Kat’s Corner: Answers about What to Feed Goats
Are Hemlock Weeds Poisonous to Goats? And What Do I Do With That Leftover Hay?
By Katherine Drovdahl MH, CA, CR, DipHIr, CEIT, QTP
Kat’s Caprine Corner answers your pressing goat questions. In this issue: What to feed goats. And will poison hemlock hurt my animals?
Q: I’ve seen conflicting information on if a goat can eat water or poison hemlock. Can they?
A: Yes and No. We are talking about two of the most toxic plants in North America here. While a healthy goat may be able to ingest a little of either of these plants and not have an outwardly visible effect to us, we need to be careful. My very well fed, alternative-raised & cleansed, healthy goats would nibble the very tips of these plants when we lived in Oregon. Not eat them or indulge in them, but only occasionally sample them. My goats had rumens and GI tracts that were operating at high efficiency and were already full on their morning’s hay before they went out grazing and sampling. If a goat is not metabolizing well, is ill or stressed, aged, a kid with an undeveloped rumen, has GI deficiencies or is hungry and eats more than a little, I would expect some problems or worse. This plant will start paralyzing the body internally first by shutting down the nervous system. If I noticed any goat at any level of shutdown, my first course of action would be to get cayenne tincture down them immediately to try to wake up the nervous system. Then I’d put them on a cleansing herb blend to help their body break down and move toxins out of their organs, tissues and bloodstream.
Q: What are other poisonous plants I need to watch out for?
A: There is a very long list of poisonous plants for goats, as well as other livestock, available online. Some of the more common ones include several that are common in landscaping, depending on where you live. Oleander, mountain laurel, rhododendrum, azaelia, lily of the valley, larkspur, delphinium, foxglove, some lupines (blue bonnet), braken or brake fern, many mushrooms, groundsel, tansy, and yew. Yew is so toxic that usually the victim is found dead with the first or second mouthful still in their mouth. Prunus species trees and shrubs are cyanogenic when leaves are in any stage of wilt. Right now, fresh leaves and leaves completely dead do not have the free-forming cyanogenic compounds flowing through them which are responsible for suffocating their victim as the oxygen in the blood stream is tied up. Prunus species include all of the tree/shrub fruits containing pits such as cherry (fruiting, ornamental, choke), plums/prunes, apricots, nectarines, peaches and the like; including wild versions of the above. The largest chance of exposure often is in the fall when leaves start blowing off trees and into pens of greedy goats, who readily consume them.
Q: How do I know if I am feeding my goats enough hay?
A: The general rule of thumb on what to feed goats is that I want there to be a little bit of hay left in their feeders when we are ready to feed them again, assuming that what is left is clean and good quality. We generally feed hay about every twelve hours. If they are consuming all of it, then it’s likely the goats that are lower on the pecking order are not getting enough. If they are leaving a lot of it, first check for quality and cleanliness including absence of mold, dirt and toxic or unpalatable plants. They also will leave most heavy, unconditioned (uncrushed) alfalfa stems.
Q: What do you do with your hay that the goats don’t eat?
A: Assuming it’s otherwise good, clean hay, we most often refeed it. Our hay feeders are made in a way that it’s easy to scoop out the extra hay from the top and toss over the stall wall into a wheelbarrow. Our doeling pen has a feeder that’s easy to scoop out to toss over the stall wall into an alpaca feeder. Other animals we feed/have fed leftover hay and stems to include our horses, cattle, pigs and even poultry. It can also be used as bedding or in compost for your garden or trees.
Q: How do I know what kind of alfalfa hay to get for my dairy or pregnant goats?
A: When I am purchasing alfalfa hay, I am purchasing it to minerally enrich my goats for bone, nerve and muscle development and to provide much-needed minerals, protein and vitamins for growing kids, pregnant and/or milking does and working bucks. I look for high leaf content, low moisture content (18 to 22% is great), good green color (not unicolor, which may have been dyed or food-colored) and fine stems. It is ok if there is some sun bleaching on the outside bales as long as they have not been exposed to rain. I also don’t want the leaves to shatter off the stems when we open a bale or move hay around. A small handful falling off is normal but much more than that is a bale that is too dry and will often fall apart before you can get it to the feeder. I also look for cleanliness regarding what to feed goats. If there are mold smells or colors, or a mold dust, then avoid that hay, as it will toxify the liver of your stock (yes, even cattle) making them more susceptible to reduced productivity and increased health issues. It also can cause birth defects in does that are pregnant when ingesting it or contribute to Listeriosis issues. I generally look for 3rd or 4th cutting hay, but will take an earlier cutting if it meets my specs. Young alfalfa fields will have a fine stem even at first cutting. Do be wary of GMO alfalfa strains, if GMO-free and organic goat milk matters to you.
Q: I’ve heard alfalfa causes urinary calculi. Is that true?
A: I will answer from the Master of Herbology perspective, since alfalfa is a time-honored herb for millennia. In short, the answer is no. Here is why. As a plant eats dirt and rocks it pulls in with its roots, it combines the nutrients it obtains with a carbon atom during photosynthesis. This carbon atom allows every nutrient, including calcium, to be fully absorbable and fully eliminable by the body system. This is not true of rock- or dirt-sourced (including limestone, which is added to most livestock products as “calcium.”) This nonliving source of calcium does not have the carbon atom attached and is not fully eliminable. Thus, over time, the body will stash some that it hasn’t been able to eliminate into strange areas. Liver and gallstones, kidney stones (UC when it gets into the ureter), bone spurs, hardened areas of placentas or brains, and even a calcified throat area I just heard about this week, can be the results of these rock mineral collections. In goats, the most common sources come from well or city water, pelleted or processed feeds and mineral mixes. This is why I stick to whole herbs to provide minerals for my goats, other than sea salt, which is also fully eliminable.
Katherine and her beloved husband Jerry are owned by their LaManchas, horses, alpacas and gardens on a small piece of Washington State paradise. Her varied international alternative degrees & certifications, including Master of Herbology & lifelong experience with creatures of many kinds, give her unique insight into guiding others through human or creature wellness problems. Her wellness products & consultations are available at www.firmeadowllc.com.
Originally published in Goat Journal November/December 2017 and regularly vetted for accuracy.