Molasses & Urinary Calculi

Urinary calculi are generally comprised of phosphate salts and are formed in response to diets which are low in calcium, high in magnesium or have an unbalanced calcium to phosphorus ratio. Such diets are usually high cereal and/or low forage, whilst insufficient access to drinking water can also cause the problem. Phosphorus is normally recycled through saliva and excreted via the droppings. High cereal, low forage diets take less chewing and so result in less saliva production and therefore less phosphorus being excreted via the digestive tract. This is compounded by the fact that cereals themselves are low in calcium so the calcium to phosphorus ratio is likely to be unbalanced.
Increasing dietary calcium, so that the diet supplies at least two parts calcium to one part phosphorus, will help as calcium binds phosphorus so that it cannot be absorbed by the animal, thus helping to reduce calculi formation.  An imbalance is usually more of a concern when making up your own rations as commercial concentrates will have already balanced the mineral content for you.  There can be a problem however, if your goat is fussy and picks at certain ingredients so he does not receive the correct level of minerals and also if your forage is particularly deficient or high in one or another mineral, which could inhibit absorption of another.
Many goat owners also show concern in feeding diets that contain molasses to wethers or bucks in particular, due to fear that this will increase their chance of developing calculi. Molasses is a rich source of potassium which, if fed in excess, could reduce the absorption of calcium, thus upsetting the calcium to phosphorus ratio.  However, although this may be a concern if feeding pure molasses to your goats, when molasses is combined within a concentrated ration the minerals are balanced so the complete feed is only supplying the nutrients your goat needs.  In any case, the molasses is only added as a coating and will not make up a large proportion of the end ration so is unlikely to be the cause of calculi formation.  Goats can be particular in what they like to eat, which is why goat mixes tend to be available as dry or lightly molassed to improve palatability.

The take home message in helping to reduce the incidence of urinary calculi is to ensure that your goats have access to plenty of forage, that you feed the recommended amount of a goat mix or ensure that your own feed rations are balanced and do not contain too much cereal. Always allow access to plenty of fresh, clean water which is essential in helping to dilute urine, making it more difficult for stones to occur. If your goat is not a big drinker then adding salt to the feed will help encourage him to drink. Do not further supplement with vitamins and minerals, if already feeding a balanced goat mix, as this could upset the balance and could do more harm than good.