Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Goats

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This was posted elsewhere. As I recall, it is counter to what I have usually read, but perhaps I am misunderstanding some things.

"actually alfalfa is great for boys - they need the calcium. The best ratio of calcium to phosphorous is 2:1 (more calcium then phosphorous) to keep the chance of stones developing to minimum."

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Oh, my! Well, I don't know what type of nutritional issues that person is dealing with on their farm, but in most cases, no, alfalfa is not good for bucks. We wound up with several cases of zinc deficiency in our bucks the year that I was unable to find grass hay for my boys. If you are in a situation where you have to feed grain for some reason, there is an argument to be made that the calcium in the alfalfa balances out the phosphorus in the grain, but I'm not sure if that really plays in real life or just in the theoretical sense. It was in that very situation that I wound up with several zinc deficient bucks. If you don't want to have stones in your bucks, don't feed alfalfa OR grain, and you should be fine (unless you are dealing with some genetics issues). That's pretty widely accepted.

I'm so glad to have this discussion. I have some young bucks I have had on grain to help them "catch up" and after reading til my eyes bleed about whether or not to give them "some" alfalfa to balance the phosphorous, I did start giving them some of the alfalfa blend I give the girls. Part of this decision is from reading this presentation:

I'm beyond confused about this.

I probably worded that poorly. The info in the slide presentation is pretty standard. If you're feeding grain, alfalfa can balance it.  The bottom line is that you should not feed grain to bucks unless there is a very good reason. If you do feed grain, then you need to do stuff (like feed alfalfa or give ammonium chloride) to avoid stones.

I had never heard of zinc deficiency before we had it here, but it's caused by too much calcium. There is a lot more known about UC in bucks/wethers than zinc deficiency (or any nutritional deficiencies for that matter), but in time, our knowledge of goats will grow. At this time, zinc deficiency is just something to be aware of, if you're feeding alfalfa to bucks. So, if they start foaming at the mouth or blowing their coat in the middle of winter, you'll know they're just zinc deficient and don't have some bizarre disease.

Deborah, how to you keep your bucks in condition in the winter? Mine do eat the timothy pellets and the poor-ish hay I give them too. They were very underfed when I got them and now they are robust. I guess I could drop the 1/4 cup of grain they get twice a day. Thanks for your response. 

I too have questions about grain and bucks.

Our buck is now 5 1/2 months old. We bottle raised him, with approximately 11% of his body weight in milk each day, the milk UHT full cream cow milk. From the 1st week, he had available free choice oaten hay and fully balanced goat grain mix. At about 2 months, we cut the grain to a measured amount morning and night, giving about 1/3 cup each time. We noticed that he left some so we cut down to 1/4 cup morning and night. Recently at 5 months we cut the grain to 1/4 cup per day. At 4 months we switched from oaten hay to clover/rye hay because there is less wastage. (The 4 kids still with us LOVE it!) The buck has free choice minerals and baking soda. He is happy and healthy, though his chief entertainment seems to be head in the hay, eating.

We have kept giving him grain 1) because we thought it helps provide his mineral needs and 2) because he loves! it. OK, he is spoiled, but he is not overweight and is doing so well.

Should we stop the grain completely? Are we doing him no favours? Are we staring at a case of urinary tract problems right in front of us?

We are inexperienced and just want to do the right thing. 

Thanks for the advice,


attached is a photo of him at 5 months.


If your hay is good quality and is available all day, they should not have any trouble maintaining their body condition without grain. Years ago I had horrendous quality grass hay, and I was terrified of giving grain during the winter because of the risk of UC. I had very thin bucks all winter long. Hence, one of my mottos, "Listen to your goats!" The hay that I had back then wasn't good enough to keep my bucks well nourished, but that's part of the individual learning curve. I had no idea what good quality hay was! I thought hay was hay. The grass hay that we have now is actually preferred by most of the animals over the alfalfa, which kind of blows my mind, but it is quite green and beautiful. In more recent years, when the grass hay isn't such excellent quality, I rotate with some alfalfa for the boys. It's not an engraved in stone formula or anything -- just check their body condition regularly and adjust the feed as needed. And since they're so fuzzy, you MUST put your hands on them to determine body condition!

Julia @Woody Glen Farm said:

Deborah, how to you keep your bucks in condition in the winter? Mine do eat the timothy pellets and the poor-ish hay I give them too. They were very underfed when I got them and now they are robust. I guess I could drop the 1/4 cup of grain they get twice a day. Thanks for your response. 

One of my boys is new-- just got him last month. He is 5 months old and only about 25 lbs. I do put my hands on him all the time and my year-old boys too. None of them are thin at all. But I wonder if I should continue grain with the little guy until he catches up? 

