Zinc Deficiency in Goats

zinc deficiency

In the middle of an especially cold January eight years ago with temperatures falling below zero most nights, my bucks began losing large chunks of hair. There were bare patches of skin as large as two or three inches across in some spots. It looked like they had dandruff. I also started seeing foam collecting at the corners of their mouths. Then one morning I walked into the barn, and it looked like someone had sprayed dollops of whipped cream in a dozen random spots around the bucks’ stall. When I gave the bucks their hay, they just stared at me. They didn’t touch the hay.

All sorts of things went through my head. This was a new stack of hay. Maybe it was bad. Maybe the bucks had urinary calculi since I’d been giving them a little grain. No, it would be impossible for several bucks to get it at exactly the same time. After a bit of unproductive guessing, I called the university vet hospital. We discussed whether I should bring in two sample bucks or all five. I was really worried, so I hooked up the livestock trailer and took all five.

After a complete exam of all five bucks, the diagnosis was made that they were zinc deficient. I had been unable to purchase any grass hay for them that year, so they had been eating a diet of almost one hundred percent alfalfa for more than three months. I had heard that you have to balance the calcium in alfalfa with phosphorus in grain so that bucks don’t get urinary calculi when feeding grain or alfalfa to them, which is why I had been giving them a little grain every day. I had never heard that too much calcium in the diet will bind with zinc and cause a zinc deficiency, but that was exactly what had happened.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency in goats

According to Goat Medicine, goats with zinc deficiency may have flaky skin, joint stiffness, excessive salivation, swollen feet, small testes, low libido, poor appetite, and weight loss. My bucks were also underweight, but since we were at the end of breeding season, that’s not unusual, which is why I hadn’t seen that as a potential problem. “Appetite is said to return within a few hours after zinc supplementation,” according to Goat Medicine, and that’s exactly what happened. They gave my bucks injections of Multi-Min, which is a prescription mineral supplement, and by that afternoon they were as ravenous as ever when I gave them their hay. Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants says that the immune system may also be impaired, and there may be abnormalities in wool. Obviously “wool” is a reference to sheep, but in goats we see hair problems.

Zinc supplementation

Commercial goat feeds and goat minerals all have adequate amounts of zinc in them, so most goats consume enough. Most zinc deficiency, however, is secondary deficiency caused by excess calcium in the diet. The only time I ever see zinc deficiency is in our bucks when they eat a lot of alfalfa hay. Because does have a high need for calcium to grow babies and make milk, they need the high calcium content in alfalfa, and that’s why it’s a favorite for dairy production.

Angora goats need far more zinc than meat or dairy goats because of the role zinc plays in fiber production. Goat Medicine says that bucks seem to be more at risk of zinc deficiency than does, although it does not explain why. I’m left to assume that they see more zinc deficiency in bucks because of feeding alfalfa. I have almost never heard of a doe showing signs of zinc deficiency.

Since most zinc deficiency is caused by excess calcium, the deficiency usually corrects itself if you simply remove the excess calcium. The vet adamantly told me to find a mineral without calcium for my bucks. The only goat mineral I’ve seen with a low calcium content is Sweetlix Magnum Milk, which is made for milkers who are on an alfalfa-based diet.

Multi-Min is an injectable mineral that includes zinc, but it also includes copper, selenium, and manganese. If your goats tend to run low on copper and selenium, then using Multi-Min for a quick fix when you discover zinc deficiency may work as it did for my bucks. However, if your goats have never shown any signs of copper or selenium deficiency, an injection of Multi-Min could be fatal. I know two breeders who had multiple goats die from liver and kidney failure after injections of Multi-Min.

The vet sold me on the idea of Multi-Min because I would no longer have to do copper boluses or BoSe shots, and the bucks would have plenty of zinc. That sounded like a great plan. But I didn’t use Multi-Min very long. Three months after an injection I had a buck that died with a copper liver level at 14 ppm. (It should have been 25 to 150 ppm.) A couple months later I was talking to a vet professor about my bucks, and he said, “Never supplement with a syringe.” Injectable minerals are great when you have an animal that’s sick and needs a supplement fast — such as my bucks that were not eating. But if you know you have a problem with chronic deficiency, you need to figure out how to get a supplement into them orally on a daily basis.

TruCare 4 Top-Dress Trace Mineral Blend is a zinc supplement that also includes manganese, copper, and cobalt. It labeled for daily use.

