Goats and selenium deficiency

goats selenium

Selenium is a micronutrient needed by goats (and lots of other living creatures). Although they only need a little, a deficiency can cause big problems. When goats don’t have enough selenium, does may have trouble getting pregnant, are more likely to have problems giving birth, are more likely to have a retained placenta, and probably won’t produce as much milk as they otherwise would. They may also give birth to stillborn or weak kids. In extreme cases, goats get white muscle disease.

Unlike our knowledge of copper in goats, which is in its infancy, we have a better understanding of selenium needs. In fact, the government has set limits on selenium in mineral mixes and commercial feeds for fear of toxicity. On the other hand, veterinarians in many parts of the US recommend additional routine supplementation of selenium. So, why has the government set the maximum level so low?

Source: https://mrdata.usgs.gov/geochem/doc/averages/se/usa.html

The amount of selenium in the soil varies tremendously around the US. In some areas, such as the Dakotas, there is an abundance of selenium in the soil. Because commercial goat feeds and mineral mixes are sold across the country, the government has set maximum levels of selenium so that goats in areas with the highest levels don’t wind up with toxicity. That means that goats that live in areas where the soil is deficient may not be able to get enough of the mineral through those two products. This is why there is such a variety of products available to add more selenium to your goats’ diet. The frequency of these supplements varies based upon location and individual needs of the goats. Also, keep in mind that the amount of selenium in these supplements varies widely, and not all of these options are ideal in all situations.

  • BoSe is an injectable selenium with vitamin E, which enhances absorption. (Please note that it is NOT a therapeutic dose of vitamin E.) It is available only by prescription from a veterinarian and is usually dosed one to four times a year, with once or twice a year being most common. This drug is labeled for sheep, so using it for goats is considered off-label. The label also says it should not be used in pregnant ewes.
  • MultiMin is an injectable cattle mineral that contains zinc, manganese, copper, and selenium. It is only available by prescription from a veterinarian, and is usually given one to four times per year. It has far more selenium in it than BoSe, and I know people who have accidentally killed multiple goats when using this product, and lab results showed that the goats died from kidney and liver failure due to selenium and copper toxicity. 
  • Replamin and ReplaminPlus are oral gels that have selenium, as well as other minerals, such as copper. They are also given somewhere between weekly and monthly.
  • Loose selenium supplements are made available free choice. They should have some type of carrier that is different from mineral mixes, which usually is salt. I used to use one that contained wheat middlings as the carrier. It is sold as a feed additive.
  • Selenium gel is given orally. All of the ones I’ve seen have so little selenium in them that they would not actually help a goat that is selenium deficient. 
  • Some people provide their goats with herbs that are reputed to be high in selenium. Unfortunately, if a goat was really deficient, it would be impossible for goats to consume enough of these to be helpful.

Although many people recommend checking a map like the one above, it may not be that helpful. If you live in the lightest areas, you probably will see symptoms of deficiency. However, the darkest area represents soils that have between 0.75 and 5.32 ppm selenium, which is a huge range. If you go to the page where the map is housed, you can click on your county to get the average amount of selenium in the soil for your area. However, according to the map, our soil has 0.76 ppm, which puts us into that top category, yet vets around here usually recommend additional supplementation, and our goat livers and fertility indicated that our goats needed it. So, once again, it comes down to watching your goats for signs of deficiency.

Secondary selenium deficiency

In areas where there is enough selenium in the soil, goats can suffer from secondary selenium deficiency if they are consuming too much sulfur. This can happen on some farms that have well water. You don’t have to get your well water tested to know if you have sulfur. It makes the water stinky and unpalatable for more people. (We once had an intern who called it fart water.)

Testing

Like copper, selenium is stored in the liver, and you can test the liver of a dead goat to get an idea of their selenium status. Needle biopsies on livers of live goats are also possible. Before we started supplementing, we had livers tested on goats that died, and our livers were always on the low end of normal. After we started supplementing, we saw an increase in the number of kids each doe gave birth to, and our liver levels are now mid-range normal. We also test on goats that we butcher.

You can also check your goats’ selenium status with blood tests, which is cheaper and easier than liver biopsies. (Please note that blood is NOT an accurate method of determining the copper level of goats.)

For more information

You can learn more about selenium deficiency and toxicity in goats by listening to my podcast interview with Dr. Robert VanSaun, a vet professor and ruminant nutritionist from Pennsylvania State University.

Your experience?

I created a survey to get a better idea of how common various symptoms are, as well as how breeders deal with deficiency. Click here to participate, regardless of whether you have seen any symptoms of deficiency in your herd. It’s important to hear from people with various experiences. Please keep in mind that the survey is anonymous, so if you ask a question in the comment section, I won’t be able to respond personally unless you leave your email address. Questions can also be posted in the comment section below.

