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What goats (really!) eat

Have you ever heard someone say, “Goats can eat anything”? Although goats do like to explore things with their mouths, this is actually not true – they can be surprisingly picky! Goats get their reputation for eating almost anything because they like to walk around and sample a wide variety of foods, as opposed to grazing a pasture like cows or sheep. Goats will eat hay, grasses, weeds, grain, and sometimes even tree bark! So, what do we actually feed the goats here at Zoo Atlanta?

The main part of a goat’s diet is called roughage. Roughage is usually grass or hay that is high in fiber and has relatively low calories. Because hay is low in calories, goats are designed to eat a lot of it. Here at the Zoo, we will offer the goats hay six or seven times a day, and each goat can eat two to four pounds of food a day! The first chamber in their stomach, the rumen, is full of beneficial bacteria that break down the hay and transform it into fats that the goats can digest. Goats also have three other chambers in their stomachs, and each one plays a role in helping goats to absorb nutrients from their food.

Because a goat’s digestive system is so complex and uniquely adapted for eating hay, we never give the goats human food – sugary foods can stall their digestive process and make them very sick! By making sure that the goats munch on what they are designed to eat, we keep them happy and healthy.

Just like people, goats also need small amounts of vitamins and minerals to help keep their bodies functioning well. Goats (and most other mammals too) need small amounts of salt in their diet as well. If you see white blocks around the petting zoo, don’t be surprised – they are made of salt, and our goats love to lick them! We also help our hooved friends get their vitamins by offering them a powdered mineral mixture made especially for goats.

If a goat had to pick a favorite food, it would probably be grain! Goat grain can be made up of corn, barley, oats and soybeans – it is very high in calories (lots of energy), but low in fiber, which means that too much can make a goat obese. We feed our goats grain as a special treat or when they need to gain some weight to stay healthy. We use premade grain mixture that uses a mixture of corn, soybeans, and oats that our goats think is delicious!

Did I mention that goats enjoy eating leaves and bark? To help the goats get their twig fix, we will give them sticks and branches with the leaves still on them, which we call browse. The goats will eagerly strip the leaves and bark off the branches, practicing their natural foraging behavior that I mentioned earlier. And in case you’re wondering, we get our browse from our awesome Horticulture Team, who get clippings from around the Zoo and bring them to us. If you come by at 11:15 a.m., you might be able to catch some of the goats eating their browse in one of our enrichment demonstrations!

So, next time you visit our petting zoo, remember that the goats don’t eat just anything – they have a fascinating four-chambered stomach designed to eat hay, grain and browse! You can help us keep our goats healthy by never feeding them any human food, but watching and observing as they practice their natural foraging behavior. I look forward to seeing you in the petting zoo soon!
Claire C.
Seasonal Keeper, Ambassador Animals

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