If a kid is born that is too weak to stand or suckle, and you’ve treated with selenium, but the symptoms don’t improve, the real problem could be vitamin E deficiency. Vitamin E is also important for proper functioning of the immune and reproductive systems.
Causes of vitamin E deficiency
Vitamin E is found in green leaves and seeds, so deficiency is unlikely when goats are outside browsing on fresh plants, according to Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants. It is more likely to occur towards the end of winter as stored hay ages and the vitamin E diminishes. The amount of vitamin E in commercial goat feeds may be zero or extremely low.
Many people assume they are giving their goat a therapeutic dose of vitamin E when they give them a selenium supplement. Although “everyone” knows that selenium and vitamin E work together, most people don’t know that there is very little vitamin E in supplements, such as BoSe, which contains only 50 mg of vitamin E, which does not even meet a goat’s requirement of the vitamin for a single day. Multi-Min, another injectable selenium supplement, contains no vitamin E at all.
According to Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants, the minimum daily requirement for goats and sheep is 5.3 IU vitamin E per kilogram of body weight. However, they also state, “This subcommittee recommends 10 IU of vitamin E per kilogram of body weight as an aid to protect small ruminants from infectious disease and to extend the storage life of lamb meat.”
Dealing with vitamin E deficiency in newborns
There is very little transfer of vitamin E through the placenta, according to Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants, but colostrum is extremely rich in the vitamin. This is just one more reason it’s important to get kids nursing ASAP after birth, or to give them colostrum in a bottle, or via tube feeding, if they can’t suck. One study showed that although giving a vitamin E supplement to lambs at birth increased their serum vitamin E levels, it did not decrease mortality or increase lamb performance. Other studies have shown that supplementing ewes during late pregnancy did result in improved survival and performance among lambs. In cases of severe vitamin E deficiency in lambs, weekly injections were effective.
Vitamin E deficiency in older kids and adults
When butchered lambs are deficient in vitamin E, research has shown that their meat will spoil noticeably faster than lambs that were not deficient in vitamin E. Another odd symptom of vitamin E deficiency is bad-tasting milk from does. Because E is important for fertility, goats that fail to get pregnant or repeatedly have single kids may be deficient. Years ago we noticed an increase in the average number of kids per doe when we started to provide additional selenium supplements beyond the free-choice, mixed minerals. E is also important to proper immune functioning, so additional supplementation might be necessary if you see a lot of infections in your herd, such as mastitis or pneumonia. And, of course, white muscle disease can occur in adults, although it’s rare.
Preventing vitamin E deficiency
Provide pasture and browse for your goats as much as your local climate will allow so that they can eat plenty of fresh green plants. Goats on pasture normally get plenty of vitamin E through their diet, but not all forage is equal. Younger plants have more vitamin E in them than mature plants, and leaves have more than stems. That means that towards the end of the growing season, vitamin E levels can be 80 percent lower than they were a couple of months earlier.
It is always important to provide a free-choice, loose mineral, and check the label to be sure that it contains vitamin E.
… and selenium
Without blood testing, it’s tough to know whether a goat has a deficiency in selenium or vitamin E because the symptoms are almost identical. Years ago a vet told me that “no one tests for selenium” because the supplement is cheaper than the test. However, if you have a goat that has symptoms of selenium deficiency, and you’ve already given a supplement such as BoSe or Multi-Min, then a vitamin E deficiency is a definite possibility. There have been no documented cases of vitamin E toxicity in small ruminants, unlike selenium, which has a fairly narrow margin of safety and can result in death if a goat gets too much. So, before using more selenium, you might consider supplementing with vitamin E. For more information on selenium, check out this post on that important micro-nutrient.
According to Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants, all of the various forms of vitamin E are equally well absorbed. Supplementing with E is easy because it is available at your local grocery store and is easy to give. Since most of them are in softgel form, you can pop one into a goat’s mouth, and as soon as they bite into it, the oil squirts into their mouth. If you provide an oral supplement that provides around 100 percent of a goat’s daily need for vitamin E, you will likely need to do so for at least a couple of weeks to see an improvement or until the diet is improved to include plenty of vitamin E rich foods.
Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes and not meant to replace the services of a qualified veterinarian.
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