Thursday, February 7, 2013

Calcium: Phosphorus Ratio - Why Alfalfa is Essential

When raising goats, it is very important to be aware of the role of the calcium: phosphorus ratio in their diet. Calcium is needed for bone development and muscle contraction. Phosphorus is used for kid development, milk production, and normal bodily functions. Too much of either of these compounds without balancing them with each other can cause very serious problems including death from hypocalcemia or from urinary calculi. Goat farmers should always feed twice as much calcium as phosphorus. They should observe a 2:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus. 

The best way to accomplish this ratio in the diet is through loose minerals and the feeding of alfalfa. Loose minerals are essential for goats for many reasons. One of those main reasons is that they provide a balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1. When buying loose minerals, make sure they are specifically designed for goats and make sure to read the label and see that they have the proper calcium to phosphorus ratio. 

Feeding alfalfa to goats is a great way to balance out calcium and phosphorus. Alfalfa hay, pellets, blocks and silage are all very high in natural calcium content. All grains (corn, oats, wheat, barley, etc.), hays, and grassy forages are very high in natural phosphorus. If you feed your goat grains, whether store-bought or homemade, feed your goats non-alfalfa hay, and let them graze on grass, then it is essential that you feed them alfalfa in order to balance the calcium and phosphorus.

Feeding alfalfa daily is very important for pregnant or lactating goats. Pregnant or lactating goats have very high calcium demands when growing kids or making milk. The production of kids and the production of milk leach calcium from their bodies and dietary calcium is needed to replace that deficit. If fed only grain and hay, the pregnant or lactating goat will have too much phosphorus in her body and can suffer hypocalcemia. This condition most often occurs when a doe is close to kidding or when newly freshened. These are times when her calcium demands are highest. Emergency administration of calcium supplements during hypocalcemia can be very dangerous due to sudden increases in blood calcium which can cause massive heart failure. The best way to cure hypocalcemia is to avoid it by feeding the doe alfalfa in her diet starting at breeding and continuing through lactation. 

Wethers must have dietary calcium in order to avoid suffering from urinary calculi. Urinary calculi are hard mineral deposits that commonly form in the bladder of goats. These are similar to kidney stones. All goats can produce urinary calculi but wethers are most in danger of dying from them. Bucks and does are usually able to pass the stones out of their bodies without complications. Wethers, especially those neutered before sexual maturity, have small urethral openings where stones can get stuck and cause blockage of urination. The urethra of a male goat widens with sexual maturity through erection and ejaculation of the penis. Wethers don’t typically become erect or ejaculate so their urethras stay very narrow. Treatment for stones stuck at the end of the urethra includes cutting the tip of the penis to expand the opening and catherization to allow urine to pass. 

Another problem that is particular to all male goats is that their urethra is not a straight tube from the bladder to the penis. It has an S-curve in it called the “sigmoid flexure”. This curve looks very similar to a trap in a sink drain. It also works similar to a drain trap by trapping urinary calculi in the S-curve so they can’t exit the body. Urinary blockage can occur here which makes it very hard to manually remove the stones through catheterization. Abdominal surgery is typically recommended for this problem. 

The best treatment for urinary calculi is prevention through proper diet. Originally farmers assume that grain caused the stones due to the fact that wethers who had diets high in grain commonly had trouble from urinary calculi. Now it is known that grain itself does not cause the stones. The imbalance between calcium and phosphorus in a high grain diet causes stones. Male goats, bucks and wethers, should be fed alfalfa along with their hay and grain in order to achieve the proper calcium to phosphorus ratio. 

Unfortunately baled alfalfa hay is rarely available in the Adirondacks. Luckily most feeds stores in this area sell either alfalfa cubes, alfalfa pellets or chopped alfalfa silage. The price for 50 lbs of all three of these alfalfa sources is about $18, depending on the feed store. 

Alfalfa cubes are finely chopped compressed alfalfa blocks. They are generally not recommended for goats because they can pose a choking hazard. They are very hard in texture and can be kind of big for a goat’s small mouth. Some people soak the cubes overnight in warm water to soften them. Many goats don’t like mushy, wet alfalfa and refuse to eat the soaked cubes.

Alfalfa pellets are powdered, extruded alfalfa. These are much easier for goats to eat and can be fed with the grain ration. They don’t contain very much fibrous material due to being from alfalfa powder. It is best to always feed 3 cups of alfalfa pellets for every 1 cup of grain per goat to maintain the 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. 

