Do Goats Need Baking Soda?

goats baking soda

When I got started with goats in 2002 it was common practice for goat owners to have baking soda available free choice. The logic is that baking soda is a rumen buffer. If a goat’s rumen pH gets a little off, they can self medicate by licking up a little baking soda. It would be like you taking an antacid if you got indigestion.

Recently, however, the practice of free choice baking soda has been in decline as people have learned that goats produce their own bicarbonate. If they make their own, we don’t need to provide it for them — right? Not so fast! Like most things with goats, it’s not that simple. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for baking soda.

Why do goats need baking soda — or not?

If your goats are on pasture and receive no grain, they probably don’t need baking soda. Goats produce their own bicarbonate when they’re chewing. Browse, weeds, and grass require a lot of chewing. So goat produce plenty of bicarbonate to help with digestion when they’re eating those foods.

However, hay pellets and grain require very little chewing, which means goats will produce less bicarbonate when eating those foods. In fact, I’ve had a couple of grain hogs that seem to inhale grain with almost no chewing at all. Those goats would be most at risk for a rumen upset when baking soda is not available.

Too much grain will also upset the rumen and throw off the pH balance. If there is zero risk of your goats ever breaking into the chicken grain or other grain bin, then they are less likely to wind up needing baking soda. But this is not always an easy task for new goat owners — or even experienced goat owners.

In our early years with goats, they figured out so many ways to get to the chicken grain. We kept thinking that we had goat-proofed it, but they proved us wrong more times than I can remember. Since we had free-choice baking soda available, they were always able to self-medicate, and the worst thing we ever had to deal with was a little diarrhea.

I’ll never forget the time a few years ago that we went outside one morning to find the door to the milking parlor open, the lid off the grain bin, and goat poop everywhere. If they had done that the previous night shortly after milking, and if they had not had baking soda available free choice, the pH of their rumens could have been thrown off badly and some goats could have been very ill before we even came outside in the morning to discover what had happened.

But some goats are far more troublesome than mine. In a published case study, 42 sheep and goats were treated with sodium bicarbonate after consuming large amounts of apples, cooked rice, turnips, and chapatti (a type of bread). All of the animals except two recovered fully.

In another study where they purposely fed enough grain to make goats sick, there was a one hundred percent mortality rate in those that did not receive baking soda.

If you have baking soda available free choice, you may find that it disappears faster at some times than at others. You may go days or weeks with little to no baking soda disappearing — and that’s fine. In fact, that’s great! It means that your goats haven’t needed any baking soda.

There is no need to force baking soda on them, so don’t sprinkle it on their grain or anything like that. That would be like you taking an antacid after every meal. If you really need an antacid after every meal — and if your goats do go through baking soda really fast — it means some dietary changes would probably be beneficial. In fact, because they feed an unnaturally high level of grain in cattle feedlots, baking soda is delivered in semis to keep the cattle from suffering from chronic acidosis.

Will baking soda consumption reduce mineral consumption?

Because sodium bicarbonate is salty, some people worry that it will decrease their goats’ mineral consumption, resulting in a mineral deficiency. When searching for research on sodium bicarbonate and goats, I did not come across any controlled studies where they tested this theory. This theory doesn’t pan out in my own herd as my bucks get no baking soda, yet they’ve had more problems with mineral deficiencies than my does.

In studies where they tested goats’ ability to differentiate between various supplements, they found that goats depend on taste to be able to tell the difference between different minerals. That’s why you should not have multiple minerals that have salt as a carrier. However, baking soda is not simply salt, and it does taste different than salt. That may explain why providing free choice baking soda does not seem to affect mineral consumption in most herds.

Are there other benefits of providing baking soda?

In one study, they fed goats a diet supplemented with extruded soybeans and either 0 or 1% sodium bicarbonate in the diet by weight. In the group that had the sodium bicarbonate added, milk fat content and fat yield were increased, as well as the rumen pH. This doesn’t necessarily mean that baking soda will increase butterfat in all diets, but it is interesting to note that result in this particular study.

What’s right for your farm and your goats?

Think about how all of the above information applies to your farm. The answer to this question may even vary from one set of goats to another on the same farm. For example, our bucks get no grain, so they get no baking soda. On the rare occasion when we’ve fed them a little grain during breeding season because they were losing weight, we provided baking soda for them — especially because they’re not used to having grain at all.

