Essential Vitamins & Minerals For Healthy Goats
Vitamins and minerals are probably the most misunderstood of the classes of nutrients. So much information has come out about vitamins and minerals, but what to believe? Although the amounts of these two classes are very small compared to the others, they could cause very large problems.
Vitamins are a group of complex organic nutrients that are essential for multiple metabolic processed but, unlike other organic nutrients, vitamins are required in very small amounts. Because estimates of endogenous vitamin losses are non-existent, vitamin requirements are based on animal responses during feeding trials.
Most of these requirements, unfortunately, are based on sheep requirements – until now.
First let’s explain the importance and classification of vitamins in the goat diet. Vitamins are broken up into two groups: fat soluble and water soluble. Just as the name suggests the first group of vitamins are broken down in fat and the second are broken down by water.
The fat soluble vitamins are A,D,E,K. These vitamins are usually needed in larger doses than the water soluble vitamins. The water soluble vitamins include all of the B vitamins (all 9), and C.
Most vitamins have a direct impact on other nutrients in the body. For instance, Vitamin D is crucial in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, especially in milking goats.
Vitamin A is involved in many areas of body metabolism, so defining deficiencies is very involved. Vitamin A is not contained in forages, but its basis for production is common in most plant pigments. Vitamin A is stored in the liver and fat of animals during times when excess intake is available and can be used if needed by the animal. Green leafy hays, dehydrated legume hays, especially pelleted, are the best natural resources for Vitamin A.
Vitamin D is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. Sunlight and feed are both ways goats are able to obtain this vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency is unlikely under normal grazing conditions.
Vitamin E is connected with selenium and a deficiency of one or the other prevents absorption of either. Vitamin E has been linked to increased fertility in goats and is essential in skin and hair growth and health.
Vitamin K is the blood clotting vitamin and is very plentiful in a variety of feedstuffs. Vitamin K is also synthesized in the rumen.
The B vitamins are not considered essential in providing to the ruminant animal. Most B vitamins can be synthesized in the rumen. The only B vitamin that is likely to be deficient is B12. Cobalt is required for synthesis of vitamin B12, and if at low levels will produce a deficiency. Thiamine will also help goats to quell diarrhea when sick.
Vitamin C is synthesized in the body tissues in adequate amounts and needs not to be added to diets.
Mineral requirements of goats are largely reflective of the nutritional demands during different stages of animal growth, lactation, pregnancy, etc. Not providing enough minerals can cause your goat to not thrive and in fact not perform to the highest quality possible. Specific mineral deficiencies vary and an animal may deplete the minerals available in their tissues (muscle, blood, etc.) before showing signs of deficiency. Inadequate mineral supplies may reduce production, prolong pregnancy, increase the number of still births and result in a higher occurrence of skeletal problems.
Minerals are also divided into two groups: macro minerals and trace minerals. Most research is based on cattle and sheep, so finding correct data is important. Some breeders prefer to give goats the most of any mineral or vitamin without regard. Unfortunately, this can cause problems of its own. Too much of a mineral or vitamin can affect the intake of other nutrients so knowing what your goat needs is crucial to maintain healthy animals.
The macro minerals needed in the goat body are: calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, potassium and sulfur. The trace minerals needed are: iron, iodine, copper, molybdenum, zinc, manganese, cobalt, selenium and fluorine. There is even a class of Micro-Trace minerals such as chromium, nickel, vanadium, silicon, tin and arsenic. Most of these Micro-Trace minerals occur naturally in feedstuffs at levels that are sufficient for the goat. Proper balance of minerals and bioavailability from supplements are often more important than actual levels of the minerals.
Calcium deficiency can lead to bone density issues, but also soft tissue problems such as stunted growth in young goats. Since milk is high in calcium, lactating goats need a very high level of calcium during this time. If does do not get this level of nutrition initially the calcium will be pulled from their body stores. If the does are continually fed a low calcium ration for extended periods of time, the amount of milk will decrease without affecting the quality of the milk. If the calcium and phosphorus are raised in the diet, even after the decrease in milk production, the doe will replenish her body stores and improve milk production. Good sources for calcium in feed include bone meal, dicalcium phosphate, limestone and oyster shell.
Phosphorus is required for both tissue and bone development. Phosphorus and calcium are connected to each other. There should be a ratio of 2:1 of phosphorus and calcium in the diet. Most deficiencies of phosphorus are consistent with calcium deficiencies.
Sodium and Chlorine (NaCl) or salt is the most commonly supplied mineral to animals. Most animals take in more than they need but no harm is usually done to the animal. Goats that are not given a sufficient supply of salt may show signs of excessive appetite, or consume soil looking for the substance. Salt is used in almost every body function and without sufficient supplies could shut these body processes down.
Magnesium is required for many enzyme systems and especially for the nervous system to properly function. This mineral is also very important in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Symptoms of the deficiency associated with magnesium include anorexia and excitability. A problem in the spring with fresh new grass growth is grass tetany. This is especially problematic when the pasture has been fertilized with nitrogen and potassium.
READ ALSO: Goat Feeding Information Guide
Potassium is one of the highest required mineral amounts. Fortunately, it is very available in roughage based diets. Some of the symptoms of deficiency include emaciation, poor muscle tone, reduced feed intake and reduce milk production. Most goats that have issues with potassium deficiencies are usually fed high concentrate diets (lots of feed, not a lot of hay or grass).
Sulfur is in all body proteins and particularly high in some amino acids. Although cases of sulfur deficiency are rare, most occur in range animals (southwest in particular) that eat large quantities of high tannin producing plants.
Iron is a component of blood hemoglobin required for oxygen transport and also required for some enzyme systems. Iron deficiencies are mostly seen in young animals whose only nutrition is coming from milk. Milk is very low in iron and young animals do not have enough body stores of the mineral.
Iodine is necessary for the formation of thyroxine (thyroid gland). A iodine deficiency shows most likely in a condition called ‘goiter’, where there is a knot at the throat under the jaw. Some areas in the US are deficient but in most cases iodized salt is used to correct.
Copper and Molybdenum are interrelated and should be given together in any mineral supplement. The most common problem is when the molybdenum level is very high and a very low level of copper is present. The copper is excreted from the body causing a deficiency. The most common sign of copper deficiency is the ‘fish-tail’ look of the hair on the tail of a goat. Copper deficiencies also show up as rough hair coat, and general thriftiness. Copper bolus can also be used as a preventative measure for worm issues.
Zinc deficiencies include stiffness of joints, excessive salivation, swelling of feet, horn overgrowth, small testicles and low libido. Zinc must be supplied by the breeder because very little is stored in the body. Males usually require more zinc than females.
Manganese deficiency symptoms include reluctance to walk, deformity of the legs and reduced conception rates. Fluorine and selenium can either be deficient or appear in toxic levels in different areas depending on industrial pollution. Cobalt is a component of vitamin B12 and is a requirement for the absorption of B12.