritional value. To keep sprouts nutritious throughout the growing season they must be grazed constantly.

Research done at Langston University in Oklahoma, at the Dale Bumpers USDA Research Station in Arkansas, and at Heifer Project international in Arkansas has shown that Serecia Lespedeza and Chicory help control Internal parasites (stomach worms) in goats. Based on our experience we believe that Hop Clover, Korean Lespedeza, Crab Grass, Green Pine Needles, and Acorns also help to control worms in goats, but scientific data is not available on these plants. We are sure that there are many other plants out there which we do not know about, that help with parasite control. Goats will eat these plants readily but only Hop Clover, Crab Grass, and Acorns will survive in a heavily stocked goat pasture. Since cattle do not eat many of these plants running both cattle and goats together is a good way to insure the survival of these plants and to reduce parasite problems in both the cattle and the goats. Internal parasites that infect cattle will not infect goats and those which infect goats will not infect cattle. Research done by researchers at Fort Valley State University Louisiana State University, the Dale Bumpers USDA Research Arkansas, and Auburn University, show that sericea lespedeza hay is also an effective wormer for goats. Back in the 1960’s when we first moved to northern Arkansas some of our neighbors who had milked goats in the 1940's and 1950's claimed that one could not keep goats healthy without sericea lespedeza hay. Back then little was known about internal parasites in goats and no effective worm medications were available. In the late 1960’ we found that our dairy goats seemed to milk better on sericea lespedeza hay and hop clover hay than they did on alfalfa hay.

As mentioned earlier common sericea lespedeza will not survive when grassed intensively. Auburn University and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station have recently released a new variety of sericea lespedeza called AU Grazer. AU Grazer can tolerate grazing or frequent clipping and has thinner and more pliable stems. This variety can make young, tender, and more nutritious forage available to animals, with less likelihood of loosing the stand from over grazing. However, we have not had an opportunity to try it under our pasture conditions. Sericea lespedeza has also been found to reduce methane emission in goats 30 to 57% depending on how it is measured.

Fescue toxicity caused by a fungus (entophyte) which infects the fescue, causes poor condition and health problems in goats. Goats and cattle react very differently to fescue toxicity. With cattle it is a problem during hot summer weather. Since goats will not eat toxic fescue when there is anything else for them to eat, fescue toxicity is a bigger problem for goats in the winter when fescue is the only grass available for them to eat. There are varieties of fescue that are entophyte free, but these varieties are not hardy and do not produce well. A new variety of fescue called Max-Q has an entophyte that is non toxic and this variety is very hardy and produces very well in north central Arkansas. All of our pastures have Max-Q fescue and we like it very well. We believe it is the hardiest most productive grass one can grow in this area, and our goats do very well on it. This variety is patented, and the seed is marketed by Pennington seed. The seed is very expensive, but it is worth the extra money. Once established Max Q fescue is permanent, and very hardy. It will save money on purchased feed for many years. It will also make money through improved animal health and increasd production. The fungus is only spread through the seed. Do not let your goats travel between fields that have toxic fescue and fields that have non-toxic fescue, when the fescue has seed on it. Do not feed any hay that has toxic fescue seed in it. The toxic fungus can pass through the digestive tract of goats and infect clean fields if the goats eat any contaminated fescue seed.

For forty years we had over-seeded our pastures with ladino or regal varieties of white clover. We have had to do this every 2 to 3 years because white clover does not last very long in our climate. We had also over-seeded our pastures with Korean lespedeza each year to provide a high protein legume in the hot summer months when regal and ladino clovers go dormant. Two years ago we tried a new variety of white clover called Durana. It is much hardier than Regal or Ladino and does not go dormant during the hot summer months. Thus, we no longer over-seed with Korean Lespedeza. The Durana clover has gotten thicker and produces better each year since we first planted it. It also does well on poor or acid soils where Regal and Ladino will not grow. It will even grow well when over-seeded on well established Bermuda grass. Durana white clover is also patented and marketed by Pennington seed.

In the winter fescue uses sugar as anti-antifreeze making it very palatable for goats. Durana white clover also produces better than Regal or Ladino in the winter.

We try to keep about one fifth of our pasture in Bermuda grass. It is best used on steep south slopes where fescue does not do well. Bermuda grass must be kept short or the goats will not eat it. The fall rain usually brings on new lush growth of Bermuda grass which is freeze dried into standing hay by the first frost at its ideal stage of growth. Goats will eat this standing Bermuda hay up to the end of December.

Goats must have a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio in their diet. Grasses and legumes have a much higher Ca:P ratio than this. Cattle which are natural grassers can tolerate this higher Ca:P ratio, but goats which are natural browsers can not tolerate a high Ca:P ratio. Goats will not do well on grass/legume pastures unless they are fed a high phosphorus cattle mineral (12% Ca & 12% P) free choice. They will balance their own Ca:P ratio. If they are eating a lot of sprouts they will eat very little mineral. If they are eating grasses and legume they will eat more. Goats will not eat any white clover if they do not have a high phosphorus mineral free choice. Do not use sheep mineral for goats because it does not have enough copper for goats. Do not feed goat mineral to goats because it is too expensive and if the goats are on pasture or hay it does not have enough phosphorus.

Do not feed goats any feed that has the word goat or horse on the bag because it is too expensive. Cattle feeds work well for goats.

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