Greenery and plant matter like grass, hay, leaves, twigs, and bark, along with a few choice fruits and vegetables, make up the majority of any goat’s diet.
And while every goat owner knows that they’re in reality surprisingly picky eaters, there are lots of things that your goats will eat that aren’t particularly good for them.
How about straw, for instance? Can goats safely eat straw?
Yes, goats can eat straw safely, but it offers no significant nutrition for them and they cannot subsist on it. You should make sure your goats are getting plenty of nutritious hay instead.
Goats eating straw, specifically the straw they are supposed to sleep on, is a tale that is as old as time.
The good news is that this is not harmful for goats and they can definitely digest it and even get just a few calories and a little bit of nutrition from it.
But make no mistake, they cannot subsist on it, and goats that fill up on straw will miss out on other food they do need instead. I’ll tell you all about this sometimes troubling issue below.
Straw and Hay are Not the Same Thing
To clear things up for those who don’t already know, straw and hay are not the same things although the terms are often used interchangeably by those who didn’t grow up on a farm or currently live on a homestead with livestock. So what’s the difference?
Hay is essentially intact, harvested cereals, and typically refers to things like alfalfa, wheat, oats, barley, and so forth.
Straw is really just the leftover part of the stem, or rather the stem itself, that remains after the more edible and nutritious parts of the plant have been removed during harvest.
In essence, hay still contains the good stuff while straw does not!
From a nutritional standpoint, it is easy to see how straw is dramatically inferior to hay.
While it is true that some straw will still contain a stray kernel here and there, you definitely can’t count on it to offer your animals any meaningful amount of calories or nutrients that they need from their food.
Accordingly, straw is used as bedding, floor covering or padding while hay is used as food.
This doesn’t mean that goats can’t or won’t eat straw, which we will discuss, but you cannot feed them straw to keep them alive for any length of time either!
What Benefits Does Straw Have for Goats?
Straw is not totally bankrupt, nutritionally, for goats, but it’s pretty close: all it contains is some trace carbohydrates, a little bit of fiber, and small amounts of various vitamins and minerals, but since the nutritious kernels of whatever grain produced it have been removed it does not offer nearly as much benefit to any animal that would eat it.
If your goats are hungry, bored or if straw is just sitting there for the taking, they might eat some of it. They might even fill up on it.
But if they try to survive on it you will notice a sharp downturn in their condition, weight loss, and eventually marked indicators of malnutrition.
The bottom line is that straw is only an incidental food for goats, or a food of true desperation, and is never something that you should make a deliberate part of their diet if you want them to thrive.
Is Straw Safe for Goats Raw?
Yes, goats can eat straw raw with no problems. You’ll want to make sure they don’t eat too much straw, or eat it too often, because this will lead to nutritional imbalances.
Be Careful: Hungry or Bored Goats Might Eat Their Bedding!
One thing you’ll need to be especially careful of is that your goats don’t take a liking to their own bedding.
Many animals are known to nibble at the straw they sleep on, if you provide straw for them, but goats seem to be among the worst offenders.
This is a problem for many reasons: for starters, if they’re eating their bedding, they’ll have less of it to sleep on – which means more expense for you.
Second, if they’re eating straw it might mean that they aren’t getting enough food otherwise and are simply hungry, or it might mean that they’re bored and eating to alleviate that boredom.
Neither outcome is good for reasons we will discuss below…
How Frequently Can Goats Have Straw?
Generally speaking, goats can have a little nibble of straw here and there when they want with absolutely no ill effects. Problems arise when goats start eating straw regularly, or when they eat large quantities of.
This means that you should make it a point to never feed your goats a large quantity of straw unless you have absolutely no other choice for feeding them.
Goats that eat larger quantities of straw regularly will almost certainly not be consuming a diet with adequate calories and nutrients that they need to stay healthy.
Can Straw Cause Problems for Goats?
Yes, it can. Excess straw consumption for goats is actually something of a double whammy. The first hit is that straw itself contains very little in the way of calories and nutrition that goats need.
The second is that goats that fill up on straw won’t have room to eat other, more nutritious foods instead!
If your goats are on a regimented schedule when it comes to feeding, that means that a goat that’s overly full from straw won’t eat the food it’s supposed to when it is time to.
Over time, this will lead to nutritional imbalances and eventually full-blown malnutrition which can seriously harm the health of a goat.
Accordingly, you’ll need to do whatever you have to to break a goat from its straw-eating habit: if it is eating its bedding, try to figure out if the goat is getting enough food or if the goat is just bored and idly eating.
More exercise, more time to browse or more engaging activity might be the cure.
Watch Out for Contaminants and Debris in Straw
Whatever reason you are buying straw for your goats, make sure you buy from a reputable provider and inspect it carefully to make sure that it doesn’t contain garbage, wire, or other debris, and that the grains it was sourced from or not treated with any harmful pesticides or other chemicals.
You must be especially diligent about this because straw is so much cheaper than hay.
Accordingly, it is rarely given the same level of quality control and care by sellers, and commonly contains lots of dangerous items that your goats might accidentally eat.
Eating anything that’s truly inedible could fatally injure your goats internally, and all sorts of chemicals can result in lifelong health consequences for them. Check that straw and check it well!
Is Straw Safe for Baby Goats?
Yes, straw is safe for baby goats to eat, nominally, once they’re old enough to be eating solid foods.
It’s common to see a baby goat take a bite or two of straw when they’re trying new things to eat, but you must be very cautious to avoid letting them fill up on it.
Baby goats desperately need adequate nutrition at this sensitive phase of life if they are going to grow up strong and develop properly. Straw simply cannot provide what they need, though a bite or two will not hurt them!
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.
Find out more about Tim and the rest of the crew here.