Avoiding zinc deficiency in goats

Since most zinc deficiency is actually caused by too much calcium, it can be avoided by eliminating the excess calcium. It’s a challenge to find good grass hay in my area as most farmers grow alfalfa. Some years I’m unable to find any at all. So I was really happy when my local feed store started carrying Standlee’s Timothy grass pellets. I initially had to top dress the pellets with grain to get the boys to try them, but now they gobble them up. Although they cost more than grass hay, there is zero waste — and you know how goats waste hay! The quality is also much better than any grass hay that I can find in my area.

Goats do need some long stem forage to keep their rumen working properly, so it’s not a good idea to feed 100 percent pellets because they require very little chewing and rumination compared to hay. If I have some grass hay that’s not the greatest quality, I give about a cup of Timothy pellets to each buck morning and evening as a supplement. (They’re all fed together, so five bucks will get five cups of pellets in their feed trough.) If I only have alfalfa hay, I double the amount of grass pellets so the bucks don’t need much alfalfa — just enough to keep their rumen busy. My goal is to keep the alfalfa at less than half their intake, and the lower the alfalfa intake, the better. But keep in mind that nothing works out perfectly when it comes to goats.

Last year Monarch, one of our bucks, started foaming at the mouth in March. I explained to my husband how odd it was that only one buck would be showing early signs of zinc deficiency, and I explained the alfalfa connection. He laughed and said that it made perfect sense. When he’d put a flake of alfalfa in the hay feeder, he said that Monarch would butt away the other goats and not let them have any until he’d had his fill. So he was consuming more alfalfa than any of the other bucks. Since I knew the bucks would be back on pasture in less than a month, I didn’t worry about Monarch, and as expected, the foaming stopped within a week or so of the bucks being off alfalfa entirely.

 



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63 thoughts on “Zinc Deficiency in Goats”

  1. Thank you for this post. I often worry if I am giving my bucks the correct nutrition they need. I will be sure and try adding in some grass pellets to their diet.

    Reply
  2. A year or so ago my buck had bald patches and flaky skin. After trying several different treatments, including treating for lice (my first guess as to what was wrong with him), I finally discovered he was zinc and copper deficient. In addition to his feed he gets hay and a little alfalfa (he likes the alfalfa best). I would like to try adding the Timothy Grass Pellets to my feeding program.

    Reply
    • I raise dairy goats and have been dealing with zinc deficiency. My hay for the last 7 years had been from a local farm. a wonderful weedy grass mix that my goats loved and did very well on. Due to the dry summer he didnt have extra to sell this year. So I was feeding a very plain grass mix hay compared to the normal. My goats started struggling so added alfalfa pellets to their mix to make up for the less than stellar hay. I had a doe get the foam flecks at the corner of her mouth then one doe had what I thought was founder and then the dry flaky skin in all of my does. Thought lice but never seen them and treating had made no difference. I dropped the alfalfa pellets and did find a grassy alfalfa mix hay. I started giving them zinc pills and they are improving. Surprisingly my buck never had an issue.. But he didnt get alfalfa pellets at all.

      Reply
        • You don’t usually need to give them zinc supplements — assuming you are already providing a good, free-choice, loose, GOAT mineral. Most zinc deficiency is caused by an antagonist, and as soon as you eliminate the antagonist, the zinc deficiency goes away within a couple of weeks. So if you are feeding alfalfa to a buck, just stop feeding him alfalfa and only feed grass hay.

          Reply
  3. I have struggled to determine the cause of hair loss/ flaky skin on 2 of my goats-one wether and a doeling for the last 3 winters. It appears predominately around their eyes, mouth and tail. It only happens in the winter, when I tend to supplement with alfalfa pellets. Lice and mites were ruled out and they get cooper boulused. After some research, I suspected zinc deficiency, but haven’t had their levels tested. I recently purchased Zinpro with zinc and manganese and started top dressing their BOSS with it daily. My wethers coat/skin has improved already. The doe has not yet, but she will pick around the topdressing and leave most of it, so it is no wonder. I have my suspicions that it is like cooper deficiency-some goats are more prone to showing symptoms than others.

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  4. Thank you I need to evaluate a couple of my goats using this new info. Suggestion, since the feeding amounts are so different between Nigerian Dwarves and standard breeds, maybe list 2 feeding amounts, when you mention 1 cup of pellets for bucks is that ND or a larger breed? Thx

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    • Thanks for the reminder to mention different sizes of goats. I only have NDs now, so that’s how much we feed them. The big boys would need more — probably twice as much for standard dairy goats and three times as much for larger meat goats.

