Thursday, September 1, 2011

Topic of the Month: Minerals

This month's topic is a discussion on mineral supplementation for your goats.

All goats need mineral supplementation added to their grain, hay, and pasture rations. Due to goats being browsers by nature, they have evolved to eat a wide variety of different vegetation. This wide variety of vegetation supplies goats with a natural variety of vitamins and minerals. Sheep and cows, which are grazers by nature, have evolved to eat mainly grass. Thus goats need more mineral supplementation in a confined pasture situation than other ruminants.

The best form of mineral supplementation for goats is to provide them with loose, granular mineral blends that are designed specifically for goats. Goats have small mouths and soft tongues which make mineral blocks and mineral tubs too hard for them to utilize fully. This is why loose, granular minerals are most important. Mineral blocks use salt as a binding agent to make them hard. This means they contain much more sodium than a goat needs daily. Sodium is a limiting factor in the goat's diet so a goat will only lick enough of a mineral block to satisfy its sodium needs for the day and not its other mineral needs. Loose minerals do not have excess salt in them. While we are on the topic of sodium, some people put out baking soda all the time for goats to eat to balance their rumen pH. This causes the same problem as excess sodium in mineral blocks by satisfying a goat's sodium needs, causing them to shun their minerals. If you put out baking soda and loose minerals together all the time, the goats will eat the baking soda first and then not as much of the minerals as they should.

The loose minerals should be designed specifically for goats because other species of animals have different mineral requirements. Sheep can not have added copper in their diets. Usually, minerals that are labeled "All Stock" will be formulated with sheep in mind and will not contain enough copper to keep goats healthy. Goats need a lot of copper in their diets. Some people with sheep and goats housed together prefer to put out loose mineral that is formulated for sheep and then supplement their goats a couple of times a year with a bolus of copper. Copper boluses are large pills that you feed orally to the goat. The pill sits in the goat's rumen and slowly releases the copper that is in the pill. Unfortunately there is not a brand of copper bolus available specifically for goats so most people that want to bolus their goats must take cow Copasure boluses and resize them manually for their goats. 

A good goat mineral blend should have a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. This ratio should be considered when feeding the goat its grain ration and alfalfa ration. Processed grains are high in phosphorus, alfalfa is high in calcium. If your goats are getting lots of grain or lots of alfalfa daily, then look for a mineral blend that will balance out the calcium to phosphorus ratio to 2:1. 

Another thing to consider when supplementing goats with minerals is the mineral content of the water they drink. If their water is normally very high in iron or calcium or some other mineral, then it is best to look for a loose mineral that is low in this particular mineral. This way the amount of the mineral the goat receives daily will balance out. Too much of one mineral in the diet will cause a deficiency in other minerals. Minerals compete for binding sites in the body and if there is an imbalance, the mineral in abundance in the diet will win out. A goat could be on a balanced mineral blend and still have a deficiency due to too much of a certain mineral present somewhere else in the diet.

Please post a comment if you have any additions or subtractions to the above information. I welcome any discussion on the topic!