Minerals support optimal performance in livestock. But the mineral requirements for goats are not as well-known as they are for other livestock species.
Recommendations have often been extrapolated from sheep or cattle requirements due to a lack of studies in goats, according to Ashley Pierce, the livestock educator for Cornell’s Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program.
Knowing what minerals are available in the goat’s diet and which need to be added to a ration is important to keeping goats healthy. It’s also key to maximizing the investment in supplements and for avoiding toxicity.
Pierce explains the minerals goats need, what may be sufficient through the animal’s diet and those that may require supplementation.
What Minerals Do Goats Need?
Goats need both a variety of macro and micro minerals. Macrominerals are those required at 0.1 percent or more in the diet.
Macro minerals include:
Microminerals are those required at the part per million (ppm) level. A ppm is 0.908 grams per ton of feed or about the weight of a paperclip in one ton of feed, Pierce explains. They include:
Minerals in Forage & Feed
Mineral supplements do not need to be complicated if forage quality is good. Required minerals depend on the type of animal and geography, as well as whether the animal is lactating, growing or finishing.
“The most important source of minerals can be found in forage and feeds, but it is difficult to know that the animal is getting the recommended amounts,” Pierce says.
“Your soil may be low in a certain mineral. The plant may not have taken it up. It all depends on forage quality and what the animal is actually using, and what their needs are.”
Plants vary in nutrient composition depending on the type, weather, time of year and mineral availability in the soil.
Plants classified as browse and forbe species have a higher concentration of minerals than grasses. Animals eating a variety of plants are less likely to have mineral deficiencies, she adds.
Free choice, loose minerals are ideal, according to Pierce. Each goat can choose how much they want to eat. Each animal may have slightly different needs, and access to minerals at will allows their natural instincts to work.
“Free choice access allows them to use their own nutritional wisdom to ingest what they need to balance their diets from a mineral perspective,” she said.
Some minerals are adequate in forages. Others are never naturally available in adequate amounts, so they must always be in a supplement. Some are considered marginal, and may need supplementation.
- Adequate: potassium
- Deficient: sodium (when combined with chlorine, makes salt)
- Marginal: calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sulfur
Just as with the macrominerals, some microminerals are adequate, others are deficient and some are marginal.
- Adequate: manganese, iron
- Deficient: selenium
- Marginal: zinc, copper
Any mineral can be toxic if too much is given. To avoid overdosing an animal, purchase a complete mineral that is appropriate for each class of animal, such as meat or dairy, and allow free-choice access.
“A trace mineral salt block does not count as a mineral,” Pierce emphasizes.
Minerals Support Overall Health
Without a proper diet, including necessary minerals, goats may exhibit signs of poor growth, decreased milk production, anemia, lameness, dermatitis, infertility and more.
The signs of mineral deficiencies often start with symptoms that may relate to a problem but are not obvious. For example, does taking longer to settle or those having single kids instead of twins may suggest a mineral deficiency.
“Remember, with cheap minerals, you may be getting what you pay for,” she said. “Absorption may be low in these products, and your animals may need to eat far more to get the same benefit as a more available, and possibly more expensive, product.”
To control mineral costs and avoid overfeeding, test the forage and soil to see what is present. Fecal testing can also provide insight into what is available or missing in an animal’s diet.