How much does your soil mineral content/forage mineral content actually impact your goats? I have heard from many industry professionals, vets, blogs, and goat owners to check and be aware of your soil mineral levels to determine how you need to supplement your goats. I cannot tell you how many people have come to me to determine what the selenium level of their soil is in their town/county to determine if they should supplement with selenium. It is perfectly fine to want to know this info, but please do not get caught up in it. Here is a walkthrough of why this matters less than you may think:
- How much forage are your goats actually consuming?
Domesticated goats usually don’t have miles of varied forages to consume as their sole source of food. Most goats have a few acres to browse or graze, and some have even less. Most of the time, goats need to be provided hay and feed. The soil on your property is not going to have large impact on your goats if they only consume a patch of grass here and there.
2. Is it the right kind of forage?
Let’s assume that you DO have unlimited forage for your goats, and that is their sole diet. If this is the case, remember that not all forage is going to be the mineral rich plants that pack a powerful nutrient punch. Plants with good root systems that specifically draw up minerals from the soil and retain them are less common than you may think. Having a good variety of weeds, shrubs, trees, and more will help a lot, but don’t expect your hay and your grass to be the most nutritious, selenium/copper/zinc filled forages.
3. How are the goats’ bodies using the forage?
Okay, this may be getting into pipe-dream territory, but let’s say that you DO have nutrient-rich soil, your goats can consume as much forage as they please, AND you have enough of a variety that your goats are consuming the right types of forages with lots of trace minerals. That just about covers concerns of primary deficiencies occurring—the type of deficiency that occurs when the body simply doesn’t get enough of a certain mineral. But if your goats are getting enough minerals, you can’t forget about secondary deficiencies. Secondary deficiencies occur when the goat consumes enough of a certain mineral, but there are antagonists that prevent the body from absorbing and utilizing those minerals correctly. These deficiencies can be caused by your water source and quality, certain forages (especially legume forages), and lack of proper mineral balance (synergy between minerals is needed for proper absorption).
Using selenium as an example—because it is usually the number one mineral people are concerned with in regards to soil levels—in a non-deficient area, and checking all the boxes discussed prior, your goat should be fine, right? But what about excess calcium, iron, sulfur, molybdenum, and other antagonists in your water? What about that alfalfa that your goat NEEDS to stay healthy, gain weight, produce milk…but is so high in calcium and molybdenum? And what about selenium’s counterpart, Vitamin E, which is required for selenium to be properly absorbed? Your soil and forage may be rich in selenium, but natural sources of Vitamin E are found elsewhere. Without Vitamin E, that selenium won’t benefit your goats as much as it should. This goes for many other minerals, not just selenium and Vitamin E, that NEED to work together synergistically in a careful balance that has been determined due to years of scientific study and observation.
Plants aren’t perfect, soil isn’t perfect, and that is why it is important to take charge of your goats’ nutrition. Even if you would like to manage your goats as naturally as possible, you still need to supplement when your goat’s body tells you to. The supplements you choose may be natural and plant-based, because even if it isn’t in your field, the minerals and vitamins your goats need can be easily sourced elsewhere.
Knowing your soil and forage mineral levels—knowing if you are in a selenium deficient or non-deficient area—that’s all fine. You should gather as much knowledge about your goats’ lives as possible. But if you are struggling to find an answer (because we all know looking at that soil map is confusing!), don’t worry about your soil levels. If your goats are struggling with deficiencies, and you are confused how that happened because your soil isn’t deficient, hopefully this explained how many factors go into goat nutrition, and you can help your goat thrive.
I recommend offering a free choice, self-regulated loose mineral as a baseline. No matter your soil levels, you should offer this to your goats, and they will take what they need. But, don’t go ahead and copper bolus your goats or dose selenium gel or something else just because you think your soil levels no longer matter, and I’m giving you the “A-OK” to listen to what someone told you in a Facebook group about something your goat needs. What your goat should receive in terms of mineral supplementation should always be based on the deficiencies you observe. Each individual goat is different, and a pro and a con of goats are that they are one species that displays mineral deficiencies VERY obviously. But it takes time to learn to identify them, so that is why having a good mentor to guide you is important. You can also read this blog post of mine to learn how to identify deficiencies of the vital three minerals, copper, zinc, and selenium: Goat Minerals 101.
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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.