Feeding is an essential aspect of goat raising and may be the highest expense of any meat goat operation. Goats raised for meat need high quality feed in most situations and require an optimum balance of many different nutrients to achieve maximum profit potential. Because of their unique physiology, meat goats do not fatten like cattle or sheep do, and rates of weight gain are smaller. Therefore, profitable meat goat production can only be achieved by optimizing the use of high quality forage and browse and the strategic use of expensive concentrate feeds. This can be achieved by developing a year round forage program allowing for as much grazing as possible throughout the year.

Nevertheless, many people still believe that goats eat and do well on anything from newspapers to tin cans. Attempting to manage and feed goats with such a belief will not lead to successful meat goat production.


The goat is not able to digest the cell walls of plants as well as the cow because feed stays in their rumen for a shorter time period. A distinction as to what is meant by “poor quality roughage” is necessary in order to make decisions concerning which animal can best utilize a particular forage. Trees and shrubs, which represent poor quality roughage sources for cattle, because of their highly lignified stems and bitter taste, may be adequate to high in quality for goats. This is so because goats avoid eating the stems, don’t mind the taste and benefit from the relatively high levels of protein and cell solubles in the leaves of these plants. On the other hand, straw, which is of poor quality due to high cell wall and low protein, can be used by cattle but will not provide even maintenance needs for goats because goats don’t utilize the cell wall as efficiently as cattle.

Goats must consume a more concentrated diet than cattle because their digestive tract size is smaller with regard to their maintenance energy needs. Relative to their body weight, the amount of feed needed by meat goats is approximately twice that of cattle. When the density of high quality forage is low and the stocking rates are low, goats will still perform well because their grazing/browsing behavior allow them to select only the highest quality forage from that on offer. Thus, they are able to perform well in these situations, even though their nutrient requirements exceed those of most domesticated ruminant species.