This was a question posed by one of our readers a few weeks ago. It's a subject I've often thought about addressing.
A common belief is that goats will eat anything. Many people imagine a goat eating a tin can. I don’t know exactly where that image comes from, but it’s prevalent. A quick Google search brought back tales of goats eating the labels off tin cans because they liked the taste of the glue.
So is it true? Will goats eat anything?
The answer is a definite “no”. At least for our goats. Prior to owning goats I too thought they'd eat anything. I figured that of all the grazing animals (goats, sheep, cows, etc) goats were the least discriminating.
Turns out goats are the MOST discriminating. One of the first things you hear from farmers raising multiple species is that the goats are the hardest to keep in good “body condition”. Goats like to “browse” rather than “graze”, meaning they like to eat at head-height. They also like to eat a wide variety of grasses and forages, easily getting bored with one type of grass and quickly moving on to something else. You can't just plant a bunch of fescue, orchard grass, and other common grasses and get away with it. Goats will do fine, but they won't thrive in that type of pasture management.
That's why, despite low fertility, our "diverse" pastures are perfect for goats. It's a wild territory out there, filled with all kinds of weird stuff. The goats can happily move from one species to another, picking and choosing what they'd like to eat. In fact, when forage specialists from UT have visited the farm they generally say just keep on doing what you're doing. Maybe lime it a little and add in some legumes, but for the most part don't screw up the diversity of forages. Roses, lespedeza, privet, and other less-common "forages" (or "weeds", to some) are natural de-wormers, high in protein, and won't easily die in a drought. They also grow most of the year in Tennessee.
Goats' picky-ness doesn't stop in the pasture, however. They are notorious hay wasters. Sometimes I think more hay ends up on the ground than I put into the bin. It’s as if they take out the hay and fluff it up really nice on the ground so they can lay in it. Hay is for eating, not for bedding, goats!
Another good example of the goats not eating everything is when we change feeds or add something new to their diet. For days they will refuse it. Only after nibbling on it a few times will they really start to believe that it tastes good.
We recently switched to sprouting local, organic grains (wheat, spelt and corn), rather than using the grain from the local feed mill. It's not sweetened with molasses, so it took some cajoling for the girls to give it a chance. Now they gobble it up. The bucks wouldn't eat it for days. I had to hold back hay and force them to eat it before they finally came along.
Our experience is that goats definitely will NOT eat anything.