 

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46 thoughts on “Goats and selenium deficiency”

    • My 3 year old Boer doe is loosing a lot of hair all over his body, I have deworm her 2 times with ivermectin plus injectable and given her a dose of vitamin b-12. She is still not getting better this was about a week ago they have a block of selenium and trace minerals, any suggestions.

      Reply
      • This is the time of year that goats blow their coats, so if she is just losing cashmere (fluffy stuff), it’s just normal shedding. If she is losing ALL hair and you see bare skin, then it could be a zinc deficiency.
        https://thriftyhomesteader.com/zinc-deficiency-goats/
        The block of trace minerals that you have is probably 90% or more salt, which has very little actual minerals in it. Goats need to have free choice, loose “goat minerals,” such as Sweetlix Meat Maker or Purina Goat Minerals that have at least 1500 ppm copper and 50 ppm selenium. Even if you have a block that has that much copper and selenium in it, most goats cannot get enough from a block because they have a small, soft tongue. Blocks are best for cows and horses, which have huge sandpaper tongues.

        Reply
    • The six different types of selenium supplements are listed in the article. The dosage varies based upon whether it’s oral or injectable. Oral is a lot more often than injectable. I personally use Fertrell’s selenium-E supplement and provide it free choice in a separate dish so the goats can take what they need. The selenium-E is not listed on their website, but your local dealer can order it for you.

      Reply
  1. I did a search for Fertrell’s selenium-E but don’t find it. Only a product called Grazier’s Choice, which can’t be the one you mean as it contains no wheat carrier.

    Where can I find Fertrell’s selenium-E ? And do you know if the wheat in it is GMO or organic?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • It’s not on their website, but the local dealers can order it. GMO wheat is not on the market as of this moment. Fertrell makes a lot of products for the organic market, but I don’t know if the wheat middlings are organic or not, and I’m not home to be able to check the label. Your local dealer should be able to tell you.

      Reply
    • Fertrell products are only available through Fertrell dealers. The selenium-E supplement is not listed on their website, but if you contact a local dealer, they can order it for you. Unfortunately I’m traveling and don’t access to the label, so can’t give you the amount of selenium in it.

      Reply
  2. The mineral supplement I use is sweet licks and neither of my does will eat out of the bowl after the first day and the mineral gets soggy. They will only eat it when I feed out of a container I hold. How do others keep it palatable?

    Reply
    • That’s interesting. I’ve never had that problem. Since you only have two does, I wonder if they’re eating it so slowly that you don’t realize it. I think the Sweetlix recommendation is something like 0.3 to 0.5 ounces per day, so two does would not even consume an ounce a day, so it would disappear very slowly, and odds are that you would never see them eating it.

      Reply
    • I’m not sure how you can quantify that. I’ve had free choice selenium available for my goats for six years. For five years, I bought it from Caprine Supply, then I started buying it from Fertrell since CS stopped selling it, and no one has ever ODed on it. They don’t go through it very fast at all — much slower than they go through the Sweetlix Meat Maker minerals. However, if we run out of minerals, they start eating the selenium more, which tells me that they really do know what they’re doing (because they’re not getting selenium through the mixed minerals then). I don’t know anyone who uses cafeteria style minerals who has had one OD. If you put them out and saw the goats going through it faster than the mixed minerals, I might not keep it available all the time.

      When goats consume the selenium orally, the risk of toxicity is MUCH lower than when injecting it. I do know of two people who killed multiple goats with MultiMin injections because of selenium and copper toxicity. Injectable minerals are in very high doses because the goats pee out most of it within 24 hours.

      Reply
  3. Hi!
    First of all, I really appreciate all of your valuable information. I am in my first year of dairy goats and learning daily it seems. My 2 does, were bred this week (or so we think). I did not give a BoSe Injection prior to breeding (they both had a BoSe injection when they were babies but that’s it). Now I’m kicking myself for not doing it before releasing the buck to them. Is it to late? Would a selenium gel be better? If so, how often should I do that? Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • The label on a bottle of BoSe says it should not be given to pregnant ewes. (It is labeled for sheep.) So it’s really not a good idea to give it to them if they’ve been with a buck already. In a small percentage of cases, it can cause abortions. Selenium gel would be safer because it’s a much smaller dose. However, it’s such a small dose, it doesn’t do much in cases of severe deficiency. Ultimately you need to supplement your goats based upon their symptoms of deficiency, so there is no one-size-fits-all schedule for giving them a gel.

