Nutrient Requirements

Nutrients are substances that aid in the support of life for the animals. Meat goats require nutrients for body maintenance, growth, reproduction, pregnancy, and production of products such as meat, milk and hair. The groups of nutrients that are essential in goat nutrition are water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. The nutrient requirements of bucks, young goats and does with a high production potential and at various stages of development and production are shown in Table 1. These nutritional requirements have been calculated to be met on a daily basis. Weanling goats, followed by does during the last month of gestation and high lactating does, and yearlings, require a higher quality diet than average lactating does, adult bucks and dry does. In order to feed them adequately, animals should be grouped according to their nutritional needs. Therefore, wealings goats, does during the last month of gestation, high lactating does and yearlings should be grouped and fed separately from the rest of the herd having lower nutritional needs. In a grazing situation, animals having the highest nutritional requirements should have access to lush, leafy forage or high quality browse. In a barn feeding situation such as during some winter months, these same animals should be offered the highest quality hay available. Whether grazed or barn fed, goats should be supplemented with a concentrate feed when either the forage that they are grazing or the hay that they are fed do not contain the necessary nutrients to cover their nutritional requirements. Total digestible nutrients (TDN), which are a measure of energy and quality of feeds, are shown in Table 1. To give producers an idea where these requirements fall, low quality forages contain 40-55% TDN, good quality forages contain from 55 to 70% TDN, and concentrate feeds contain from 70 to 90% TDN.


Water is the cheapest feed ingredient. However, production, growth and the general performance of the animal will be affected if insufficient water is available. Water needs vary with the stage of production, being highest for early lactating does, and during times when the weather is warm and forages are dry. In some instances, when consuming lush and leafy forages, or when grazing forages soaked with rain water or a heavy dew, goats can get all the water they need out of the feed. However, water is almost always needed by some members of the herd such as lactating does. Because it is difficult to predict water needs, goats should always have access to sufficient high quality water.


Energy comes primarily from carbohydrates (sugars, starch and fiber) and fats in the diet. Bacteria that are present in the rumen of goats ferment sugars, starches fats and fibrous carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids. These acids are absorbed and used for energy. Fat is efficiently used for energy, but the amount that can be included in the diet is limited. Usually added fat should not represent more than 5% of a diet because it depresses ruminal fermentation. For example, if whole cottonseed is used as a supplement, it should not be more than 20% of the diet because whole cottonseed contains 25% fat. Whole cottonseed also contains a good level of protein and phosphorous, and at 0.5 to 1.0 lb per day makes an excellent supplement to low quality forage. If the diet consumed by goats contains an excess of energy, that extra energy can be stored in the body as fat, mainly around certain internal organs.


Protein is usually the most expensive component of the goat diet. Protein is required both as a source of nitrogen for the ruminal bacteria and to supply amino acids for protein synthesis in the animal’s body. When the levels of protein are low in the diet, digestion of carbohydrates in the rumen will slow down and intake will decrease. Inadequate levels of protein in the diet can affect growth rate, milk production, reproduction and disease resistance negatively, because insufficient amino acids are getting to the intestines to be absorbed by the body. Unlike energy, excess of protein is not stored in the body of the goat. Therefore, it is important to feed enough protein to cover the nutritional requirements of the animal. Protein nutritional requirements vary with developmental and physiological stages and level of production (Table 1).


Goats require many minerals for basic body function and optimum production. Providing free choice a complete goat mineral or a 50:50 mix of trace mineralized salt and dicalcium phosphate is advisable under most situations. Major minerals likely to be deficient in the diet are salt (sodium chloride), calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. Most forages are high in calcium, so calcium is low only if high grain diets are fed, which would be unusual for goats. Low quality, weathered forages will be deficient in phosphorous, especially for high and average lactating does. The ratio of calcium to phosphorous in the diet is important and should be kept about 2:1 (Table 1). Grass tetany can occur when goats in early lactation are grazing lush, leafy small grain, annual ryegrass of grass/legume pastures. Under those conditions, It is advisable to provide a mineral mix that contains 5 to 10% magnesium.

Trace minerals likely to be low in diets are copper, zinc and selenium. Selenium is marginal to deficient in all areas of North Carolina and most of the Southeast, and many commercial trace mineralized salts do not contain it. Trace mineralized salts that include selenium should be provided to the goat herd at all times. Producers should make sure that the trace mineralized salts they buy contain selenium. In case selenium is absent, they should encourage their local feed store to include it in the mix or to order trace mineralized salts that contain selenium.


Vitamins are needed by the body in very small quantities. The vitamins most likely to be deficient in the diet are vitamin A and D. All B and K vitamins are formed by bacteria found in the rumen of the goat and are not considered dietetically essential. Vitamin C is synthetisd in the body tissues in adequate quantities to meet needs.

Vitamin A is not contained in forages, but carotene found in green, leafy forages is converted into vitamin A in the body. In addition, vitamin A is stored in the liver and fat of goats during times when intake exceeds requirements. Goats consuming weathered forages or forages that have undergone long-term storage should be fed a mineral mix containing vitamin A, or should receive vitamin A injections.

Vitamin D may become deficient in animals raised in confinement barns. Animals should have frequent access to sunlight because it causes vitamin D to be synthesized under their skin, or they should receive supplemental vitamin D. Good quality sun-cured hays are excellent sources of vitamin D. A deficiency in vitamin D results in poor calcium absorption leading to rickets, a condition where the bones of young animals and joints grow abnormally.