Goats and Sheep and Cobalt

Goats and Sheep

You may have seen a cobalt block at your local feed store, or if you’re on social media, you may have seen goat or sheep owners talking about them. People have stated that it helps goats utilize their feed better or that their particular breed requires more cobalt than other breeds. Even though my goats and sheep seem to utilize their feed just fine, I started to wonder if my goats could benefit from cobalt supplementation, so I checked Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants, which is authored by a committee of nine experts, such as veterinary or animal science professors and animal nutrition researchers. Unless otherwise cited, all of the following information comes from there.

We can’t talk about cobalt without talking about B12. A very tiny amount of cobalt is needed for goats to produce B12 in the rumen. The fact that ruminants produce their own B12 is one reason you don’t see B12 added in feeds and mineral mixes.  Research does not support routine supplementation with B12. However, goats and sheep can become deficient in B12 (usually because they’re deficient in cobalt), and it may be helpful to supplement deficient individuals with B12 in the short term.

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What happens when goats or sheep become cobalt deficient?

When researchers fed sheep a diet completely free of cobalt, they became B12 deficient. Essentially, a cobalt deficiency is a B12 deficiency. Although most of the research cited was done in sheep, the daily requirement of cobalt is the same for sheep and goats, mostly because they haven’t done as much research in goats. One study concluded that goats don’t need as much cobalt as sheep.

B12 deficiency is described as a “slow-developing energy deficiency, which results in impaired thyroid function.” This has been associated with irregular heat cycles in goats and with more stillbirths and death of newborn lambs in sheep.

Severe cobalt deficiency over many months results in a wasting disease where animals lose weight and are unproductive and ultimately die. One person on Facebook said that she had a ram that was anemic and died, and her vet believed the ram was cobalt deficient. She also had goats with fertility problems, and after supplementing them with cobalt, their fertility improved.

Some goat owners in Facebook groups have said that they gave their goats cobalt because the goat had unpalatable milk or blood in the milk, which they attributed to a cobalt deficiency. After starting to supplement with cobalt, they said the milk tasted better or the blood disappeared, although I have been unable to find any research on this topic.

Where do goats and sheep get cobalt?

In summarizing the results of several studies where they measured the daily ruminal production of B12, it was concluded that sheep fed a roughage-based diet consumed enough cobalt (assuming the soil was not deficient) and did not exhibit symptoms of B12 deficiency. When they fed grain to sheep, their production of B12 decreased, but when sheep were fed grain that was fortified with cobalt, they did not become deficient in B12.

I’ve checked labels on five different popular goat feeds and found that they all list one or more forms of cobalt in the ingredient list, although the amounts were not included in the guaranteed analysis. This usually means that the amount of the mineral is very low, but in the case of cobalt, the amount needed is very low.

When checking labels on minerals, I noticed that Sweetlix Meat Maker loose minerals and MagnumMilk contains 240 ppm cobalt, but Purina Goat Minerals has none. Manna Pro has it listed in the ingredient list but not in the guaranteed analysis. Some breeders use cattle minerals for their goats, such as Payback UltraMin 12-12 Plus, which contains 25 ppm or PNW UltraMin 12-12 Se, which contains 20 ppm. Most Sweetlix sheep minerals have 130 ppm or less, which is interesting since the guidelines say they need as much as goats. As you can see, there is a huge variance between brands of minerals, so you should be sure to check the label if you’re concerned about the amount of cobalt in your minerals.

For lambs and kids, it’s important to know that colostrum is rich in B12, so newborns don’t need additional supplementation. (Since they don’t have a functioning rumen, it would be pointless to supplement them with cobalt anyway.)

Why do sheep and goats become cobalt deficient?

“Sandy soils in the southeastern United States, Atlantic coast, and parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska are deficient in cobalt, and forages grown in these areas may lack sufficient cobalt to meet the requirements,” according to Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants.

Can sheep and goats get too much cobalt?

The toxicity level for goats is unknown, but the likelihood is considered to be small. “Early signs of toxicity include failure to grow, unthriftiness, and loss of weight. If continued, fatty degeneration of the liver and anemia will develop.” The anemia may be caused by the fact that cobalt is an antagonist to iron, meaning that too much cobalt would cause an animal to be unable to absorb iron sufficiently.

It is worth noting that cobalt is also an antagonist to iodine, which is important for proper thyroid function. If an animal is iodine deficient, it may develop a goiter (swelling over the thyroid in the throat), have problems with fertility, cause stillbirths or hairless kids, and low milk production.

There does not appear to be a way for goats or sheep to get too much cobalt when eating a natural diet. That means cobalt toxicity is not something to worry about unless you are supplementing with cobalt.

Learn more about iodine deficiency in goats in this podcast episode.

How do you know if you need to supplement with cobalt?

