Goat farming: nutrition and veld management

Feed and grazing management can make all the difference to a goat farm’s profitability, says Johan Steyn.

Goat farming: nutrition and veld management
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To get your grazing management right, first determine the carrying capacity of your farm. This is how many animals can sustainably graze on a given area of land for one year.

For example, 1:6 means that one mature stock unit (MSU) requires 6ha of grazing. As 1 MSU is equal to 6 SSU (smallstock units), this translates into 1ha/SSU. Determine the carrying capacity for your farm and stay within this parameter. If carrying capacity is exceeded, grazing will be degraded.

The vegetation must be protected from continual grazing so that it can grow, produce seed and establish root systems. Good veld management can significantly increase the carrying capacity of a farm. Managing veld well and keeping it in good condition also reduces rainwater runoff and retains groundwater.

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In turn, the veld will be able to produce a higher volume of dry material (DM) and better withstand drought.

Vegetation in good health grows much faster after a drought or fire than veld in poor condition. Soil cover also improves, leading to lower surface temperatures for seedlings to germinate.

Well-managed veld has a more diverse species composition, reducing the need for expensive supplements as minerals are naturally available and goats browse plants according to their nutritional requirements.

Grazing camps: do your homework
When planning grazing camps, remember that your farm may have a different carrying capacity in each area. The carrying capacity of hills will differ from that of plains or marshes and so on. Be conservative when stocking a new farm. Start off with fewer animals than the official carrying capacity.

Never allow livestock to ‘strip’ a camp. Removing roots or stripping bark off trees irreparably damages the veld. A plant requires leaf growth and root reserves to sustain itself. Consult a pasture scientist to establish the carrying capacity of your farm. ‘Official figures’ may be over-optimistic in some cases due to poor management practices having reduced the carrying capacity.

Supplements may be crucial
Even though natural veld grazing is the cheapest source of feed for any livestock, strategic supplementation may at times be essential for sustained production. An animal nutritionist can help you develop a cost-effective nutritional supplement programmes for specific periods in the production cycle (see table for guidelines).

Bear the following in mind:

  • Smaller portions fed more often are better than large portions fed less often;
  • Never mix old leftover feed with new feed.
  • Clean feed troughs before feeding;
  • Protect rations from rain, especially when they contain urea. Never allow animals to drink urea water; it is toxic to ruminants;
  • Use only fresh ingredients as quality deteriorates over time.

Supplementary Ration Suggestions

Growth rations
  • Used for rounding off show animals, animals to be sold and rapid growth of young animals. Keep feed troughs filled and ensure access to clean water. Feed 60% hominy chop or broken maize, 20% milled hay and 20% growth concentrate.
Pregnant doe ration
  • Fed to pregnant does from six weeks before kidding to four weeks after kidding. Feed +-250g-300g/day/animal: 30% Voermol Maxiwol or Molatek Woolsheep Lick, 40% crushed maize, 10% salt and 20% milled hay.
Creep feed ration for kids
  • Fed to kids from about two weeks of age to help increase average daily weight gain. Feed ad lib: 20% Voermol SS200 or similar, 15% HPK36, 10% molasses and 55% crushed maize.
Lick supplements
  • Green summer pasture generally has a phosphate deficiency. Feed phosphate lick blocks at a rate of one block per 20 animals ad lib.
  • Winter pasture suffers from low protein and energy levels and should be supplemented with protein on energy lick blocks. Feed one block per 20 animals ad lib.
NOTE: each farm may need a different approach – the above are only guidelines. Consult a professional livestock nutritionist for accurate recommendations.

Email Johan Steyn through www.boergoats.co.za.