Backyard homesteaders are amazing at space usage – especially if they have a small yard. And we’re experts at keeping compatible livestock in the same space. But then we have to deal with the next steps of the animals getting into each other’s feed. In the case of keeping goats with chickens, can goats eat chicken feed?
In general, goats should not be allowed to eat chicken feed as it can disrupt their rumen’s flora and cause bloat if eaten in large amounts. Even so, goats enjoy eating chicken feed and will find ways to gain access to chicken feed kept in a shared area. Keep chicken feed out of shared areas.
Goats are pretty persistent animals, and as such, they love to have their way. That especially becomes a problem when they have chickens as their yard mates. They love to sample other feeds and enjoy the thrill of consistent chewing. Hence, they are always in the chicken coup trying to steal a bite or two(or twenty) of chicken feed.
Goats Should Not Eat Chicken Feed
Goats and chickens are two very different species of animals, and as such, their feed and nutrient requirements differ. However, this does not deter a goat from stealing into your chicken coop to help itself to chicken feed.
- Chickens are omnivores who will eat meat, plants, or whatever they can catch. Their commercially formulated feed is made to reflect this. As such, it is usually higher in whole grains, proteins, and nutritional concentrates. The commercial feed may be formulated to be 16-20% protein by total weight. In case you were wondering if chickens will catch and eat mice? The answer is yes – and I’ve got a whole article you can read about that if you’re curious. It’s a fun read!
- Goats are herbivorous ruminants, meaning they need grass, hay, and foliage. Their fiber-rich diets go through the rumen and multiple stomachs in order to pull every ounce of energy and nutritional value from the fibrous plants.
What happens when the goat feeds on foods higher in proteins, grains, and concentrates than they’re used to? The short answer is this: it can cause bloat. Even in small amounts. In large enough amounts, the bloat can lead to death.
But let’s take a step back and explain why that is. Well, first you have to understand what the rumen is. The rumen is a slightly alkaline part of the goat’s stomach that houses a high load of beneficial bacteria that help in the fermentation process of rumen digestion. However, when the goat eats a high load of concentrates (in this case, the chicken feed) then the rumen becomes acidic.
The rapid change in overall pH and acidity causes the rumen’s microbes to die. When this occurs, the acidic content of the rumen causes gas accumulation and rumen stasis, and the result is bloat.
Bloat is the accumulation of gas in the rumen and can be fatal in ruminants if you do not relieve the bloat as soon as possible. Therefore, it would be best if you put measures in place to prevent your goats from consuming chicken feed.
However, goats will try to get to the chicken feed – even if you put it where you don’t think they can get to it. After all – it’s got delicious grains in the formulation. And goats love grains!
Will Chicken Feed Kill a Goat?
Chicken feed does not contain any ingredients that are immediately lethal to goats. However, when the goat gorges itself on the chicken feed, it can cause diarrhea and bloat. Diarrhea and bloat could eventually lead to dehydration and, consequently, death.
If your goats are only getting small amounts of chicken feed and are used to it, then they may be just fine. Just be sure to leave out baking soda and goat minerals so that your goats have that on-demand to help self-manage the mild bloat.
But if your goats get a huge amount of chicken feed all at once and aren’t used to it? That’s when there’s a real danger from bloat. That’s when you’ll want to isolate your goat so you can control what they have access to – in terms of both food and water.
Feeding the bloated goat water will only worsen its condition. That is because concentrates like corn imbibe the water and swell. Thus, it is best to call your veterinarian before the situation escalates. Another downside to bloating in an animal is that the rumen presses on the lungs and decreases respiratory rate, leading to death.
Therefore, while the chicken feed is not directly hazardous to your birds, it begins a cascade of events that may lead to fatality if there is no intervention – both from you in changing up how the feed is available and from the veterinarian to treat the bloat and immediate health issues.
In all of my research talking to goat owners and my personal experience with goats eating chicken feed, death from eating chicken feed is relatively rare. This speaks more to the quality and care from owners than anything else, though. Prevention really is the key thing.
What Should You Not Feed Goats?
Goats are ruminant animals and require more fibrous meals than concentrates for normal body functioning. Therefore, you should avoid the following meals in the feed plan for your goats.
Goat feeding tip #1: Avoid feeding goats excessive grain
Although goats require little grain or nutritional concentrates (think micronutrients like minerals and vitamins) in their diet, a rapid introduction of a large amount of grain to a goat whose previous meal plan has solely consisted of fibrous feed can get you into trouble.
You will have to battle with grain overload, which presents in the goat as bloat and diarrhea. There will be lactic acid production in the gut that promotes acidosis and may cause weakened respiration. Diarrhea causes loss of fluid and electrolytes.
The goat may suffer from hypoxia due to low oxygen circulation in the blood, dehydration, and consequently death if you do not seek veterinary assistance.