Sure wish I could get nice green hay. I drove all the way into south carolina last year to pick up a load of nice green hay but the does turned up their noses at it. I think it was mostly fescue. I had to put it on Craigslist and sell it to a horse farm. So far I have never found any hay that they readily eat. Are they just spoiled brats? If there are some weeds in the hay, they pick through it to eat the weeds but that's all they want of it. The boys aren't nearly so picky.

Michael - I also give my bucks grain.   Very little,  maybe 1/4 cup once a day.    It stops mine from rubbing on me - I tell them to run to their dish and they do - so works for me.   They get a handful of alfalfa every morning too - just a little.  Grass hay always available.    I do put a pinch of ammonia Clor.  on the grain every few days and we have very high acid water -so far no problems.   They stay in good condition.   I used to add AC vinegar to the water but haven't of late.  Just make sure the water is always clean - fresh when I do chores so they drink a lot.   

My bucks get more aggressive if fed I never give it to them..and no grain.

OK, back to alfalfa questions....

We have read a thread on The Goat Spot site about feeding alfalfa to bucks and it seems that there are breeders who feed alfalfa without issues (urinary calculi). 
I raise this again because we have a new batch of kids (5), this time being dam raised. 

I mentioned last year (above) that we have available very good clover-rye hay and the goats have done very well on it. I don't recall the exact amount, but it seems that the hay merchant said that the protein content is around 12.5% The hay merchant also has several other varieties of hay that we switch around to keep the goats happy. We have available alfalfa bales, pure clover bales, alfalfa-clover bales (the goats love, love, love this stuff! and they rarely get it), and bales of a variety of clover here called shaftal which is also known as Persian clover (goats love this stuff too!). Generally, the goats always have available as much clover-rye in their feeder as they want and the pure clover or shaftal are added as treats (but never the alfalfa).
We also had a tragedy of a young doe which died last year at about 3 months age due to what appeared to be a bleeding ulcer. The veterinarian said that he has seen this happen a number of times to young sheep and young goats, particularly if they have been on supplement (pellets) as had our dead doe. We resolved not to give pellets to our goats in the future, especially to our kids, if we did not need to do so.

Our six adult goats (a wether, a buck, four does) have been the picture of health now for the past year, on a diet of hay/hays only (with minerals, seaweed, baking soda free choice). "Don't fix it if it isn't broken."

We now have four first fresheners, two recently kidded (both the first week of August) and two due in four weeks. For the two who are now feeding their kids, we provide all the hay they can eat (and waste) in the form of clover-rye, alfalfa-clover, and alfalfa hay in their feeder. They seem to be doing fine, to the extent that our senior doe Chloe (the doe who never met a food she didn't like) is almost looking as big as before she kidded and her two kids are butterballs. The smaller, younger new mother, Lotte, has triplets and since she is so small (17 1/2 inches at withers) we have started to add pellets (1/4 cup of a mix of pellets & BOSS, morning & night) to her diet to make sure she doesn't waste away though we had determined not to use pellets again. (I suppose we have decided to feed the goat, not the idea.) She is fine and her kids are fine, but nothing like the Chloe's butterballs over the fence in the next stall where their dam gets all nutrition from hay!

The issue is that we have lots of alfalfa lying around, and the other goats, particularly the buck and the wether, also want it whenever they can get it. We have been giving them a bit of the clover hay and "some" alfalfa along with all the clover-rye they want. We had started Chloe and Lotte on alfalfa (few handfuls per day) a week out from kidding and moved up slightly as they got closer to kidding. We will do the same with the two pregnant does.
To repeat, they all get free choice minerals, seaweed and baking soda (though none of them even touch the baking soda much at all).

The boys get are now getting a bit of clean-up duty on the remnant stems etc. of the alfalfa and occasionally sneak a bit more.

This is less of a question than a report of progress, but I will update on how this works and how the limited alfalfa goes with the boys.

Any thought on the alfalfa and the boys would be appreciated.

You hear about so many different management styles because everyone's situation is different, and I'm sure that your situation is even more different, being on a different continent in a different hemisphere and everything. Knock on wood, I've never had a case of urinary calculi. However, I always try to get grass hay to get my bucks through the winter here because both years that I had only alfalfa, my bucks wound up zinc deficient due to consuming too much calcium in the alfalfa. It was pretty scary to see them foaming at the mouth, but the random blowing of the coat when it's around zero degrees outside was the really scary thing. At least no one died, so that's a good thing.

Any tips for improving zinc levels? I think I might be having an issue with this...

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