How Zinc Deficiency Affects Goats

Reader Contribution by Carrie Miller and Miller Micro Farm
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While goats can suffer from many different mineral and vitamin deficiencies, zinc is the one that we have been dealing with here on our farm. Can you love your goats too much? Can you feed them so well you are hurting them? The answer is yes! This is exactly what we found out we were doing.

While loose mineral is always available to our goats it was not enough to stop a Zinc deficiency storm from running through our herd. It all started when we got our first boys last fall. The buck, Harry, looked a bit rough and his coat was dull, straggly, and even appeared bleached out. After doing some research and with the advice of our vet we treated him with a copper bolus. After a few months, we noticed his coat began to soften and appeared darker in color so with thought we had the problem licked.

Then the second boy, Mikey, began to look “off”, diarrhea shortly followed. Weeks of diarrhea! We treated for everything under the sun and little to no improvement was seen. I contacted his original owner and she said to give him a quarter cup of black oiled sunflower seeds a day. Ok? Desperate to help I followed her plan of action. He began to slowly get better, thank god! But why did sunflower seeds help?

The Girls

Then suddenly two of our dry girls, Ginger and Zoey, began losing their fur by the handful and had horrible dandruff. The older of the two seemed depressed and tired, she had recently suffered a miscarriage as well. Her joints were stiff and sore throughout the winter but we thought arthritis due to her age. The young doeling seemed perfectly fine, except her fur and flaky skin looked awful. Then Harry began to lose the hair on his scrotum? What is going on over here? Feeling defeated I began to research possible causes and solutions. When I ran into a few articles that hit on all the problems we were having.

 

The Fix

In these articles, I began to read how dry does and males who eat too much alfalfa can become zinc deficient. The high levels of calcium in alfalfa can deplete zinc from their systems. Rutro — we not only feed hay that was high in alfalfa, we added alfalfa pellets to their grain rations. The milk-producing goats were having none of the same problems with good reason, their bodies use the extra calcium to produce milk. Two separate diets for milking and non-milking does is needed…oops.

So, we quickly made the needed feed adjustments as well as adding kelp, black oil sunflower seeds (see why Mikey got better first?), and Manna Pro Goat Balancer to their diets for added zinc while they heal. For the extremely deficient goats, we added five days of zinc supplement as well.

 

Healing

Only a few weeks out from this catastrophe, it is a little early to say what the long-term effects will be. However, Ginger’s coat appears a bit better, her joints no longer stiff, and her mood seems joyful. Zoey’s little baby hairs are all filling in and her happy bouncy self seems all but perfect. Mikey’s diarrhea has improved and Harry seems more active and his coat looks amazing!

What have we learned? Goat’s dietary needs are extremely complicated and many things need to be taken into consideration. We now have three different diets; one for the males, one for the dry girls, and one for those in milk. Commercial goat feeds and goat minerals all have adequate amounts of zinc in them, so most goats consume enough. However, most zinc deficiency is secondary caused by excess calcium in the diet. Milking and pregnant does have a high need for calcium to grow babies and make milk, that is why they are unaffected.

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