I’ve been waiting to post about this topic, simply because it is one of the most complicated ones! Please note that this blog post only contains some of the basics, and minerals are such an individualized topic that I highly recommend reaching out to me directly for a more in-depth conversation.
DISCLAIMER: Mineral needs vary from country to country (I speak for the U.S.A), and while most other countries are similar, be sure to evaluate your goats as individuals.
Every goat needs minerals; every human needs minerals; every living creature needs minerals! While wild forages do contain minerals that they have absorbed through the soil, it is unlikely that goats will consume enough of these plants (or the right plants, with roots that draw up the most minerals) to supply all of their mineral needs. Additionally, most areas of the world are deficient in certain minerals, so the soil will not be nutrient-dense enough, even if the goats are eating a diet of 100% good forage. Thus, the need for supplemental minerals arises. When goats are not consuming proper minerals and quantities, they show physical mineral deficiency signs that can be easy to spot if you know what to look for.
There are many mineral supplements for goats and other livestock, so it’s important to know which to choose.
All goats should have access to a high-quality, loose mineral, free choice & 24/7. Now, that’s a lot of words—here’s what they mean!
Loose mineral – While, for many years, livestock producers have offered mineral supplements in a block form, there are many reasons that blocks may not be suitable for goats. Unlike cows with their sandpaper-like tongues, goats have very soft tongues; they cannot lick all that they need from a block. Additionally, most blocks have very high salt contents. As I will describe more in-depth later, salt is needed in a mineral to make it palatable and regulate consumption, but if there is too much salt, it regulates the consumption too heavily, and the goats will mostly be consuming salt, with barely any minerals. A loose mineral has a sand-like, granulated texture.
Free choice 24/7 – Free choice means exactly what it sounds like; the goats can eat however much they want, whenever they want! Goats are amazing at self-regulation; they consume only the amount of minerals that they require. As owners, it is tough to know exactly how much of the mineral your goat needs, so let your goat do the work! Loose minerals are formulated to be safe when given free-choice. Because there is added salt, the goats will fill up on salt long before they over-consume minerals, so overdose is not a concern in a correctly formulated loose mineral. Even without salt, the goats should do a fine job of self-regulation—but good loose minerals are extra safe due to how they are formulated. Loose minerals should be kept available 24/7 in a dry, covered area.
High-quality – This is the most important thing I will mention in this post. Having a high-quality loose mineral is important, as each brand varies with the form and amount of each mineral. In order to determine if a mineral is high-quality, one must understand how to read a mineral guaranteed analysis and ingredients list!
What to look for in a guaranteed analysis:
Everything listed on a guaranteed analysis is important, but today I’m just going to talk about a few quick things that—based on my experience and knowledge—you can look at to judge the quality of a loose mineral right off the bat!
(NOTE: guaranteed analyses usually report minerals in the form of “ppm” or “mg/kg.” These two are equal to one another, but I will be describing minerals in ppm; and occasionally by percentage)
COPPER: A good goat mineral should have at least 1,500ppm of copper in it. As high as 2,000ppm may be seen in some, which often allows owners to refrain from extra copper supplementation. A mineral with 1,000-1,500ppm copper may still require additional supplementation via copper boluses depending on the goat.
ZINC: There should be 3-4 times more zinc than there is copper, so if a goat mineral has 1,800ppm copper, it should have 5,400-7,200ppm zinc.
SELENIUM: There should never be less than 20ppm of selenium in a mineral. 30-80ppm is optimal.
SALT: There should be no more than 20-25% salt content in a mineral; staying in the low-mid teens would be ideal. Salt makes a mineral palatable and prevents over-consumption, but too much salt will hinder the consumption of the other minerals, and your ‘loose mineral’ will be nothing more than a ‘mineralized salt.’
What to look for in the ingredients list:
The ingredients list should be diverse. Look for multiple forms of minerals. Instead of just “copper sulfate” look for words like “complex” and “amino acid.” For example, for zinc content I want to see zinc sulfate, zinc amino acid complex, zinc chloride – all different usable forms of the same mineral! By having different types of minerals with varied absorption rates, the goat’s body will be able to use each mineral more productively.
