Mineral Deficiencies and Infertility in Goats

mineral deficiency goats

It’s not unusual this time of year to see people complaining on social media about infertility in their goats. Some people are quick to start injecting does with hormones, but many cases of infertility are caused by mineral deficiencies. If you are able to get a doe pregnant with hormones, she may still abort or miscarry or have other health problems if she’s mineral deficient.

Copper

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a month or two, you know I’ve written about copper a lot. Infertility is one of the more advanced symptoms of copper deficiency. In fact, it was one of the symptoms of copper deficiency that I should have noticed in our goats the second year we had them. One of the does would not get pregnant. The vet recommended Lutalyse for the doe, but she still did not get pregnant. The following year we had more goats that did not get pregnant.

If a doe doesn’t get pregnant, she could be copper deficient if you are also seeing other symptoms of copper deficiency: faded coat, fish tail, balding around eyes or bridge of nose, parasite problems, or anemia that is not caused by parasite problems. If a doe gets pregnant, she may abort or give birth too early for the kids to survive. In severe cases, you may also see bowed legs, spinal injuries, and an overall weak immune system.

Copper deficiency is usually caused by minerals in well water, such as sulfur, iron, or calcium. If you are near a coal-fired power plant, that can leave sulfur deposits on your pasture. It can also be exacerbated by too much calcium or molybdenum in the diet, both of which are in alfalfa, which is part of the diet of most dairy goats. Alfalfa without well water is probably not a problem. But if you have well water and your goats get a high proportion of alfalfa in their diet, you will probably need to give more copper than you otherwise would.

If you have a doe that doesn’t get pregnant, but she does not have a faded coat, fish tail, or balding on her face, it’s probably not copper deficiency, especially if you don’t have any of the issues that cause copper deficiency.

Selenium

Another cause of infertility in goats is selenium deficiency. This is why many people give BoSe injections prior to the start of breeding season. While copper deficiency is usually secondary, meaning that it’s caused by copper antagonists, selenium deficiency is usually primary, meaning that goats are not getting enough selenium in their diet because most soil in the US is deficient in selenium. Secondary selenium deficiency can also occur, however, if you have a lot of sulfur or calcium in your well water.

Goats that are selenium deficient may also have reduced fertility, meaning they are more likely to have single kids. If they get pregnant, they are more likely to have a retained placenta and get mastitis. It negatively affects their immune system, so they are also more likely to have problems with things like foot rot and parasites. If kids are born selenium deficient, they can’t nurse, although kids with hypothermia also can’t nurse. Selenium-deficient goats (and people) are more likely to have hypothyroidism, which in turn causes infertility.

Vitamin E

Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency are almost identical to symptoms of selenium deficiency, but the cause is entirely different. Goats usually become deficient in vitamin E when they don’t have access to enough green food. This is usually only a problem towards the end of winter when the quality of the hay is deteriorating, or if you purchased hay that’s not great quality. If you live on a small lot and don’t have any pasture or browse, the quality of your hay is especially important.

Most people mistakenly think that BoSe is also a vitamin E supplement. It only contains a small amount of vitamin E as a preservative. The dose of vitamin E in it does not even meet a goat’s requirement of the vitamin for a single day. MultiMin, which is another injectable selenium supplement, contains no vitamin E. So, if your goat has symptoms similar to selenium deficiency, but you’ve given the goat a dose of BoSe or MultiMin, you might suspect vitamin E deficiency.

To learn more, check out my free course, Copper Deficiency in Goats.

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes and not meant to replace the services of a qualified veterinarian.

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13 thoughts on “Mineral Deficiencies and Infertility in Goats”

  1. Hi Deborah,
    This is only partially related to this post, but I recently read (in a book primarily about chickens) that chicken poo can be harmful to baby goats. I hadn’t seen this mentioned anywhere else. This possibility concerns me a bit since our goats are pregnant, but the chickens have access to the goat yard. It would be nice to know if we should bar them from the yard once the kids are born. I was wondering if you keep your chickens near or in with your kids, and if you’ve had any problems.
    Thank you!
    Hannah

    Reply
    • Our animals have all been commingling for years. You didn’t say why this might be a problem, so I’m going to guess that that person was talking about coccidia because that’s the most common misinformation about chickens. Lice would be a close second. However, all livestock species have their own species of coccidia, lice, and worms. Kids get coccidia, lice, and worms from adult goats — NOT chickens. Parasites are species-specific, meaning that they can’t survive on or in another species. A chicken parasite trying to survive in a goat would be like us trying to survive on Mars. Mars is a planet, but it’s not Earth, which is where we live. I hope that was a really old book that you read that in. When I got started in goats 15 years ago, I heard a lot about chickens giving parasites to goats, but in recent years, it seems that most sources know that the parasites are species specific with a few exceptions between sheep, goats, and camelids.

      Reply
      • Hi Deborah
        Love your knowledge!!! I have a doe that is now 1 1/2 yrs old. I tried breeding her Nov 2018, she did not take. Then i tried again Mar 2019 – May 2019…another no go. In June our vet came and did blood draws, fecals, vaccinations. All good results…decided to give her MultiMin injections every 6 weeks. Put her back with the buck for another 2 months…another no go. The vet is coming to sync her in Nov ….do you think that is the avenue we should take? A few things we have checked….had the well water tested for sulfur, iron and calcium levels…all good. She is given top dressing minerals everyday as well as loose minerals and a dumor mineral block. She is fed orchard/alfalfa grass and is on pasture with trees. She was a quad and the siblings were bucklings. She is also a Nigerian. Help plz we love her and would like to milk her.

