Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why Is Food So Complicated?

Before I got goats, I had heard that they would eat anything. I knew that horses were more complicated, but goats? Goats should be easy. Well, horses are more complicated, but goats aren't all that easy.

With Gus the horse, we're constantly worrying about whether we're feeding enough, or the right thing. If we give him too much, especially too much of the wrong thing, we risk him getting colic, or so we're told. The problem is that -- like most of us -- he loves his food.

We'd been told that horses are jealous over their food, and will fight each other for it. But Gus lets baby goat Ben stand under his feet in the shed and eat the grain pellets that fall out of his feeding tray.

The older female goats are a different story. They stand on their hind legs and try to take the food from his tray. Let me recommend not doing that with a horse. Both of them have been kicked now, and it looks very painful. Emma limped badly for several days, but appears to be quite a bit better.

I happened to be in the shed when it happened to Arlene. I didn't see her try to take the food, but I saw him lash out, and then I heard her cry of agony. She ran to the chute, and then squatted because she couldn't go any further. She looked so surprised that she couldn't move. She stayed like that for a few minutes, then moved carefully away. I was sure she must have internal injuries, but she's seemed fine ever since....and she's gone in the shed while he's eating since then. She doesn't try to take his food though.

We've started giving the goats some cracked corn at the same time Gus is getting fed in the evening, so they won't try to take his food. But Ben still stands under his feet and eats the grain falling on his head, and Gus allows it.

Food is the hardest part of having these animals. We worry constantly over whether we're feeding too much, too little, or the wrong thing. The wrong thing or too much food can cause horrible, painful illness, but too little makes them cranky....and 1200 pounds worth of cranky is not pleasant for either humans or goats.

Every time I research it online, I find something different about what they should eat. For example, who knew there were different kinds of pasture grasses? I just read yesterday that one of the main grasses in our pastures (Bahia) is less palatable to horses than to cows. Of course, the previous owner had cows. We've been buying bales of hay, and I just read that we should find out what kind it is. It's coastal Bermuda hay. Okay. What now? Is that good? Bad? Indifferent? The Internet says that coastal Bermuda hay has been implicated in ileal impaction cases in the Southeast, but that it should be fine if you feed them 'good quality' hay. How do you tell if it's good quality? Sigh.

Sometimes I think about how much simpler everything was pre-Internet.

On the other hand, goats are actually pretty easy. The other day my husband weed-whacked the tall grass in the little break-out area we've fenced off for the goats, because they haven't been eating it. Within an hour, the goats were all over it like it was candy. Apparently it's the first few inches of the plant that they like.

Yesterday I was weeding, and as an experiment, I threw the weeds over the fence to the goats. You'd have thought I tossed them some Godiva chocolates. Great -- no more bagging the weeds.

So they will eat most things, but if you feed a male goat the wrong things -- like too much horse food -- they apparently can get life-threatening urinary problems because the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is wrong for them.

So I watch Ben eating Gus's falling food, and think 'how cute'....and worry.

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