Goat feeding tip #2: Avoid feeding goats animal products
Goats are pure herbivores, and so eat vegetation. Feeding animal products such as meat, butter, eggs, and fish to goats in their meal does not benefit these animals. Their digestive system can convert forage into volatile fatty acids from which they derive energy to function.
Hence, a farmer should resist the urge to introduce animal products into the goats’ meal plan.
Goat feeding tip #3: Avoid feeding goats too many minerals and vitamins
It is imperative to provide mineral salts to ruminants. This helps to compensate for the mineral deficiency in their grass or hay feed. The right quantities and mixtures are available as salt licks or on-demand loose minerals. However, avoid feeding an excess of one mineral type to the goats to prevent mineral toxicity.
Some minerals that prove to be toxic to goats include copper and lead. These can cause fatality in your herd, especially if there is a contamination source in your yard from battery leakage or paint. A goat that is deficient in any mineral is prone to pica.
Pica is that strange phenomenon where you’re so low on various minerals and micronutrients that you eat non-food items. Or lick them. This is in an attempt to get the deficient nutrient up to normal levels, but it usually backfires.
Pica causes goats to lick strange objects such as soil and paint to compensate for the absent vitamin. Although this may work, the indiscriminate licking of these objects predisposes your goats to poison and toxicity. Hence, it is necessary to work with the veterinarian when creating a goat meal plan.
Instead, give your goat the right kind of minerals. Most feed stores sell pre-formulated goat-specific mineral supplements. Just don’t forget to restock when you run out – these are meant to be consumed on-demand.
Goat feeding tip #4: Avoid feeding goats other animal feeds and/or known poisons
In general, only feed a food that’s for an animal to the animal that it’s for. So only feed goats goat feed. Or only feed cat food to cats.
- Dog or Cat Feed: These animals are carnivores, and their feed requirements vary significantly from that of goats. Therefore, avoid throwing out the remnant of pet feed to your goats. That may seem like a safe bet in preventing wastage, but the consequences may be dire. If you have to use the old cat or dog food, feed it to your chickens instead. Just make sure it’s safe for them first.
- Plant Containing Oxalates: These plants include holly trees and bushes, kale, palm leaves, peaches, deadly nightshade plant, rhubarb leaves, and many others. These plants cause severe colic or stomach pain to goats and should not be part of their feed plan.
- Potatoes: Most goats will refuse to eat potatoes unless there isn’t any other feed option. That is because potatoes contain toxins and various nutrients that goats are unable to digest. Hence, potatoes also cause colic in goats.
- Bird Feed: This compromises various combinations depending on the bird in question. However, most bird feeds include berries and fruits, as well as nuts. These may be harmful to the goats, especially combinations that include wild cherries, milkweed, and avocado. Some bird feeds are also heavy in grains, which can also cause goats to have colic.
Important note: the digestive systems of goat kids are not as developed as that of adult goats. Improper feed can have much worse consequences for kids than for adult goats. Hence, you must take care to ensure that you provide suitable feed for your goats – and most especially for kids.
What Is the Best Feed for Goats?
Contrary to popular opinion, goats do not eat everything! Goats, just like other animals, have specific feed requirements that include most types of grass, foliage, and other plants.
Goats love eating low-growing shrubs and grasses
Goats are browsers and love to feed on shrubs, leaves of low-growing trees, and grass. Unlike cattle, they do not uproot these from the root. Instead, they browse through the top.
Your pasture must contain grass species that are palatable and also digestible. That will aid feeding and conversion of feeds to muscle mass or animal products. Grass species that are palatable to goats include Bahiagrass, Sudan grass, millet, clover, and grain grass mixtures.
These grasses are suitable material for browsing during the spring and summer seasons, and you can convert them into hay for the winter when there is bound to be a scarcity of fresh grass.
Hay and silage are great goat feed options
Hay and Silage: Fresh grass and leaves will not be bountiful all year round, and even if they are, some days will be too cold to let the goats out to forage for themselves. Therefore, you must make plans for how to feed your herd all year round.
Grass that has undergone processing either as hay (dried grass) or silage (grass that has undergone unique anaerobic fermentation) can stay in storage for long periods and serve as feed for the goats during the long winter periods.
Hay is an excellent feed option during winter because it is a cheap source of nutrition and can carry the goats through the winter periods with appropriate storage. Hay is fit for consumption when there is no mold or fungal growth on it.
Grasses that serve as raw material for palatable hay include alfalfa, which is a source of extra protein for your goats, vetch, clover, and soybean plant.
Goats love grains – but keep them as a rare treat
Grains or Concentrates: Small quantities of concentrates help increase the palatability of goat feed, which is especially important in dairy goats because it improves milk production. However, it is vital to remain conscious that high levels of concentrates predispose your goats to bloat, which is detrimental to their health.
Goat kids do not tolerate concentrates, but you can introduce concentrates in their feed, as they get older, from about six months of age. Constituents of goat concentrates include rye, oats, moil, barley, and corn. And these can come as a whole, pelleted rolled, or texturized feed.