      Reply
  5. I have 2 pregnant does (1 Saanan and the 1 Saanan/Toggenburg) and a Saanan/Toggenburg doeling (just under a year old). The doeling is starting to shed her winter coat and I’ve noticed flakey skin all over where she is shedding. We live in Northern Michigan and I am worried it may be too cold for her. She seems fine during the day, shivering in the morning. I have not found any external parasites and there is no other symptoms that would make me think it is a zinc deficiency. All three goats had copper boluses in October. I don’t know if this is normal shedding (days getting longer) or if it is a mineral deficiency.

    Reply
    • If she is not pregnant or milking, then her calcium needs are not very high, so if she’s consuming 100% alfalfa, it’s possible that her zinc is off. She should not be shedding her winter coat yet — especially not in Michigan.

      Reply
  6. We are getting our first goats in about 2 1/2 months and something like these grass pellets would definitely help out with the feeding. The quality of hay around here seems to be very low so far as I can tell.

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  7. I have hard eater where my goats live, so I’m always concerned about availability of the minerals they’re consuming. I was told the iron in the water binds the copper, so we actually bolus 2x a year; spring (generally around kidding) and fall right before breeding starts. I personally supplement my grass hay with Standlee Alfalfa pellets for the does, but never knew the Timothy could help the bucks. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  8. You not only give us useful information but the WHY it’s done. This weeks video had great information and was funny. I wonder how many of us have a goat named Stinky. Thanks again.

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  9. I’m so glad to have read this post, I have one goat that has a bald spot, and wouldn’t you know its the one with the greatest appetite for hay. I would love to try some of the Timothy grass pellets!

    Reply
  10. I have one doe that is thin and lost some patches of hair. She should be kidding any day now. She had a copper bolus and we have high selenium in our area, so I am assuming it is zinc. My other doe lost her kids extremely premature her first year and hasn’t gotten pregnant since, her twin sister did the same our first year, no problems for her since. One more had premature kids last year. The other three no problems at all! The buck looks great and like I said had no problems breeding all but the one this year. I am not sure what’s going on! It was suggested that I get rid of them and get new ones!

    Reply
    • It would take quite a bit of discussion and troubleshooting to figure out what might be up with your goats. I also have several posts on copper, selenium, and vitamin E on here, and all of those are important to fertility. There is a search bar in the upper right hand part of this page, and if you just type in copper, selenium, or vitamin E, you’ll get those posts.

      Reply
  11. just so you know, semen is really high in zinc, and lots of breeding could contribute to zinc deficiency. i find it interesting that it was at the end of breeding season that you noticed this.

    i found your website because i got a mineral panel done on my does, and it turns out they are high in copper and low in zinc. (copper and zinc being antagonists of eachother) i am trying to find how to increase zinc in my girls diet.

    Reply
    • Sadly, for my bucks, they have never done lots of breeding. A lucky one will breed 6 or 7 does all year, and they are usually done breeding by November. some breed 0 or 1 or 2 does some years. After that first year, I started avoiding alfalfa with them as much as possible, and we don’t see zinc deficiency until around March now — and only when I have to feed some alfalfa.

      If your does are high in copper, that would be why they are low in zinc, so just reduce the copper supplementation, and the zinc should self correct. Giving more zinc is not necessarily the answer — just as it is not the answer when it is caused by too much calcium in alfalfa.

      Reply
  12. I noticed that Sweetlix Magnum Milk Minerals do not have ammonium chloride. If giving this as the sole mineral source to bucks, do they need to be supplemented with ammonium chloride to avoid urinary stones? If so, what might be used? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Neither of the Sweetlix minerals has ammonium chloride in it. You only need to feed that if you are feeding grain to your bucks.

      Reply
  13. Aside from hay , how much grain are you feeding pregnant does? do you fed the grain am and pm? The amount you are feeding the pregnant does , please give directions if amount changes as the pregnancy progresses. Who makes sweetlix? and where are you buying it? Thanks

    Reply
    • I don’t feed grain to pregnant does until they are a few days from kidding, then I’m just giving them a handful or two per day to get rumen accustomed to it again so that it doesn’t get upset after they kid. Then I gradually increase the grain as soon as they kid. Here is more info on feeding grain during pregnancy —
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/do-goats-need-grain-during-pregnancy/

      Sweetlix is the name of the company. The mineral is MeatMeaker. You can check their website for dealers — Sweetlix.com You can also find some people selling it online.

      Reply
    • Some people have had success with that but some have not. You could try it for a couple of weeks and see if things improve.

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      • I am also wondering about this, but not sure on how much to give them. I have myotonics, and they range in weight from around 45 pounds to 65 pounds.