        Reply
        • If this doe has never been pregnant, the first thing your vet needs to do is examine her to be sure that she CAN get pregnant. Do you have other does that are getting pregnant? The mineral regimen you’re describing sounds excessive. She could be suffering some serious imbalances and possibly even low level toxicity. She ONLY needs a single free-choice mineral with about 1800 ppm copper and 50 ppm selenium. (Sweetlix and Purina both have this; many others do not.) A MultiMin shot every six weeks is scary. What symptoms of deficiency is she showing? If the ONLY symptom is not getting pregnant, then she might have a genetic reason for not getting pregnant.

          I am not a fan of using hormones to get a goat pregnant. If she does have a mineral imbalance and you force her body to ovulate, she could just miscarry early in pregnancy or abort at 4 months, which is really heart breaking. You need to know the reason she is not getting pregnant.

          If she not getting pregnant due to mineral deficiencies, she would have some other serious symptoms — very faded coat, fish tail, balding on the face, coarse hair, not shedding her winter coat in spring, etc. She would probably look terrible.

          Before giving injections, I’d just try pen breeding her — put her with a buck for a couple months. If you’re new to goats, you may just be missing her standing heat, which is only a few hours within the 24-48 hours that they appear to be in heat. Also, if you’ve bred her recently, the vet needs to do an ultrasound before giving hormones to be sure that you’re not going to end a pregnancy that happened on the last breeding — and that last breeding should not be within the last 30 days so that you can see it on an ultrasound.

          Also, I would NOT hold it against her that she didn’t get pregnant in the spring. I’m assuming you have a Nigerian dwarf and have read that they can get pregnant year round. This is actually rather old info. Many NDs are seasonal breeders, especially if you live farther north. None of my does come into heat in spring. When writing the revision of my goat book, I surveyed ND breeders, and many can only be bred in the fall like other dairy goats.

          Reply
          • Good morning….thank you for your informative reply. I do have two other does, one bred last Nov that kidded with triplets spring 2019….the other doe is old enough to breed now. Both those does have been in heat throughout the summer but the doe in question never seems to come into heat. She does have a rougher coat than the other does and it took her longer to shed out this last spring. She also has very dry itchy skin. All of our goats are fed the same with the exception of grain….same free choice hay quality and browse. Our vet is coming this week and will do the ultrasound, blood draws and fecals. Do you think we should test for freemartin? She was out of quads and the siblings were bucklings.
            Thank you….much appreciate your knowledge.

          • Each goat is an individual, and some have heavier mineral needs than others. The fact that another goat got pregnant or came into heat doesn’t mean anything for THIS goat. You are describing several symptoms of mineral deficiencies. I’ve known thousands of people with goats and not met one yet who had a freemartin. The textbooks say it happens, but it’s nowhere near as common as in cows. I’ve known a few people with hermaphrodites, but that is still not very common. You cannot get a good picture of copper deficiency from a blood test. A number of people have shared blood and liver tests with me, and the blood usually is nothing like the liver results. Keep in mind that when you inject minerals, they pee out half of that within 24 hours, so it is not a good answer for a chronic mineral deficiency situation. I’d suggest reading all of the posts on here about copper to see if anything jumps out at you.

  2. Thank you for the info! That’s really helpful. I think I had known about the species specific parasites, but the book was very unspecific about what problems the chickens could give the goats. I’m glad to have my worries put and rest, and thanks for the refresher. (By the way, I love both this blog and your old one. I read through the archives every so often, and always learn something new)

    Reply
  3. Perhaps the reason to keep chickens out of the goat house was really because babies mouth everything and if they eat hay that chickens have pooped on they will often scour.

    Reply
  4. I had a goat give birth 17 days early. Not sure if they were still born or died shortly after. It doesn’t look like they ever stood up since they were very close together, but laid stretched out. I’m guessing still birth and my next guess is a selenium deficiency. My other doe is due in 25 days. Would a block help at this stage? I’m getting one anyways, but just hopeful it will help her.

    Reply
    • I’m sorry you lost the kids. The earliest I’ve ever had kids survive was 136 days, but they could not stand — one for a day and for three days. Most mineral blocks are mostly salt, and even if they have a decent amount of minerals in them, a block is too hard for a goat’s soft tongue. Goats need a LOOSE GOAT mineral (NOT all stock or “sheep and goat”) because they need much higher levels of minerals than sheep, especially copper. Here is an article about goat minerals with a comparison of five popular brands — two of which I recommend and two that I do NOT recommend. https://thriftyhomesteader.com/goat-minerals/

      If you have a goat vet, I’d suggest talking to him or her about the possibility of getting BoSe, which is an injectable selenium.

      Reply
    • There are oral irons made specifically for livestock, but you need to know WHY your goat is anemic. NO goat should require a routine iron supplement. The most common cause of anemia in goats is barber pole worm, which is a blood sucker in the gut. They can kill a goat. The goat basically bleeds to death. You can give it iron all day long, and it will die. And it is not uncommon for only one or two goats in the herd to have a problem with worms. The easiest option to learn more about parasites in goats would be to sign up for my free email course:
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/parasites-in-goats-e-course/
      Or if you search for worms in the search box on the right, you will get about half a dozen articles about worms and coccidia, which can also cause anemia in kids.

      Reply

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