Photo provided by Yvonne Zweede-Tucker.
Roughage and why goats like it
by Yvonne Zweede-Tucker
An excerpt from Yvonne's book—The Meat Goat Handbook, Raising Goats for Food, Profit, and Fun
Many meat goat producers have watched in amazement as their goats walk right past the beautiful, dark green hay available to them in the fall and winter and start happily devouring dry, brown grasses or weeds.
There actually is a scientific reason that goats prefer dry forage, and it has to do with slowly digesting carbohydrates (something called lignin) and dietary fiber. Wait! Before you eyes glaze over, there is an easier way to understand why goats eat what they eat.
When I first acquired goats, my mentors told me that goats are "roughage busters." Roughage is much easier to remember than slowly digesting fiber or lignin, isn't it? You will see your goats actively seeking out roughage as part of their diet when adult goats leave the beautiful grass in the pasture to munch twigs or weeds, or a kid, just a few days old, nibbles on a piece of straw or dried grass as it starts eating solid foods, and thereby gives its rumen something to start developing digestive enzymes for. During a cold Montana winter, our goats will happily eat straw in addition to grass-alfalfa hay because as their bodies digest the roughage in straw, they get lots of body heat from the digestion. Alfalfa hay has much more protein in it than straw, but alfalfa is digested much more quickly by the goat and does not yield as much warmth (body heat) for as long a time for the goat. It's like throwing paper on a fire, rather than a log.