Identifying mineral deficiencies:
Learning to identify mineral deficiencies is a skill that takes time to hone. There are so many deficiencies and so many different symptoms, it would be too difficult to list them all! But there are some basic ones that are fairly easy to spot, and that’s the best place to get started. So, we are going to discuss what I call “The Vital Three.” The three minerals which have the easiest deficiencies to spot and are some of the most important ones for goats are Copper, Selenium, and Zinc. All three of these deficiencies appear in the coat, body, and in reproductive health.
NOTE: These symptoms are not always caused by the following mineral deficiencies, nor does each mineral deficiency come with all the symptoms on the list. It varies from goat-to-goat, this is just a generalized list.
• Fishtail (tail hair tip balding, making a “V” shape)
• Black color turning red/rusty colored
• Dull coat color
• Rough or wiry coat
• Hair curling up at tips or becoming curly and rough
• Balding around the eyes or bridge of nose
• Susceptibility to parasites & general unthriftiness
- Anemia (in severe cases)
• Turned down/crooked/weak tails
• Leg/joint weaknesses
• Weak pasterns/slipper feet
• Weak/Floppy kids
• Retained Placenta
- Still Births
• Flaky/Dry Skin
• Poor coat condition/Hair loss
• Poor hoof health
• Low libido/infertility
• Balding around eyes or face
• Increased susceptibility to external parasites
• Joint Issues
Please see below for a few photo examples of deficiencies (unfortunately I do not have photos of all the signs, please contact me for a mineral evaluation of YOUR goat’s symptoms!)
So, if you are already giving a high quality loose mineral 24/7, and your goats still show mineral deficiency symptoms, how can you fix it? Well, this is where additional supplementation comes into play! There are two types of deficiencies: primary deficiencies and secondary deficiencies. Primary deficiencies are simple, they occur when the goat is simply not consuming enough minerals. Secondary deficiencies are more difficult because they involve antagonists. There are many mineral antagonists which bind to certain minerals and prevent proper absorption. Some of these antagonists are: Calcium, Molybdenum, Iron, and Sulfur. These may be present in hard water (often well water), and in some forages such as alfalfa (it takes a lot of alfalfa to cause issues, don’t be afraid of this important supplement). When there are antagonists in the diet, most loose mineral supplements are not suitable alone, and extra supplements are needed. There are so many different supplements – some in the form of slow-release boluses, oral gels, free choice offerings, and even injections. Each type of mineral supplement has a specific use, so you have to work with a mentor to decide what the best choice is. A note about supplementation which is exceptionally important is to make sure you supplement only as-needed, and constantly evaluate your goats to make sure they really do need supplemental minerals. Sometimes, when we notice a deficiency, and we start on a regimen to supplement a mineral, we can get carried away and continue this supplement routinely even when the goat no longer needs it. Always evaluate your goat’s symptoms before each and every supplementation, and adjust your plan based on their needs. Mineral overdoses, albeit fairly uncommon, can happen, and sometimes our worries and care can turn into a bad situation. One goat may need mineral supplements for life, and another may only need a few doses of a supplement before returning to a normal, healthy state. Don’t forget how individualized every single goat’s mineral needs are! Listen to your goats, observe closely, and always consult a mentor until you gain enough experience to know how to do it yourself!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a vet, nor am I a licensed professional. I am in no way a “goat expert” and my opinions are only that of personal experiences, and my insights shared are not medical treatment suggestions, care suggestions, or any directions for raising goats at all. I am simply sharing my own personal opinions. Any and all changes to your goats’ health regimen, care, etc. should be approved by a veterinary professional or licensed professional. I also believe that every goat owner has their own way of doing things, so just as my opinions are my own, and cannot apply to anyone else, your opinions are also regarding your individual goats, and I welcome you to share them in a kind, constructive manner. Disclosure: This post may contain Amazon Affiliate Links, from which I will earn a commission.