Chopped alfalfa silage, sold under the brand name “Chaffhaye”, contains roughly chopped alfalfa that has been slightly fermented through the addition of yeast and a little molasses. The silage is moist and has a sweet smell due to fermentation. The fermentation yeast adds to the digestibility of the silage. Due to the alfalfa being roughly chopped, there is quite a bit of fibrous material in Chaffhaye. This is good because daily fibrous material is necessary in a goat’s diet to keep their digestive system working smoothly. Feeding Chaffhaye will decrease hay consumption due to being high in fiber. The recommended feeding is 2 lbs. of Chaffhaye per 100 lbs. of goat per day. Most goats don’t like Chaffhaye at first but will gradual develop a taste for it. Once they do, they will run you over to get it! 

If you aren’t feeding alfalfa currently, take time to evaluate your goat’s diet to see if alfalfa needs to be added. All goats at any life-stage can benefit from the proper calcium to phosphorus ratio. Lowering grain amounts and increasing alfalfa feeding will contribute to the lifelong health of your goats.


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  4. well can I say I'm even more confused now,,,, we used to raise Nubians and bore goats years ago and decieed this time to gear up and do just Nigerian dwarfs ( mainly size etc for grandbabies) with our old goats, pasture, hay, goat feed, and corn to stretch the goat feed out.... after all the web site omments etc we are so confused,,, we were feeding alphafa pellets to the boys and gals but then was told the boys didn't need alphalpha,,, then I see where people are talking about copper bolus etc, also we have 2 very young, 3 months old that we have treated for cocilious once and now started again after 3 weeks, one of these with one of our 3 month old bucks has had a dry cough since we brought them home at 8 weeks but was told it was the weather most likely or allergies,, well the little buck and one of the baby does have started coughing and snotting out their nose wed. someone recommended since they didn't have fever to be prcautious and to bioxin injection we have done that today,,, were just confused and need some direction,, we have have a nice barn, clean dry, fresh water, good hay and they are spoiled,, we have a total of 8 every where from 3 months to 3 yrs,,, please help,,,,

  5. I’m confused too. Was told by my vet ....No alfalfa for wethers. Now here says to give it for calcium. One of my wethers had to be seen by vet to get end of penis snipped so he could pee. I’m feeding Timothy hay and just a little oats to get them in at night. I want to give them URINARY STONE PREVENTION . I just need to know WHAT IS BEST!!!

    1. I'm in the same boat. I was told no alfalfa by the vet and no grain due to UC. Now I'm reading that alfalfa is the best for avoiding UC due to the higher calcium to phosphorus ratio. Sooo confused!

    2. It is surprising but even many livestock vets do not understand the nutritional needs of goats. This article is absolutely accurate. It is especially important to keep a 2:1 ratio Calcium to Phosphorus to help prevent UC.

  6. I have fed local grass hay, a grain mix and alfalfa to my herd now for 25 years. I have changed the grain mixes several times over the years, but this has been the way I have fed my pygmy goats for a long time. Alot of problems with UC have come up in my 4-H families. I am not sure of their feeding programs, but am trying to teach to feed as I do. In 25 years, I have had two wethers with UC, one I was able to save and is still with me. He will be 13 this summer. The other did not survive. I wethered them early that year as I had grandkids headed to fair and wanted them to be able to show. I banded them about 8 weeks old and because it was bucklings born the same year, I am confident it was because I banded too early. I now band between 14-20 weeks, depending on the size of the animal. I do not band early for any reason. Looking back, the one steady that I have done with my animals is I have always fed a combination of local grass hay, best alfalfa I can find to put up for the year and a grain mix. I also feed Sweetlix Meat maker loose minerals. I just wanted to put in my 10c and let you know what works for me. I appreciate your article.

  7. The article is accurate. The Vets caution is also accurate. The Vets know it's hard for you to keep the "worry and f feed balance" so, the easiest is to caution busenof certain feed , if they perceive you have other options, and may not need this or that control.
    First , alfalfa has a high calcium than phosphorus. Grain are high in phosphorus.the goal is to keep a ratio of 2calcium:1phosprus.
    Alfalfa though high in crude protein, has a ratio of upto 15:1 .. this would give so much kodeny burden for male gaits and wethers since they can't use up the calcium, as would do milkers and growing kids. So, Alfafa is very nice for milk producers and baby goats. However, mix with other dried hay or other roughage so as not to risk bloat from too much Alfafa, justas we avoid lush pasture bloat.
    So, wethers and bucks may not need so much protein as well(reserve that protein for the growers and milkers)
    In Kenya, we use mostly range goats for our goats meet needs, these browse naturally in the vast rangelands amongst the pastoralists. For stallfed goats in the Highlands, we use hay , fresh cut nappier grass or Rhodes hay among others. And abit of browsing tree fodder crops.

  8. Thanks for the information. I really like the way you express complex topics in lucid way. It really helps me understand it much better way. alfalfa powder bulk