Our milkers have baking soda available at all times because they eat grain on the milk stand twice a day. If you have a pasture based meat goat operation, your decision will probably be different than someone who has dairy goats being fed concentrates for higher milk production.

By understanding the logic and the research behind the use of baking soda, as well as knowing your own goals and feeding regimen, you can find the baking soda solution(s) that works best for your herd.

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40 thoughts on “Do Goats Need Baking Soda?”

  1. Thank you so much for this information. I was told to offer free choice BS when I brought goats home 10 months ago. Then someone said that was wrong because they produced their own and they would not consume as much mineral. I hesitantly removed baking soda, even though we’ve had bloat once due to a grain hog. I appreciate you providing more in depth information and diet comparisons.

    Reply
    • I am definitely putting free choice baking soda out now. Sunday we went to feed and one of our does seemed off. So a couple hours later we checked on her again and she was foaming at the mouth. We offered her baking soda and she ate 2 mouths full and we got her to burp and rushed at 7 pm to U of I. Found out she had grain overload or Acidosis. They were able to pump her stomach, found no “bugs” in her rumen so she got a transplant from a cow. She is doing great now, but being new at this is terrifying .

      Reply
      • Yikes! How scary! That’s exactly the scenario I’m talking about. I’m sure our goats have been saved multiple times by free choice baking soda.

        Reply
        • I’m new to goats. My pygmies a NDs have free choice baking soda and minerals. they don’t touch them. i have them set up just like your picture. How do i interest them??? they’re 3months old.

          Reply
          • Ideally your goats will never need baking soda. It’s good that they are not touching it. That’s like saying that you never need to take Tums.

            As for the minerals, a few 3-month-old kids will not look like they are consuming much. An adult only needs to consume 1/4 to 1/2 an ounce a day, so you can’t really eyeball 1/16 or 1/8 of an ounce a day per kid. If the level doesn’t go down at all after a month, it could be that the mineral isn’t very palatable or isn’t very high in actual minerals. Look for one that has at least 1500 ppm copper and 50 ppm selenium.

          • “Free choice” just means that it is available in a dish that is attached to the wall, and they have access to it 24/7 so they can have as much or as little as they need. Loose minerals should also be available free choice.

  2. Thanks for the advice, we will be gone for a week or more and someone else will be caring for the animals, if by accident the grain area doesn’t get locked back up I could see quite the goat party with the rabbit feed and oats. I am going to put out some baking soda!

    Reply
    • If you have it available free choice, they can eat as much as they want. If they are so sick they won’t touch it, you can mix a teaspoon of baking soda with a little water and use a syringe (NO needle) to squirt it down their throat. An ounce of cooking oil (vegetable oil, olive oil, etc) also works for drenching a goat with bloat.

      Reply
    • It is NOT baking powder. That includes other ingredients. You want BAKING SODA, which is 100% sodium bicarbonate. You do not administer it. You leave it out free choice in a feeder that is attached to the wall just like a free-choice mineral feeder. The goats only take as much as they want when they want it. Some may never touch it, and that’s great.

      Reply
  3. After I initially commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the exact same comment. There has to be an easy method you are able to remove me from that service? Kudos!

    Reply
    • I’m sorry I don’t know how you can unsubscribe from comments, and I don’t have a tech person who works for me. I’m sorry you are receiving four emails for each notification! That’s some kind of hiccup!

      Reply
  4. Hello! I have recently stumbled across this site and am loving all of the great information! We are adding two babies to our homestead in the next few weeks, and I was wondering at what age I should offer baking soda to them? Or just right away? Thank you!

    Reply
    • I assume you’ll be bringing them home after they are two months old and weaned, so they are eating lots of pasture, browse, hay, and possibly grain. They only need the baking soda available if they are eating grain or if there’s a chance they could get into grain and overeat, such as chicken grain.

      If they are wethers, they should only get a handful of grain a couple of times a day until they are about six months old. So in that case, you could have baking soda available for them initially, but they don’t really need it after they’ve stopped eating grain.