      Reply
  4. I have a doe that was given to me about two months ago that I believe is very deficient. She didn’t get pregnant last season although the woman said she left her with the buck until May, and she hasn’t shown signs of becoming pregnant this season. She doesn’t have very strong heat cycles, but I believe I’ve witnessed two. I can’t touch her quite yet (I managed to scratch her head this morning!) as she is extremely skittish. I’m considering putting her in my holding pen so I can get to know her better and give her selenium gel. I’ve also managed to copper bolus her a month ago and they get free choice minerals. My questions are: should I dose her twice as often to make up for the deficiency? And, how soon can I expect her infertility to leave? I can’t afford an animal that doesn’t pull its weight and right now I’m also renting a buck for her.

    Reply
    • Selenium gel does not have much selenium in it. If she is really deficient, then a BoSe shot would be much better for getting her caught up quickly, but that is only available from a vet by prescription. Most vets are pretty willing to give it to you though. However, if she has been with a buck already, there is a chance that she is pregnant, and BoSe says it is not to be given to pregnant “ewes” (because it is actually labeled for sheep). The best course of action would have been to give her a BoSe shot before putting her with the buck.

      Reply
  5. Hi. I am not sure whether my goats are selenium deficient or not…but they get a good quality loose mineral with 180mg selenium. They were copper deficient..so I boluses them 2 months ago (haven’t seen improvement in appearance). My doe has kidded a single over 6 months ago….I bred her several times but she doesn’t take. Is this selenium deficiency? I live in Bangladesh…not sure if its a selenium deficient area.

    Reply
    • Trying to breed a doe that kidded six months ago may not work because her body simply hasn’t got enough reserves to get pregnant again. Many does would not even be cycling at this point. If you are holding her for a buck to breed her, and she is not in standing heat, that’s why she is not getting pregnant. A doe must be in standing heat to get pregnant. I don’t know what breeds of goat you have there, but you may find that she will come into heat and get pregnant again in a couple of months. They usually only kid once a year. Selenium deficiency is a possibility, as well as a subclinical infection from the last kidding, which would need to be treated with antibiotics.

      Reply
  6. This past two years, I have had trouble with does not settling, girls that easily settled before. The only feed change I have made was to go from alfalfa pellets to a combination and had decided to go back to straight alfalfa pellets; they get a cup at bedtime with sunflower seeds. The hay is orchard grass, free choice.
    This article brought to my attention that they have been going through a lot more minerals than in past years. I often find their feeder nearly empty.
    Could this extra mineral consumption be a need for selenium? If so, should I be offering it separately free-choice as well?
    Since I live in town and am limited to the number of goats, no pregnancies means no milk which is the reason I have these sweet girls.

    Reply
    • I am not a huge fan of BoSe shots as it is better for goats to get everything they need orally. But it would be interesting to see what would happen if you gave them a BoSe shot. Selenium deficiency can definitely reduce fertility. Deficiencies in zinc and copper can also cause fertility issues, but they have pretty obvious symptoms with the hair.

      Reply
  7. Santa Cruz offeresa selenium Cobalt bolus. It is good for 3 years. I just gave my girls it about 2 months ago ( beginning of September). I am wondering if I should still supplement selenium before kidding and if I should supplement the kids after birth . Thank you.

    Leah

    Reply
    • I never recommend routine supplementation of kids after birth. If your does are not deficient in selenium, they should not be giving birth to kids that are deficient. The goal is to have does that are not deficient. That said, I’ve looked on the Santa Cruz website, and I am not seeing a selenium bolus. Can you provide a link to the product you used?

      Reply
  8. Have you ever seen any sources associating selenium deficiency with bent tails? I saw more than a few forum posts relating selenium deficiency and bent tails, but can’t find any ‘reputable’ sources.

    Reply
      • The level of minerals in here is almost worthless. Since this post talks about selenium, let’s start there. Azomite has only 0.7 ppm selenium, whereas Sweetlix Meat Maker and Purina Goat Mineral have 50 ppm. That means a goat would have to eat 71 times as much Azomite to get as much selenium as they would get in one of the goat minerals. Copper is even worse. It has only 12 ppm copper, whereas Sweetlix has 1800 ppm and Purina has 2600 ppm copper. The only way a goat could get enough copper from Azomite would be if it were the only thing it was eating, which would leave no room for them to eat what all of the plants they need to be eating. The other minerals are no more plentiful in Azomite. Sure, all rocks have minerals in them, but I have not seen one yet that has enough to actually be used as a legitimate method of supplementing goats.

        Reply
  9. Thank you for the thorough information you provide. I have had goats for 3 years, however I still feel very “new” when it comes to supplements. Everyone I know uses BoSe injections, however I see that you use a free choice mineral of selenium. In using the free choice, I assume you have not needed to do injections? I would prefer that method, especially given the information on injections being excreted significantly through urine.

    Reply
  10. Hello. Most of the info, I’ve seen so far about selenium deficiencies, has to do with adults or newborns. We have a 5 month old doeling. Over the past week, when she first gets up after lying down, she doesn’t want to put weight on one of her front legs. After a couple of minutes, she’s walks without a limp—only hesitant about jumping off. The kids have been going for 2 hilly, woods walks a day. I didn’t see her injure herself, but they enjoy climbing on rocks and logs.