If your goats or sheep don’t have symptoms of cobalt or B12 deficiency, then they are probably getting enough cobalt. Even though the symptoms of deficiency and toxicity are similar, it’s not that hard to know whether an animal is more or less likely to be deficient. If they are consuming a forage-based diet, then toxicity can be ruled out, and they’re probably deficient. On the other hand, if you’re supplementing with added cobalt, and you have an animal that’s anemic and wasting, they’re probably consuming too much.

Cobalt deficiency is actually pretty rare because animals need so little of it. If you are worried, you can have blood tested for cobalt or B12 levels, and you can also have the liver of a dead goat or sheep tested for mineral levels.

Should you use boluses?

Cobalt boluses sit in the goat’s stomach and slowly dissolve to increase serum levels of cobalt. However, once you’ve given a bolus to an animal, you can’t take it back. It supposedly takes one to three years for the bolus to dissolve, depending upon which source you read, as they have different numbers listed.

Are there arguments against providing a cobalt block?

Some people may think that you have nothing to lose by providing a cobalt block for your goats or sheep since the likelihood of toxicity is small, but that’s not the only danger of providing a block. One possible drawback is that the block is 98% salt, which could cause some goats to consume less of other minerals. Most mixed mineral use salt as a carrier and labels say that no other forms of salt should be available to ensure that animals consume enough of the mineral. After all, who wants to consume too much salt? Nutritionists specifically put salt in minerals so that animals don’t consume too much.

“I tried a large cobalt block for my herd just because I had heard of other farms using these, but then noticed that my goats were decreasing their consumption of loose minerals and choosing to lick the block,” said Julie Jarvis of Animal Cracker Farm in Maple Valley, WA. “They started having signs of other deficiencies fairly quickly. I had the cobalt blocks out for about 2 months. As soon as I removed the blocks, they rapidly consumed the loose minerals again and their other deficiency signs improved.”

The biggest argument against providing a cobalt block is that some brands of mixed minerals actually have more cobalt in them than the blocks do — and with less salt, so that the animals will eat more. One website had it listed as 100 ppm cobalt and 110 ppm iodine. Although this is more than some mixed minerals, it is less than half the cobalt found in Sweetlix and less than one-fourth the iodine in Sweetlix. So, if you are worried about your animals’ cobalt status, you should read the labels on minerals and find one that has a higher amount of cobalt and lower amount of salt. A mixed mineral would be preferable so that your animals would be more likely to get balanced nutrition.

What should YOU do?

Read the labels on your feed and minerals. Odds are good that you are already providing plenty of cobalt for your goats and sheep.

If you are super curious about any mineral levels, send a liver to a diagnostic lab next time an animal dies or you butcher one. The first time I did this, my daughter asked me if I knew what I was doing, and I said no, but I couldn’t hurt the animal because it was dead already. I called the lab and asked them exactly what they needed me to send them and how I should ship it to be sure I was sending them exactly what they needed. The price for this is usually around $25 to $50, depending on how many minerals you want tested.

Watch your animals. If you have an anemic animal that does not have a high worm load (most common reason for anemia) and is not deficient in copper (another cause of anemia), perhaps it is a cobalt deficiency, if your soil is cobalt deficient and you don’t have a mineral with cobalt in it. But if you are providing a mineral with cobalt in it, and your animals are productive and healthy, their cobalt and B12 level is probably fine.

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goats and sheep

Are your goats getting the nutrients they need?

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20 thoughts on “Goats and Sheep and Cobalt”

  1. Excellent information and easy to understand. Just wish I had seen it a month ago! Is there a treatment for excess cobalt besides not giving it?
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Deborah,
    Did you read this article on Cobalt and milk issues by Irene Ramsay? When you were collecting info for this article the link hadn’t been working so i was unable to share the article. It was the one that prompted me to use Cobalt and it straightened the milk out right away. The pink milk was gone after a generous pinch a day for 3 days or so. Also goats with out pink milk that just had goaty flavored milk, i gave them some pinches as well on their morning rations and their milk was great tasting after. Seeing your comments above about the different levels, i know the loose minerals we had been getting was very low on it and we have only had pasture and hay for our goats versus the wide range of nutrition that browse gives them so i think it is possible that their diet was just low in it.


    • Someone did share this with me when I was working on the article, but there is quite a bit about it that doesn’t add up. The real point she seems to be making is that pink milk is caused by calcium deficiency, which I’ve never heard either. The textbooks says that it’s usually caused by trauma.

      She barely mentions cobalt, but doesn’t seem to have a good understanding of the cobalt and B12 connection since she says you can give B12 injections to a goat that is deficient in cobalt. Well, that’s only going to help the goat on the day that you give the injection. It is not a long-term solution because cobalt causes the rumen to produce B12, so goats need cobalt in their regular diet so they produce their own B12 regularly.

