Tips for Flushing and Other Strategic Weight Gain
At different points in a goat’s life, you may find that you will need to alter their diets to increase their weight (flushing).
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If you keep goats, at some point or another, you’ll encounter a “difficult keeper” or a circumstance where you’ll need to manage an animal’s weight. The proper conversion of feed into the desired fat or muscling doesn’t always come easily, especially when dealing with mature animals.
At different points in a goat’s life, you may also find that you will need to alter their diets to either increase their weight or maintain it according to the situation or goals. An excellent study point for this would be strategic weight gain around the breeding season — also known as “flushing” for does and even bucks. However, the same principles can be assigned to weight gain for other reasons, such as recovering from heavy lactation or prepping for maintenance during winter weather.
Foundation for Weight Gain
The first step in developing a plan for weight gain is knowing your animal’s current body condition score (BCS) and what you’d like that score to be. There are many great resources online to help determine your animals’ BCS, but it may take some time to get the hang of it. When first scoring your animals, sharing photos with an experienced goat person may be helpful for their insight.
The BCS runs on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being an emaciated animal (virtually no subcutaneous bodyfat) and 5 being one that is clinically obese (lots of excess fat cover). Looking at key features like the ribs, spine, hook, and pin bones can help visually pinpoint where an animal will fall on this scale.
A healthy goat should be somewhere in the middle of the scale, usually around a 2.5 in most ideal circumstances. However, that might differ depending on a particular animal’s type, function, and stage in production. For example, a high-producing dairy doe in the middle of her lactation can still be quite healthy yet fall on the leaner side of this scale, and a meat kid nearing harvest weight will skew heavier.
When it comes to breeding season, both bucks and does should be at a healthy weight plus a bit of additional fat to accommodate the demands of reproduction. This is where many breeders practice seasonal flushing.
The term “flushing” comes from the practice of embryo transfer, where a doe is superovulated via hormone therapy to produce multiple eggs at once. However, this can also be done naturally, to a much lesser extent, by optimizing nutrition going into breeding.
At the start of the breeding season, a BCS of 2.5 to 3 is ideal for bucks and does to perform optimally. Maintaining this condition before and after breeding will help ensure optimal fertility and successful conception with healthy embryos after that. It is said that when done properly, flushing can increase a kid crop by 10-20%.
It’s All About Strategy
Putting additional weight on animals takes a bit of nutritional-know how. It is easier for some animals than others to quickly gain (and maintain) weight. As ruminants, it’s important that weight gain is always mindful of the digestion process and respectful of the rumen’s microbiome so as not to cause serious gut issues.
The flushing process should start well in advance of the intended breeding date. This usually coincides with a doe (if you’re milking or she’s nursing) being late in her lactation cycle or dry, which makes it easier for her to gain weight as she will be putting less energy into production.
Before moving to grain or supplements, examine the forage quality and quantity you offer to animals ready for flushing. Hay and pasture are an important baseline for gauging how much concentrate supplement you should provide, and high protein forages are essential for weight gain. Note that cool-season grass varieties tend to meet this better than warm-season ones.
However, even with using forages, exercise some caution. Michigan State University Extension cautions against using fresh, legume-based pasture for flushing purposes. These include pastures heavy with alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, and different clovers because these varieties can interfere with a doe’s natural estrous cycles due to containing estrogen-like compounds.
Some animals will gain quite well just on a forage boost, but others may still need additional help. A great way to do this is supplementing a grain ration with a high-protein source such as soybean hulls, distillers’ grains, wheat middlings, molasses, black oil sunflower seeds, or a specialty goat supplement. Supplementation is often more cost and time effective than a straight increase in grain rations.
Recommendations from experienced goat owners can help determine the best method for your herd. You can also discuss with a ruminant nutritionist to find the most cost-effective way based on your region.
Remember that grain should never exceed over 10% of an animal’s diet as a rule of thumb. In many cases, it could easily be 5% or less and still promote healthy weight gain if you provide adequate protein-dense forages.
The only way to ensure a diet improves weight is to do regular weigh-ins (done with a tape or scale) every week or every other week. Be as consistent as possible and have an estimated goal in mind but don’t be surprised if some animals seem to put weight on significantly faster than others.
Also, be mindful of your feeding methods. If you have some more timid animals and not enough room at the feeder, you may find that your efforts aren’t working. Pay close attention to group feeding habits. If there seems to be anyone that continually gets pushed out, it may be time to increase feeding space or separate them for an individualized approach.
Feeding and putting on weight can be among the trickiest aspects of goat management. Remember, even with the best nutrition, gains don’t happen overnight, and it will take some patience.
Goats. (2019, August 14). Goat flushing meat goats. Goats. Retrieved from https://goats.extension.org/goat-flushing-meat-goats/
Sheep & Goats. 2022. Flushing small ruminants for a higher ovulation rate. Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/flushing-small-ruminants-for-a-higher-ovulation-rate
Originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.