      Reply
  5. I am new to goats, we have two babies, 8 and 6 weeks old. Both wethers. The younger one just this afternoon has diarrhoea. He did eat fig leaves and a bit of bottle brush. He is active and seems fine. I offered baking soda , he had a little and I gave him a probiotic. What did I do wrong??????? What should I do now????

    Reply
    • Hopefully the little guy is still being bottlefed. Six weeks is too early to be weaned. They need milk for a minimum of 8 weeks because nothing else can give them the amount of calcium and protein they need for the rapid growth they experience at that age. If he has diarrhea, it could be a number of things, but the most common is coccidiosis, which would require medication. A reputable breeder would be able to give you this medication for free because it typically is purchased in rather large amounts. Otherwise you probably need to take him to the vet to get a definitive diagnosis and just enough medication to treat one goat.

      Reply
      • I have 2 ND/Nubians that are 14 days old, their mom stopped letting them nurse on Sunday at 12 days old. I’m currently bottle feeding them but I’m terrified I’m messing them up or they’re not getting enough. They are both bucklings that will be wethered once they’re old enough by my vet. One is 8.4 lbs and the other is 9.6 lbs so I’m attempting to feed them approximately 13.5 oz and 15.5 oz per day minus what gets spilled or leaks out of their mouths and splattered on me! 🙂 My concern is that I can’t get them to eat this much. I can only get them to eat 2oz MAX at a time- which is fine, I don’t mind feeding them 6 or 7 times a day to get what they need but yesterday we still only ended up with about 10 oz in each one of them no matter how many times I tried to get them to eat. They’re not having diarrhea, they run and play, they appear to feel fine- Am I just worrying too soon and they need more time to adjust to the bottle from mom? I’m scared if I try to make them eat the recommended amount, they’ll bloat, but then if I don’t, they’ll starve…. Did I mention I’m a first time goat momma??
        Thank you for your site and any help/suggestions you can offer me!

        Reply
        • What you are describing is 100% normal for kids that nursed for the first 12 days of their life. They have no idea how to take a bottle. It take days, sometimes a whole week at this age to get them transitioned to a bottle.

          Those sizes are actually rather small for a ND-Nubian cross kid of that age.

          If someone just sold you these goats, I would not believe that their mother suddenly rejected them at 12 days. Does do not just suddenly stop letting their kids nurse for no reason. If you have the mother, I’m thinking that you misinterpreted something and would love to know more about why you think she’s not letting them nurse.

          Here is more info on bottle-feeding, including a video that shows how hard it is to get kids on a bottle.
          https://thriftyhomesteader.com/bottle-feeding-goat-kids/

          Reply
  6. Debbie,
    Thanks so much for all your valuable knowledge and information. I am a new goat mommy, and I have read all of your newsletters . Each one is spot on to all of the specific target areas that face goat owners, regardless of the breed of goat.
    Your article in the fall on worming was so helpful and cleared up a lot of confusion my husband and I were having about the worming process.
    Thanks Again for Dedication and Willingness to Help Goat Lovers
    Kim

    Reply
  7. Can you tell me. I have Nigerian dwarfs, and feed medicated grain, as well as hay, a salt block and pasture foraging. Do I need to provide minerals as well? I will be putting out BS tomorrow. Thank you in advance for your help.

    Reply
    • You didn’t say whether you have male or female, breeding or pets, which all make a big difference in what you feed. However, you should NEVER feed medicated feed on a regular basis. It contains a coccidiostat, which should ONLY be fed when goats are at high risk of coccidiosis, which is basically kids at weaning or goats living in filthy conditions. Here is more on what to feed your goats:
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/what-do-goats-eat-it-depends/

      All goats need free-choice, loose goat minerals. And here is more on goat minerals:
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/goat-minerals/
      Please remove the salt block. Goat minerals have salt in them and that is used to drive the goats consumption of the minerals. If you have a salt block available, the goats won’t consume enough of the minerals and may become deficient.

