What Do Goats Eat?

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: January 25, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/VeraOsco
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Goats have a reputation for eating just about anything they can find. This stereotype is repeated in movies and television, which often depicts goats absent-mindedly chewing on tin cans or people’s underpants. While it’s true that goats aren’t particularly picky eaters, that doesn’t mean that goats just mindlessly eat everything that passes in front of their noses. In reality, there are certain things that goats can eat and things that they cannot. Additionally, like any other animal, goats have certain nutritional requirements that must be met for them to stay healthy. If they just went around eating cans and underpants all day they wouldn’t live for very long. Still, these stereotypes exist, which makes it imperative to dispel this misunderstanding. This misunderstanding causes us to beg the question, “what do goats eat?”

In this article, we’ll clean up the issue once and for all of what goats eat. First, we’ll start off with a general overview of what goats like to eat and their dietary habits. Then, we’ll discuss how goats forage for food. Then, we’ll compare what goats eat in the wild versus what they eat as pets. Finally, we’ll end with a brief examination of what baby goats eat. So, let’s get to munching on this topic and answer the question, “what do goats eat?”

What Do Goats Like to Eat?

Goats eat a variety of foliage including grass, hay, tree bark, and grains.

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Goats are herbivores, meaning that their diet is composed predominantly of plant matter. While goats aren’t considered picky eaters, in reality, each goat has favorite foods they like to eat. During the day, goats spend the majority of their time wandering around trying different foods. This habit of sampling is likely how goats got their reputation as indiscriminate diners. The majority of what goats eat is roughage, which includes things like grass and hay. That said, goats eat a wide variety of foods both as pets and in the wild. Goats tend to prefer high-calorie foods that are rich in carbohydrates. There are many different foods that fit this description, which makes it difficult to narrow down a list of exactly what goats like to eat. Still, we’ve identified 10 foods that goats generally love to eat. These 10 foods include: 

  • Grass
  • Hay
  • Weeds
  • Tree bark
  • Shoots 
  • Leaves
  • Roots
  • Grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

How Do Goats Forage For Food?

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Goats possess excellent peripheral vision and a great sense of smell.

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Goats possess many of the same senses as humans and rely on their senses to help them find food. One of a goat’s most remarkable physical features is its eyes. Goats possess wide-set eyes with rectangular pupils. This allows them to see in almost every direction, giving them nearly 320 to 340-degree vision. They also possess amazing depth perception and sensitivity to movement, and they see well in both bright and low light. Additionally, goats also have an excellent sense of smell. Their nose possesses many acute sense receptors that allow them to detect odors, including faint ones. Also, they have sensitive lip whiskers that help them to guide food into their mouths. As for their hearing, they can hear a wide range of sounds, including pitches much higher than what humans can hear. While not helpful for finding food, it does help them to avoid predators. 

Goats spend the majority of their time feeding by wandering around and sampling different foods. They will forage on numerous fresh foods in their local habitat, rather than just eating predominantly one food like cows or sheep. Goats get their nutrition by allowing food to ferment in their stomachs. As such, they are usually drawn to the most mineral and calorie-rich foods, as opposed to just grass or hay. Like cows, goats chew cud, which involves bringing back up previously eaten food and rechewing it. This aids in the digestion process, as goats have a four-chambered stomach that handles different stages of the digestion process.  On average, an adult goat will forage for around 5 to 6 hours per day. During the course of the day, they’ll eat around 3-4% of their body weight in greens. 

What Do Goats Eat in the Wild?

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Wild goats primarily live on grasses but will eat pretty much any foliage that they can find.

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There are multiple species of wild goats, including mountain goats, ibexes, and the markhor. These goats all live in different parts of the world and in different habitats. While some live in more mountainous terrain, others live in forests or shrublands. As such, wild goats eat different foods depending on their local environment. Generally speaking, wild goats primarily live on grasses and other wild greens. However, in some environments, such as particularly rocky terrain, grass is not readily available. In this case, they will eat whatever they can find to sustain themselves. They will eat moss, weeds, and shrubs, as well as tree bark. When present, they’ll prefer to eat tender shoots, leaves, and roots, as these are more nutritionally dense. Goats will also eat wild grains, berries, fallen fruit, flowers, or other foliage. Basically, if it grows in the wild, a goat will probably eat it. 

What Do Pet Goats Eat?

saanen goat herd in a field
Many people raise goats for their meat, hair, and milk.

Domesticated goats are wild goats that have been bred in captivity over generations. These goats are more docile and accustomed to living with and around humans. Humans have raised goats as livestock for thousands of years, primarily for their meat, hair, and milk. Today, many people choose to raise goats as pets, either for pleasure or as a form of organic land maintenance. If you choose to raise a pet goat, you’ll need to feed it a proper diet to keep it healthy. Most pet goats live on grasses, grains, and hay. On average, a goat will eat between 2 to 4 pounds of grass or hay a day. Whole grains are best and include corn, wheat, and oats. Goats also love most vegetables, and will readily snack on weeds or flowers growing nearby. 

However, there are certain foods that you should avoid feeding your pet goat. These foods may prove harmful to your goat, and some are toxic if ingested. Harmful foods include:

  • Avocado
  • Chocolate
  • Nightshade vegetables
  • Holly
  • Azaleas
  • Wild cherries
  • Lilacs

What Do Baby Goats Eat?

Baby goats live on their mother’s milk for the first few months of life.

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Baby goats are also known as kids. Pregnant females gestate their babies for around 5 months before giving birth to 1 to 5 kids. At birth, most baby goats weigh between 2 and 14 pounds, depending on the species. In the wild, baby goats will primarily eat their mother’s milk for the first 3 to 5 months of life. After that time, they will wean off their milk and eat the same diet as adult goats. Meanwhile, in captivity, many owners choose to wean baby goats earlier and may separate them from their mother around 2 to 3 months old. If you are feeding a baby goat, it’s best to feed it raw goat’s milk. Otherwise, you can also provide it with a milk replacer that is specially formulated for baby goats. Remember to consult with your veterinarian before introducing new food to a baby goat. 

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