Goats Eating Straw: Dehydration Prevention Tips from an Expert

Goats are surprisingly fussy creatures; in many cases, as soon as their hay or food touches the bedding, they turn their noses up. So, with this thought in mind, it can seem like an infuriating battle when you discover issues such as “my goats are eating straw from their bed!” But don’t panic – I’ve outlined some of the key things you need to know about what to do if your goats are eating straw as follows to help.

My Goats are Eating Straw: Is it Safe?

One of the first concerns that many people have when they notice that their goats are eating straw is: will this harm my goats?

This is especially true if you have previously owned horses; since horses are often more prone to colic when they eat straw. However, this is fortunately not such a significant worry with goats since goats are actually ruminants. 

The Goat’s Digestive System

Now, bear me out here – I won’t go into the full nitty-gritty of how a goat’s digestive system works compared to a horse’s. However, it’s important to consider here the very basics of ruminant digestion.

As a ruminant, the goat has a four-chambered stomach. The first part of the stomach, the reticulum, is where recently eaten food is stored until the goat has a moment to lie down, relax, and chew the cud – i.e., they regurgitate the food. This allows them to manually grind even coarse materials like straw into a much more digestible format.

Then, the chewed-up straw is swallowed again (I know – it’s not an overly pleasant thought) and enters the rumen. Bacteria in the rumen ferment the straw, breaking it down into digestible compounds that the goat can then make use of.

Because of this ruminant digestive system, goats are able to more easily make use of coarse roughage such as straw.

As such, if you notice that your goat is eating straw, it’s worth considering that this could actually be a very healthy addition to their diet for gut health – much like high-fiber whole grains, for us.

Never Feed Spoiled Straw

At this point, while goats absolutely can digest straw, it’s vital to consider that any straw you give your goats (for food or bedding) must always be fresh, clean, and crisp.

Never feed damp straw, as this can become moldy in a very short span of time. You should always clean out damp feeders, too, to prevent the straw from going bad.

What to Do if Your Goats are Eating Straw

Straw can be an excellent source of roughage in your goat’s diet. However, you should consider a few things if your goats are eating straw, as it’s not a nutritionally complete diet.

Provide Plenty of Water

When your goats are grazing, they may get most of their daily water from the grass. However, if you feed your goats any dry, conserved forages (such as hay or straw), you will need to provide plenty of fresh, clean water to keep them fit and well.

Be sure to check for dehydration regularly, too, if you notice that your goats are eating a lot of dry food. Moreover, you should ask your vet for advice regarding electrolytes if you think your goats might be dehydrated.

Always Balance The Ration Carefully – Get a Nutritionist’s Advice

Straw is made from the stems of crops (e.g., wheat, oats, and barley) after the seeds of the crop have been harvested for human consumption.

It’s interesting to note here that straw often weighs substantially more than the harvested wheat, oats, or barley itself – making straw an excellent byproduct that would otherwise be wasted! My personal preference is barley straw, as it tends to be much more golden!

With this thought in mind, however, there is a challenge with letting your goats eat straw: it’s not got much nutritional value. In terms of energy, even good straw will usually only have around 5ME of energy per kg of dry matter.

Hay is often more like 8-10ME per kg of dry matter, and grass can be as high as 12ME per kg of dry matter. There may also be far fewer nutrients available in straw – which complicates getting your goat’s nutrition right.

As such, if you choose to let your goats eat straw, be sure to balance their ration carefully with other high-quality sources of nutrition.

A professional nutritionist will be able to advise more; for example, when we fed some of our herd on just straw, we also provided high-protein molasses to balance out the protein and mineral deficiencies.

What Kind of Hay and Straw do Goats Eat? 

At this point, it’s worth considering that goats can eat pretty much any kind of hay and straw so long as it’s free from molds, chemicals, and poisonous plants, such as ragwort. However, many goats will often eat a little straw from their bedding, even if you provide them with adlib hay.

Can Goats Eat Timothy Hay?

You may have wondered at this point, can goats eat timothy hay? While it’s not as coarse as some other hay types, timothy hay can still be an excellent source of nutrition for your goats – and it’s super tasty! 

However, take care to ensure your goats are getting plenty of good quality fiber, and if you notice that their manure seems to become a little loose, it could be worth considering whether the diet is too rich. Of course, other factors – such as worm burdens – can also be a significant cause of loose manure. Consult with your vet for the best treatment plans for your goats.

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself pulling your hair out over thoughts of “my goats are eating straw again,” don’t worry – while eating straw can be a concern for hindgut fermenters such as horses, for ruminants, this is less of a worry. In fact, straw is incredibly coarse and fibrous. This makes it an excellent source of dietary fiber to keep their rumens working healthily and happily!

But, if your goats are eating a significant amount of straw, it’s crucial to remember that the nutritional content of straw is very low – potentially having half the energy of good-quality hay or grass. As such, you should always keep a close eye on your goats if they are eating a straw diet to ensure they maintain their body condition. 

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