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        • It’s better to figure out WHY your goats are showing symptoms of zinc deficiency and addressing the cause. Most zinc deficiency in bucks is caused by feeding alfalfa, so if you just eliminate the alfalfa, the zinc deficiency corrects itself.

          There are also livestock zinc supplements, such as TruCare Z/M.

          Reply
  14. Great information! Thank you for sharing! We had zinc deficiency issues with our goats when I was feeding mostly alfalfa. Now they get a mix with orchard and red clover plus whatever beneficial “weeds” grow in their pasture. We no longer see issues. I think it’s to much of a good thing and we need to understand animals require a balance of nutrition just like us.

    Reply
  15. What awesome information I actually suspected something mineral based with my girls I have been adding chafhay to thier grain this yr because of the poor growing season last yr but sadly I have lost several with these symptoms I am definitely going to cut back on the chafhay and increase the Timothy pellets

    Reply
    • I recently found out that alfalfa is high in molybdenum, which is an antagonist for copper, which I give boluses for. Chafhay is a great hay saver, but it must be discontinued so that my copper levels are not adversely affected.

      Reply
      • You should NOT eliminate alfalfa for pregnant does and milkers. They need the high calcium to grow babies and make milk. Plus alfalfa is not always high in molybdenum. It can be — and if it is, that ONLY means you need to supplement with additional copper. It is NOT a reason to stop feeding alfalfa or Chaffhaye to goats that need it.

        Reply
  16. Thank you for this great article and great questions and comments! I am struggling with dry flaky skin on my dairy goats this year and I do copper bolus and feed alfalfa pellets. Maybe too much by the sounds of it? So you recommend not feeding them a zinc supplement? It sounds like that is what is going on… I was of course scared of mites or lice or a fungal infection but so far none of those seem to be it. They also look thin but have good appetites, don’t look anemic and make lots of milk. I’d love for them to grow a healthy coat back and gain some weight!

    Reply
    • I have no one-size-fits-all recommendations. Typically bucks and wethers wind up zinc deficient because they are getting alfalfa. I have not seen the same issue with milking does. They need lots of calcium. Simply eliminating alfalfa (high calcium) corrects zinc deficiency in bucks and wethers. However, if you have does that have a problem with zinc deficiency, it’s probably caused by something else. Copper is also a zinc antagonist, so your does may be getting too much copper if you are bolusing. Check out this post on copper toxicity —
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/avoiding-copper-toxicity-goats/
      I don’t like the idea of giving goats another vitamin or mineral to fix an imbalance that’s caused by consuming too much of another mineral — unless you can’t do anything about the over-consumption of the other mineral(s) such as sulfur and iron in well water. If you are feeding your goats something that is throwing off the mineral balance, then that needs to be fixed.

      Reply
  17. I have a pregnancy doe who is shedding a lot. It gets down to 7 degrees here and i’m worried that she’s to cold. She has a great appetite and she doesn’t have any lice or mites so i suspect some kind of deficiency. None of the other goats are showing any signs of symptoms so i’m not sure what’s up with her. I’m planning on giving her extra copper and now i think i should give her some kind of zinc. Is there anything else you could recommend or do you have any idea what else might be causing it?

    Reply
    • Zinc deficiency is usually a result of too much calcium, so that’s the last thing I’d suspect with a pregnant doe because they need a lot of calcium to grow babies — and then to make milk. Although you could see lice, you would have to get a skin scraping to confirm or rule out mites. It is possible for only one goat to have a problem with external parasites.

      The textbooks say that sometimes when goats are zinc deficient, they may eat hair from other goats, so it is a long shot, but maybe someone else is pulling out her hair? If you have a wether with them, and you are feeding alfalfa, that could a problem with him. There are just so many possibilities.

      Without seeing a photo, I can’t really say what else it could be.

      Reply
      • I don’t think the other goats are pulling out the hair because when i run my hand down her side, clumps of fur come out. They just recently started getting alfalfa pellets and there aren’t any wethers in with her. I actually think it’s probably copper deficiency. Her coat used to be a red color and now it’s a pale cream.

        Reply
  18. We have a mature buck that is experiencing the symptoms of zinc deficieny (losing patches of hair and losing weight). No apparent external parasites and inner eyelid color is excellent. I know there is an above average concentration in our city water. I would love to try a bag of the Standlee pellets! Thanks!

