INCREASING GRAIN DURING LACTATION:
Does it help, or hinder?
By Sue Reith.
The following question gets asked incredibly often at this time of year: "Prior to freshening you had recommended giving our does 1 cup of grain twice daily along with their alfalfa hay. As of today, one week after freshening, our doe is producing about a gallon (or slightly more) of milk per day. How much should I increase the grain now?"
The amount of milk produced by an individual doe in an individual lactation depends upon 3 factors:
1) Her genetic potential for milk production... What kind of milk production did her predecessors have?
2) Her general health... The healthier she is, the more able she'll be to produce milk to the level of her potential, and,
3) The number of kids she has in any given lactation... Nature provides for a higher level of production to help feed more kids
I suspect the idea that it's necessary to feed the doe a large amount of grain at each milking stems from many years of misinformation that's been disseminated to goat owners whose penchant is to 'ask the vet' about nutritional requirements during the various life stages of dairy goats. Unfortunately, what most goat owners don't realize is that the veterinary community is made up of a body of individuals that for the most part have zero background in nutrition in general, and in livestock nutrition in particular... In vet school they're taught how to 'fix' problems, not how to prevent them... But then, when they're out there in practice they're expected by clients to know more than they actually do. So they try to 'guesstimate' (well, more accurately, they just continue to pass on guesstimates made earlier by other vets) on the subject of proper livestock nutrition, trusting clients continue to turn routinely to them for guidance, and the problems resulting from the inaccurate info they share go on and on...
The fact is that adding more and more grain during lactation does nothing to increase milk production. To the contrary, it can actually slow it down! That's because production of milk, a product known largely for the calcium it provides to the drinker, requires a sufficient source of calcium in order to be efficiently produced in the first place!
The alfalfa and the grain (and both must be being fed to make the calcium available for lactation) both have excellent nutritional properties to begin with. The difference is that the alfalfa is loaded with calcium, and the grain is loaded with phosphorus. The ideal ratio between the calcium and phosphorus is: a minimum of 2 parts calcium (and up to 5 parts is still fine) for every 1 part of phosphorus, and unless that ratio is properly maintained, the calcium will not be available for milk production. And that will actually lessen the doe's milk production capability, as well as, in extreme conditions, putting her into a state of hypocalcemia.
My own approach, then, is that when milking I put between one and two cups (maximum) in the feed dish and add to it some alfalfa pellets
Here are some articles you might want to read on the subject: I’ve cited several herein, all focusing on the need for a proper Ca:P balance, not just in goats, but in all vertebrates...
(I copied this one verbatim in case you were ready to quit along about now! <smile>) 8. The calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of a food or supplement determines how much of the calcium is absorbed. The ideal calcium-phosphorus ratio is 2 to 1, close to the proportion found in human milk, which has an almost perfect calcium-to- phosphorus ratio of 2.3 to 1. The ratio in cow's milk is 1.3 to 1. The higher the phosphorus content of the food, the more calcium is excreted in the urine, leading to a loss of calcium. Foods high in phosphorus (such as meat, poultry, corn, potatoes, beer, buckwheat) can interfere with calcium absorption.
For more info on the subject, just set aside a big block of time and then ‘Google In’ “calcium to phosphorus ratio” for over 17,000 additional articles on the subject…
(While I urge you to share this information with other individual goat owners, please do not reproduce the article for publication without my specific permission. Thank you. Sue Reith.)