      Reply
  8. I have 2 ND/Nubians that are 14 days old, their mom stopped letting them nurse on Sunday at 12 days old. I’m currently bottle feeding them but I’m terrified I’m messing them up or they’re not getting enough. They are both bucklings that will be wethered once they’re old enough by my vet. One is 8.4 lbs and the other is 9.6 lbs so I’m attempting to feed them approximately 13.5 oz and 15.5 oz per day minus what gets spilled or leaks out of their mouths and splattered on me! 🙂 My concern is that I can’t get them to eat this much. I can only get them to eat 2oz MAX at a time- which is fine, I don’t mind feeding them 6 or 7 times a day to get what they need but yesterday we still only ended up with about 10 oz in each one of them no matter how many times I tried to get them to eat. They’re not having diarrhea, they run and play, they appear to feel fine- Am I just worrying too soon and they need more time to adjust to the bottle from mom? I’m scared if I try to make them eat the recommended amount, they’ll bloat, but then if I don’t, they’ll starve…. Did I mention I’m a first time goat momma??
    Thank you for your site and any help/suggestions you can offer me!

    Reply
  9. I just tried free choice baking soda and both my does ended up with diarrhea within a few hours. I can tell it’s the BS because there’s literally bubbles coming out of their butt. I think they liked it a little too much. Now I’m worried the diarrhea will kill them overnight.

    Reply
    • Diarrhea will not kill healthy adults overnight. If the diarrhea is caused by something like enterotoxemia, that can kill goats within a few hours.

      Goats have four stomaches, and the baking soda would be neutralized in their rumen, so it’s not going to cause diarrhea. When did you put the baking soda out? How much exactly did they eat? It could be that something else upset their digestive system, and they were self-medicating by eating baking soda.

      Reply
  10. At one point, probably years ago now, I remember something about NOT giving BS to pregnant goats. So you have any comment to that? Thank you!

    Reply
  11. I have 2 dwarf does that were bought at a saw yesterday…..one seems to be more active than the other….and the less active one has a large belly and seems to stand and chew her cud more than lying down…..she had some discharge from her eyes this morning….trying to see what i may need to do.

    Reply
    • My first guess would be that the goat has worms, especially since you said it is not active. Here is more info on kids with a big belly —
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/is-my-goat-kid-fa/
      Be sure to check their eyelids. They should be bright red or pink. If they are light pink or white, that means they are anemic, which is usually caused by barber pole worm. Let me know if you need info on deworming.

      Reply
    • Any brand is fine. Baking soda is only sodium bicarbonate. You do NOT want baking powder, which includes other ingredients, often including aluminum.

      Reply
  12. Hello,
    We are about to be second time goat owners. We are purchasing the mom with her two babies. I would like to milk the mom eventually. Do you have any suggestions on when I can start to do so without it interfering with kids feedings? Also, the breeder gave the mom a chemical wormer after she gave birth. She explained that with her nursing, her immune system is weakened. I would like to milk the mom but I am trying to figure out when her milk will be safe for human consumption being that she had the chemical wormer. I would also like to start the mom and kids on a natural wormer. Can you suggest a brand?
    Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • It depends on which dewormer she gave her, as well as the dose and the mode of administration, so you need to get all of that info from her. The answer could be anywhere from a week to more than two months, depending upon her answer.

      You should NEVER give a goat to a dewormer if they don’t actually need it, and the herbal combos that people sell for goats do not actually kill worms or do anything to keep the worm count low. You should have no problem with worms if you have only three goats, assuming your management is good. The parasite chapter in my book is about 24 pages, so I can’t really summarize that here, but Here’s an excerpt — https://thriftyhomesteader.com/internal-parasite-in-goats-preventing/

      Sounds like your breeder is using outdated recommendations on using dewormers. Here is a podcast where I interviewed a parasite researcher on proper use of dewormers —
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/using-dewormers-correctly/

      You should weigh the kid daily for a few days after you get them to be sure they are gaining enough weight. Nigerians should gain an average of 4 ounces a day, meaning that if they gain only 3 ounces one day, they should gain 5 ounces the next day to make up for that. If they are gaining more than 4 ounces per day, you can separate them overnight and milk mom. I don’t start separating them overnight until they weigh 20 pounds. Larger breeds should of course be gaining faster and weigh more.

      Reply
  13. So we have 5 goats here at our farm sanctuary. Two are does and 3 wethers. Is it a problem giving free choice sodium bicarbonate and loose minerals to all. (They are all together) Will the boys have a problem if they have a bit of baking soda while they acclimate to its availability. I know you don’t typically give your boys the baking soda but would it be okay in our situation? Thanks

    Reply

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