    Reply
  19. Oh wow. My goat has such hollow sides in the back because she is not eating hay like she should. I wonder if I am killing her with kindness? the ultrasound at 2 months showed she was pregnant. I give her a softball size of chaff hay, a thin sheet of alfalfa maybe 6×10″, all the brome hay she wants. 3 cups of alfalfa pellets, 1 cup dry beet pulp soaked, probiotics, (goats prefer half scoop). 2 tsp of fasttrack on her food. Free choice kelp and mineral. She had hair loss spots on her face. I rubbed oil on it, and its better. Now she’s got some on her leg. She’s walking as if her leg hurts. Not a real distinct limp, but… Parts of her coat are shiny, and parts are rough with reddish hairs showing through her otherwise black coat. My main concern is why she gets to where she goes for days without eating much hay? Every time I try to give her a little grain (to fatten her up a bit) she gets to not eating her hay. I think I’m upsetting her rumen. Also, I was feeding No corn/No soy chicken feed by mistake instead of the No corn/No soy Goat feed made by our local mill who puts it in the same color bags. But that was months ago. Might she need a C/D antitoxin? I do suspect lice. I dusted with sulfur, and gave about a teaspoon internally today but than I read it binds copper. I bolused her recently. Also started Replamin Plus the past 2 months 1x month. She gets B12 and B1 human pills when she starts acting like her rumen is upset. She hardly drinks anything. Some days maybe 2 quarts, and other days when she’s not eating hay more like 1 quart. I am going to switch to SWeetlix . I had been using manna pro. She’s due around May 5. She is an American Alpine. I’m giving zinc lozenges. She had been doing great, eating her hay and than I started the grain, and it went downhill. Somewhere in there I also stopped the zinc, but now I started that up again. I’m worried what I will do when she needs grain at milking time.

    Reply
    • OH, my! Yes, you are killing her with kindness. You have SO much going on here, I can’t even begin. There is no telling what she is deficient in or possibly getting toxicosis from. Please just stop everything except alfalfa and grass hay, Chaffhaye, and ONE free choice loose mineral like Sweetlix Meat Maker. When you run out of the Chaffhaye, don’t buy more. A good quality alfalfa hay is fine. Wait a couple of months for her system to level off and then see what she looks like. STOP ALL of the other supplements. If your alfalfa hay is good quality, she does not need the alfalfa pellets.

      No, she does NOT need C/D antitoxin. If she had entertoxemia, she would be dead already. There is no question when a goat has that disease because they are screaming in pain with bloody diarrhea and die within hours of onset.

      A healthy goat does not NOT need beet pulp — it’s just empty calories. That’s why she’s not eating foods that are more nutritious for her. It’s like candy.

      Here is more info on feeding goats — https://thriftyhomesteader.com/what-do-goats-eat-it-depends/

      Reply
        • Free choice kelp is probably okay. It is really only a good source of iodine. The other minerals in it are in very small quantities.

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  20. I have a 6 month old Pygmy buck. I have only had him for a week. I am currently feeding him Alfalfa/orchard hay by Standlee. Is that still too much fiber? You mentioned Timothy, not sure the difference between fiber content of the two Orchard vs Timothy. You top dressed it with goat food not grain correct, because in the past my goats would not eat the Timothy? Also, a 3 month doeling, I believe her mom is weaning her. She seem to want to eat a lot. Currently on Standlee Alfalfa Pellets and the same Alfalfa/orchard hay. She grazes in the field. I am giving her some medicated feed for stress daily-not much. Do I need to do any increase in feed for her?

    Reply
    • Fiber is not a problem for goats. They need lots of fiber in their diets. Any type of grass hay works for wethers, so no worries over timothy vs orchard grass. I’m not clear on whether you are feeding hay or hay pellets, but here is more info on feeding hay and pellets:
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/forage-and-feeding-goats/

      The 3-month-old doeling’s mom is probably not weaning her. They just start eating a lot more by that age. But it does not mean that they don’t still nurse. They nurse for many months. I’m not sure what you mean about increases feed for her, but here is more information about what goats eat. I think this will answer a lot of your questions about both kids.
      https://thriftyhomesteader.com/what-do-goats-eat-it-depends/

      Reply
      • My buck is for breeding. Not a wether. My concern was that the Alfalfa could cause a zinc problem if he is eating a mixture of Alfalfa/Orchard hay and some alfalfa pellets daily! Thank you for information!

        Reply
        • YIkes! I’m sorry I have a typo in my response above. I hurt my neck and can’t work at the computer very long right now — and apparently I’m having trouble concentrating. There is no difference between timothy and orchard grass hay. Alfalfa, of course, is a legume, which is high in calcium and could lead to zinc deficiency in a buck. However, since this little guy is still growing fast, I wouldn’t worry about it. He can use the calcium in the alfalfa right now. Somewhere between 6 and 9 months (whenever it’s convenient) you can transition him to all grass hay.

          Reply

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