  3. Hi! This is very interesting. I had never heard about this. I have 4 wethers and i dont give them feed at all. They have timothy hay and get timothy pellets due to a urinary blockage in one. This have been working well for me. I had been doing loose minerals but am wondering if i need to up it more. Is this a big concern in wethers??

    • Wethers tend to be very easy keepers because they usually have no stress. They’re not producing sperm or babies or milk. They’re just lounging in the pasture enjoying life. In fact, most of the problems I see in wethers are people killing them with kindness — over-supplementing. A good loose goat mineral is all that most of them need. You only need to add something else if they are showing signs of specific deficiencies.

  4. Hi. Actually I have a wether who also has had blockage twice. He only gets orchard grass hay now. But he’s less thrifty looking now. Has issues with his joints etc. I’ve wondered if he’s deficient in cobalt. Someone said when they don’t look good. Less thrifty. It’s cobalt deficiency.

    What do you think? Oh by the way he’s not had issues with work load past 5+ yrs. he is 8.5 yrs old. 240 lbs. a boer wether. He’s not comfortable joint wise. He’s taking meloxicam. But even that isn’t working completely well. His joints are very loud creaking. I’ve tried glucosamine and msm but doesn’t help.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • In the first paragraph, my first guess would be worms. As you’ve read in this article, cobalt deficiency is quite rare. I’d check his eyelids for anemia, although if his body condition is not great, that’s a good sign that he has worms.

      I’m not sure if the second paragraph is a different goat or the same one. I hope you’re not talking about giving meloxicam to your goat long term. That’s not good for their stomach. I would try the glucosamine and chondroitin again at a higher dose. We use that for our old dog, and it had miraculous results. Has he seen a vet for diagnostics to see if it’s arthritis or something else? That’s really young for a goat to have arthritis — unless it’s caprine arthritis encephalitis.

  5. Hi Deborah,
    I am very new to goats and have had quite a rough start. I bought 2 bred nigerian dwarf Does. It’s been about 3 months and a half since I’ve had them. One of the Does got really bad scours 2 days after bringing Her home. I had fecals done and they had worms and coccidia I treated them for both and got it under control. I noticed that both started looking anemic by checking famancha score I haven’t been able to get that fixed. I have given complex fortified vitamin B I have given red cell and give Hebamins daily. I gave a copper bolus when I got them because the breeder said they were starting to look somewhat deficient. My black Doe’s coat was starting to look coppery. I saw no difference whatsoever so I bolused them a couple weeks ago again. My other Doe’s coat turned almost white and Her coat color supposed to be chamoisee. She has had a very rough time. She kidded with quads and had ketosis. I taught I was going to loose Her. She pulled through and She’s been eating much better than she was. She is still very anemic I gave her the vitamin B shots for about 2 weeks and still Her Famacha score is on the very anemic score. My black Doe kidded a week ago with a single buckling and He hasn’t been eating well. He doesn’t suck from momma so I try bottle feeding him and he refuses to drink. I have started milking her to relieve her. I tasted the milk this morning and it tastes awful. It’s not goaty is like sour it’s hard to describe the taste. I have kelp, sweetlix meat maker loose minerals, purina loose minerals and baking soda free choice. They get Organic alfalfa pellets as much as they want orchard grass free choice and a flake of alfalfa hay. They get some grain and a little bit of BOSS on the stand while milking and fresh water with apple cider vinegar everyday. They get a herbal dewormer weekly. I don’t know what else I can do for them to be healthy and look happy. We Use city water and I requested for the analysis, it was sent to me but now I don’t know how to interpret those numbers(results). Any suggestions on what I can do to get my girls on shape would be so much appreciated. Thank you Deborah.

    • Sounds like you have a ton of stuff going on. Have you ever treated the goats with a dewormer like ivermectin or Safeguard? Herbal dewormers don’t really work well enough to get rid of a serious parasite load. Here is more on deworming:

      If your goat’s milk tastes salty, that would be a sign of mastitis. If it just taste bad, that could be a vitamin E deficiency. Were the goats receiving a free choice loose mineral at their previous home?

      You don’t need a water test to know if your water can cause problems for your goats. If it is high in sulfur, it will stink. If it is high in iron, it will turn a white sink orange. But copper is stored in the liver, and these does have not been with you long enough for YOUR water to be a problem for them yet. Sounds like the last owner knew she had a problem and should have given the goats copper before selling them to you. How much did you give each one?