Goats need vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamins are essential in goats for several functions that include immunity, clearance of free oxygen radicals, and minerals that perform various homeostatic functions in the body, such as regulation of the sodium-potassium balance, bone formation, and hematopoiesis.
Some sources of vitamins and minerals include apple cider, which is rich in vitamins and minerals. It is highly acidic, and so you should add only a tiny quantity of this to feed or water.
Black sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, which aids in heart function and immunity. The goat’s digestive system produces Vitamin B12 as a by-product of digestion. That is useful in erythropoiesis.
Probiotics help goats be healthier and happier
These are live bacteria that are beneficial to the animal and competitively inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Including this in your goat feed is helpful as it improves the rumen’s ability to digest meals and increases milk production in dairy goats.
Consult with your veterinarian throughout all steps of goat production to maximize profitability and reduce management costs due to pests, diseases, and malnutrition. With such a wide array of options to choose from, why go for chicken feed.
Frequently Asked Questions about Goats’ Diets
In my research and experience with goats, I’ve found a few more questions that get asked an awful lot about goats. Some are just about goats – some involve chickens. But they’re all asked a good bit, so let’s get them answered here and now. And if you’ve got a question that I didn’t cover? Please contact me – and let me know what it is. I’d love to get it answered – both via email and by adding it here for when someone else has the same questions.
Can Goats Eat Boiled Chicken?
Goats are herbivores with a four-compartment stomach. Their digestive system has an intricate design that can turn the cellulose in plants into all food classes that their body needs to function effectively. And although goats are keen animals that like to try their palate on new foods, boiled meat should be outside the limits of their curiosity and feed regimen.
Hence, you should not introduce boiled chicken into the feed plan of your goat herd. More extensively, meat, fish, and animal products should not be part of your goat’s meal plan.
Do Goats Eat Chickens?
Some people have reported seeing deer eat small birds. And since deer and goats are so alike in their behavioral patterns, it is possible to believe that goats can eat chickens, especially young chicks.
In fact, there’s a (very disturbing) video on YouTube of a goat eating baby chickens (chicks). For obvious reasons, I won’t be embedding that here – I sure don’t want to terrify my own children, let alone yours. But if you’d like to see the proof, then know that this link will take you to YouTube to see that video.
However, this isn’t a norm and is likely the result of pica appetite due to a serious nutritional and mineral deficiency. Most often, this occurs when there is calcium deficiency. In such instances, when a goat gets to taste a chick, it goes looking for more. Again, this isn’t a common occurrence. But it has happened enough times to have been filmed at least once.
If you notice this behavior in your goat, seek immediate help from a veterinarian. It is important to always involve your vet in managing your herd to minimize losses and improve the productivity of your livestock.
Again, goats don’t usually eat chickens – or chicks. Goats and chickens can usually cohabitate nicely when you put measures in place to prevent mishaps. These will cost you time, money, and sometimes comfort. However, making provisions for traditional barns for the goats and coups for your chickens and providing the appropriate feed for all animals in the yard will lead to fewer scuffles and increased productivity for all animals.
Be sure to include the veterinarian in your farm management practices and alert them when there are behavioral or physical changes in your animals. That will save you from a whole lot of loss and stress!
Key Takeaways on Goats, Chicken Feed, and Animal Diets
In my experience, goats eating chickens wasn’t the concern. My chickens were just as likely to charge a goat who got too close as the goat was to go say hi to the chicken. They have fun together. 🙂
However, what is a concern is the goats eating chicken feed. My goats love chicken feed. They’re able to squeeze in through a small opening in the covered run (that’s maybe 6 inches wide by 12 inches tall) to access the chicken feed. They’ve learned how to nuzzle the rod that releases chicken feed so they can just sit there and eat it up as it drops out of the five-gallon chicken feed bucket.
So if you’ve got goats and chickens who share space in your backyard homestead, know that they will be able to get to the chicken feed. And they will get to it and eat it. The only way to keep goats out of chicken feed is to keep your goats and chickens separate.
But, turnabout is fair play. Because the chickens will totally eat the goat hay pellets, too. After they’ve been crushed and are smaller, of course.
However, if you can minimize the amount of chicken feed your goats eat (and manage any bloat symptoms while they’re getting used to eating the chicken feed), then it’s likely not a huge issue. The trick will be making sure it’s only a small amount of chicken feed being eaten by goats!
I would also make sure that your veterinarian knows what your goats are up to, though. And I’d heed any advice they give you. In the meantime, come hang out with us on YouTube – and then you can see our covered chicken run and see what size hole our goats can squeeze through. That way, you can plan your chicken and goat-keeping spaces to be smarter than ours.
Learning from your own experience is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- Van Metre, Dave. Copper Poisoning in Small Ruminants. Colorado State University Extension, veterinaryextension.colostate.edu/menu2/sm%20rum/Copper%20Poisoning%20vm-knight-engle.pdf.