Goats, Livestock, Urban Homesteading and Self-Reliance

A Penny Saved – New Goat Feeder

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that “goats will eat anything”.  Perhaps this is true of some goats, but  my paddock princesses are more finicky than Morris the cat.  Anything that touches the ground automatically becomes bedding that they will not eat.  There is a logical reason for this as goats are highly susceptible to parasites.  They instinctively avoid any feed that has been contaminated with droppings and prefer to eat leaves and branches that are up off the ground.  This means they will waste a good (and often expensive) bale of hay at an alarming rate.  While I certainly do not expect our home grown food to match mass produced grocery store prices, I do need to keep the costs as reasonable as possible.  I needed some kind of feeder to keep the hay up off the ground.

My first feeder was made from two wire shelf units placed at an angle and joined at the bottom.  The goats had to pull strands of hay through the wire, slowing them down and keeping them from dropping as much.  It was certainly better than just tossing the hay on the ground, but it had some major drawbacks. There was still a fair amount of hay wasted as the goats would pull it out of the bottom and drop half of it looking for the “perfect” bite.  Sometimes I think Whisper was just pulling hay out to make a bed for herself.  There was also fighting at the feeder.  Goats aren’t too good at sharing and the herd queen, Whisper, made sure everyone knew she was in charge of the feed.  Since she isn’t in milk and Hush is, Hush had to struggle to get enough feed to maintain weight and production.  Finally, the feeder had to be filled at least twice a day, partly because of all the waste, so I couldn’t go anywhere even for very long.

When I discussed these problems with Tony, he sat down and began to plan a new feeder that would help with these issues.  We watched exactly how the goats were wasting so much hay and discussed different ways to make it harder for Whisper to be so bossy over the feed.  We finally came up with a beautiful solution that has made my life easier and my hay bill less.

The new feeder is a style called a “keyhole”.  We measured the girls to see how big the holes and slots needed to be.  The point of the feeder is that they  can put their head through the top hole, but cannot pull it straight out of the slot below with a mouthful of hay.  Anything they drop stays in the feeder and cannot be trampled on and soiled.  The hole part is 7 inches in diameter and the slot is 4 inches wide by about 12 inches deep.  W e did have to take 13 inches out of the north wall of the goat shed to accommodate the feeder , but it actually provides a little more protection from winter storms.  The feeder is easily big enough to hold hay for several days.

It has worked wonderfully!!  Instead of hauling a wheelbarrow full of wasted hay out every morning when I clean the shed, I only scrape out a few scraps along with the goat berries.  Whisper can growl and fuss all she wants at the other goats, but she can’t shove them away without taking her head out, which she doesn’t seem inclined to do.  All in all it has cut my hay usage in half and everyone is looking fat and sassy.

Whisper might miss her bed though….


  1. Ann-Marie

    Keyholes have been around a long time and when I was a new goat owner I followed the “trend” however I found a very huge flaw in this system. When a goat has its head in the keyhole another goat could (and would) come along and butt her sideways and although it didn’t happen I could see that it was possible to severely damage the goat whose head was in the keyhole as in broken neck. I saw in the above picture that your goat was lying down with a baby on it. Is the the answer? making it so low they have to lie down to eat? I would very much like this answered as I still have 9 goats of various sizes from Nigerian to Alpine. Since feeding them almost exclusively alfalfa pellets I have restricted their hay intake to almost nothing using is mostly as a “treat” and so they do not waste quite as much.

    1. That is a risk with keyhole feeders, but it is reduced in this setup because it’s in the shed where they can’t really get much speed. In my herd (which is very small) the queen, Whisper, is the one that always has her head in the feeder and there is barely room for Hush to get in there broadside, no way to pick up enough speed for injury. The other advantage is that Whisper can’t shove everyone away from the feed with her head in the feeder, just growl and threaten.


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