      • Thanks for your response. Yes I did give them a both of those dewormer when I found out they had worm loads. It was suggested by the vet a the lab I sent it to. I did a another fecal after and they both had a few eggs but was told by the lab technician that the eggs count was not high to worry about. After that I started giving the herbal dewormer on a weekly basis. Yes the said they were giving free choice minerals. The milk is not salty it just tastes sour is not sweet. She is seven days fresh so I don’t know if that’s why it tastes like that. As for the copper I gave them a bolus of 4 g each. I have been calling vets around my area but no success none around here know anything about goats. I’ve called my local extension to check for mineral deficiency and can’t get an answer either. I am trying my best not to get discouraged with all this going on but haven’t been able to locate other breeds around my area to get some advice. It is really heartbreaking to see them look lethargic all the time and can’t do much. I have been researching a lot online and came across several of your topics on goats and have been reading them. I don’t what else to do. If you have any other suggestions I’d appreciate it. If you offer mentoring I would love to get in touch with you. Thanks Deborah!

        • I understand your frustration. Having goats in the US is tough since they’re not that popular, so not many vets have experience with them. I have to drive two hours to a university vet hospital.

          Technically it’s supposed to be mature milk after 4 days, but I have heard people say that their goat milk doesn’t taste great for the first week or two. This is definitely not universal, but appears to vary from goat to goat, so I wouldn’t get excited about the milk taste yet. I noticed you are reading the cobalt post, which some people say has an influence on milk, but vitamin E deficiency also has an effect on taste. That is usually not a problem if goats have plenty of fresh green forage to eat, but if all they eat is hay that’s been stored for 6-8 months or more, it could be an issue.

          I do offer mentoring through my Goats 365 Premium membership program. There’s a monthly or annual option. More info is here:

    • If you have pet wethers, this will be fine. If you have breeding does and bucks, I would be more concerned about the very low level of selenium and lack of iodine. The selenium is only 12 ppm, whereas Sweetlix and Purina have 50 ppm — and even with the higher level, people in some areas need to use more selenium. Selenium and iodine are both really important for fertility and birthing. Iodine can easily be supplemented by providing kelp. If you can try to find Sweetlix or Purina, that would be better.

  6. I’m just coming here to comment but I’m one of those people who had unpalatable milk that could not be traced back to any other source. Get better after a B complex injection but quickly return which led me to believe that it was cobalt that was the issue and after adding a portion of a cobalt bolus, the problem never returned.

  7. High Mo soils/forages can inhibit cobalt uptake, much like it does for copper. But, I have not found any studies that indicate what ratios this happens in and how to compensate, how much to compensate. Gradually increasing the cobalt in supplements and watching for improved thriving and weight gain, would indicate adequate levels. My understanding is the high end for cobalt it 10 ppm in the diet.\, so the risk is low for overdosing, at a go-slow rate.

    We have a flock of 24 Shetland sheep, kept for wool production. We’ve had anemia and weight loss despite supplementation at typical levels and despite worming them. Lost one ewe yesterday with acute anemia and exhaustion. I am concerned about several others getting much worse soon. I plan to use half Redmond 30 with adding trace mineral, and half Back in Balance supplement for goats. Do you know of any studies in the effect of Mo on Cobalt in the diets of sheep? thanks

    • The most common cause of weight loss and anemia in sheep is parasites. If you have been giving them a dewormer on a schedule, then you could be dealing with dewormer resistance. Unless you did before and after fecals and KNOW that the level of worms fell to a reasonable level, I would not rule out parasites.

      Copper deficiency is more common in sheep than cobalt deficiency. I raised Shetlands for 12 years and did have a problem with copper deficiency. I gave them goat minerals free choice for a week at a time every few months. I quit giving them sheep minerals, which I explain a couple of paragraphs down.

      Since you are talking about starting to use minerals, I’m assuming you have not been using any. If that’s the case, your sheep could be suffering from any number of deficiencies. I do NOT recommend any Redmond products as they tend to have little to no real minerals in them. I searched for Redmond 30 and I could only find Redmond Selenium 30, which is about 90% salt — so yet another one of their products that is mostly salt with little actual minerals in them. The selenium level is decent at 30 ppm, but that’s about it.

      It would be a good idea to simply start with an excellent mineral like Sweetlix Lamb Maker Mineral, which has 130 ppm cobalt among other minerals and a salt level of only 14-16%. The only thing I don’t like about Sweetlix sheep minerals is that they contain molybdenum, which is probably what caused my sheep to become copper deficient, in addition to sulfur in our well water. Molybdenum is a copper antagonist, as well as sulfur, so what little copper my sheep were consuming in forage was not being absorbed because of that. I realized my older ewes were copper deficient because the ones with black faces had turned gray. They were at death’s door, and I gave them copper oxide like I give my goats, and within 2-3 weeks, their faces were black again, and their condition had improved considerably. (Hair on the face is very short, so you see changes quickly.) Copper oxide can be used in sheep safely for parasites.

      This is my goat podcast, but most of this research on copper oxide as a dewormer has actually been done on sheep — https://thriftyhomesteader.com/copper-oxide-as-a-dewormer/


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