    The vet wants to give her a shot of selenium—says free choice wouldn’t help. I’ve only seen on one university site that mentions kids who are deficient may acquire a limp. Do you have an opinion about whether to proceed with the injection? In the meantime, I found Vitaflex E and Selenium for horses. The ingredient label says—yeast culture, vit E, vegetable oil, calcium silicate, sodium selenite, ascorbic acid. Also a sodium carrier? She currently has access to Sweet Licks Meatmaker. Thank you.

    Reply
    • This really sounds like an injury if it’s just one leg. It’s impossible to be with your goats 24/7, and they can easily hurt themselves. I had a doe that put no weight on her front right leg for months — twice — a year apart. Both times I took her to the vet, got x-rays, etc, because she was putting no weight on it. The x-ray showed nothing. The vet said it was just a soft tissue injury and to put her in a small space to avoid her walking as much a possible. It took 2-3 months each time for her to start walking normally, and I have no idea how she hurt herself either time.

      I would also find it strange to have one goat in your whole herd that is THAT selenium deficient. If her mother gave birth with no difficulty, passed her placenta in a couple of hours, and the kids were up and nursing normally, I’m not sure how a kid could be deficient within five months, especially when you have an excellent mineral available that has a good amount of selenium in it.

      You didn’t say which injectable selenium your vet wanted to use, but if he said MultiMin, I would say absolutely not. I do not recommend it because the level of selenium in it is so high, and I know two people who killed multiple goats with it. Lab results verified that the goats died from liver and kidney failure due to selenium and copper toxicity.

      If he wanted to give her a BoSe injection, that has far less selenium and is safer.

      The reason you only see people talk about selenium deficiency in adults and newborns is because it does not happen overnight. It takes months for deficiency to develop, so you see it in adults or in the kids of deficient adults.

      Big picture though — if you have a goat that became selenium deficient by 5 months of age, you have a big problem to fix. Why did that happen? Was she born selenium deficient? Was her mother deficient? Do you have sulfur in your well water? (Is it stinky?) I am not a fan of just throwing an injection at a problem when you don’t know what caused the problem. How will you prevent all of your goats from becoming so severely selenium deficient (if she is indeed deficient).

      Reply
  11. Thank you Deborah for your quick, thorough and helpful response; it confirmed my instinct. I’m becoming aware that raising goats is a science AND an art!

    Reply
      • No, that’s a mixed mineral. I’m not 100% sure they still make their selenium supplement. I’m not finding it on their website. I quit using that one about a year ago.

        Reply
          • I bought a horse supplement and have let them have it free choice, but I only buy one canister a month. I have only been doing that since last summer though, so don’t feel entirely comfortable recommending it because the change was so recent. I will be talking to a vet professor and ruminant nutritionist on an upcoming episode of my podcast about this topic and am hoping he has some good suggestions.

  12. Hi there! I have a 3 year old goat that is currently showing stiffness in legs, lameness & shifty gait. He doesn’t jump on things anymore & follows behind the rest of his herd. I had him at OSU twice- tested for CAE ( negative) full blood panel ( clean) fecal test twice ( clear). I was sent away with meloxicam. The meloxicam is working & I notice a difference. I took him to my local farm vet & they believe it to be White Muscle Disease. They gave him a Bo-Se injection & sent me home with 3 more ( 1 each week). I am still giving meloxicam & he is better ( not as stiff and running around now) BUT he is not back 100%.
    He still has a full appetite, normal pee & poop & drinking regularly. I really hope this is the problem, as I have noticed a change in his behavior starting a few months ago ( symptoms got worse around april 16th) that was our first vet visit.
    He has had a rougher coat than his brother & is skinnier, but vet says his weight is normal for his age. I would appreciate any insight you might have- and if you think the Bo-Se should be working fully. ( we have 2 injections left).

    Reply
    • I’ve never heard of giving a goat BoSe injections four weeks in a row, and it sounds a little scary. You can check for selenium deficiency with a blood test. (This is not the case with copper.) Research has shown that they pee out 40% of the selenium within 24 hours, which is bad enough if you’re giving it every few months, but that’s really hard on the liver and kidneys if you’re doing it weekly. Plus, BoSe is a VERY short-term answer. If he really is selenium deficient, you need to know WHY and come up with a long-term solution. I find it hard to believe that you’d have a single goat in your herd that is THAT deficient if no one else has a problem. I would ask for a blood test to check the selenium and see if he is really deficient. Here is an interview I did with a vet professor and ruminant nutritionist with more details on selenium:
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/selenium-deficiency-and-toxicity-in-goats/

      Reply

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