When some people get started with goats, they may overlook a very important aspect of their care by failing to provide free-choice, loose goat minerals. Even if they know goats need minerals, they may think that a block is okay or that any livestock minerals are good enough. They may think they should top dress the goats’ feed rather than having the minerals available all the time.
Why do goats need minerals?
Goats have been around forever, and no one buys minerals for wild goats, so why should you provide minerals for your goats? Because goats in the wild are not fenced in. They are free to range over thousands of acres looking for what they need. Goats in the wild live in desserts and mountains, not on the plains and prairies or feedlots. Goats never lived in the wild in Illinois because we don’t have what they need to thrive. And if we don’t provide them with minerals, they won’t thrive.
Goats in the wild drink only rain water or water from creeks and lakes. They do not drink water that has been pumped up from 100 feet below the ground. Well water in many areas is high in sulfur, iron, or calcium, which inhibits the absorption of other minerals, such as copper, leading to deficiency. If you have well water, not only do you need to have a complete goat mineral available, but you may also need to provide additional copper supplementation.
If goats become deficient in minerals, they will have a variety of issues. Copper deficient goats will have problems with infertility, miscarriage, failing to shed their winter coat, and loss of color in their coat. (Click here to see pictures of a buck who is copper deficient.) They will also have a much harder time dealing with parasites. Selenium deficient does may have birthing problems and not pass their placenta in a timely manner. They may give birth to kids with white muscle disease. Calcium deficient does won’t have strong uterine contractions in labor and may get milk fever after kidding. Zinc deficient goats lose hair in patches and foam at the mouth. This is just a sample of the problems you will see if your goats are not properly nourished.
Why do goats need goat minerals?
Different types of livestock have different nutritional needs. For example, sheep need very little copper, so if you give sheep minerals or “sheep and goat” minerals to goats, they will almost certainly become copper deficient. Because of the different needs of livestock, using an “all stock” mineral may lead to deficiencies because they tend to be very low in all minerals, so as not to cause toxicity of any mineral in any species.
What form of goat minerals should I use? Can I use a block or a poured bucket?
Goats have very soft tongues, unlike cows whose tongues are like sand paper. Blocks of minerals are very hard, and poured buckets are only a little softer. It can be difficult for some goats to get enough minerals from a block or a bucket. Loose minerals can be easily licked up. Although some people have had luck with blocks, I’ve heard of goats winding up with deficiencies. I’ve also heard of goats chipping a tooth as they desperately scraped the block with their teeth trying to get enough minerals.
How do you feed goat minerals?
Goat minerals should be in a mineral feeder attached to the wall. It should be high enough so that the goats can’t poop in it. Since their head is at about the same level as their back end, some people will put a cinder block next to the mineral feeder so the goats can put their front hooves on it to reach the minerals. Do your best to make sure minerals are always available. Mineral needs may vary from goat to goat and day to day, and goats actually do a good job of consuming what they need.
You should not mix in anything with the minerals! Some people want to add baking soda or diatomaceous earth or kelp, etc. If you want to provide additional supplements for your goats, they should be provided in separate containers. Minerals have been balanced by nutritionists (usually with salt) to regulate the goat’s intake. If you start mixing in other things, you will alter their consumption. For example, if you add baking soda or kelp, that will increase the sodium content, which will reduce the amount of minerals the goats consume.
Although it may seem logical to equate goat minerals with a multi-vitamin for humans and assume that it’s not really important, nothing could be further from the truth. By following these tips, you can be sure that you are doing what you can to ensure that your goats are getting the minerals they need.
Ready for winter?
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, and we'll send you a copy of our guide, "Winter on the Homestead."