We’ve been experimenting with cutting the dairy goats’ grain ration while they’re on good brushy pasture. In late July, I cut their grain ration in half while not changing anything else. Over a month later, we’ve seen no significant drop in milk production, but have seen a noticeable increase in the speed with which they eat through a pasture paddock.
Since then, we’ve needed to move their fences every 3 days instead of closer to once a week (this is also partly due to the kids maturing and eating more brush instead of just milk). This creates a lot more work for us, but saves us a significant amount of grain purchases. Like everything else on this farm, we’re replacing money & inputs with labor. Even with the extra work, I like knowing that our milk & cheese is that much more farm-based and that much less dependent on government ag policies, weather, and other uncontrollable factors.
We feed a custom mix of organic corn, roasted soybeans, oats, and a feed/mineral supplement. I get these bulk in 50lb bags and mix it fresh as needed. Read more about our economic model for homestead dairy goats.
I don’t want to get rid of the grain ration, as our pastures are quite variable in quality & content and it’s not ideal to vary the goats’ nutrition too much. Maybe for meat goats, but dairy goats are using a lot more energy and should be treated well. But this has been a good experiment to test how dependent they are on grain, and how we can balance the need for convenient nutrition with the desire for independence from off-farm inputs.
Unfortunately, as long as we have government-subisidized grain available, it will always be cheaper to feed that to animals than to manage a pasture well enough to exclude the need for grain. So we’re splitting the different by trying to minimize our needs while still recognizing the economic forces that say it’s just not cost-effective for us to manage an all-pasture dairy herd while running a vegetable farm.