Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What's Dirt Got To Do With Raising Goats?!



I live in the Adirondacks of New York State. It’s way up north; above NYC and even north of Albany (I bet most of you didn’t even know there was anything north of Albany!). The reason location is important when talking about raising goats is because of the soil. All of the good, mineral-rich topsoil in northern NY was scraped off of the Adirondack Mountains and deposited somewhere else by a huge glacier many thousands of years ago. All that was left were mineral poor granite rocks to make new soil. Over the millennia, the ADKs (Adirondack Mountains for short) slowly regained some soil through erosion and natural processes. Unfortunately this new soil is very sandy and acidic. The forests and vegetation that blanket the area have helped to enrich the soil but it is still mineral deficient and not very fertile.  Now why would dirt have anything to do with keeping goats healthy?! Well, I will tell you.

Dirt or soil is the base that plants that your goats will eat grow in. All of the minerals in those plants come directly from the soil they are grown in. Plants can’t magically create minerals that they don’t have in the soil they grow from.  So if your local soil is mineral deficient, the plants growing around you will also be deficient. This is a problem for animals that need a large variety and quantity of certain minerals in order to stay healthy.

Goats are browsers by nature and have evolved over millions of years to have very high mineral demands. In their natural habitat they would range far and wide sampling a large variety of plants in order to satisfy their mineral needs. Each plant has different mineral compositions so if a goat needed a certain mineral for their health, then they could roam a large territory and find the plant which would give them what they want. Goats are not designed to be confined to pastures that contain only grasses. Goats are also not designed to be fed grassy hay as a sole fiber source. They need more minerals than grass can provide.

The intersection between a grass-based diet and poor mineral soil is the dangerous place where the Adirondack Mountains sit. Most of the goats I see around here are severely mineral deficient. They show all of the outward signs of it, like rough hair, faded coloring, and flaky skin. They also show inward signs by being prone to parasite infection and growing slower than their supplemented peers.

Mineral deficiency can be remedied easily and even goats living in the ADKs can manage to be very healthy. The most important thing you can do to keep your goats healthy in a mineral deficient area is to put them on a loose mineral blend designed specifically for goats. Don’t use mineral blocks, salt licks or pre-mixed grain as a sole source of mineral supplementation. None of these things have enough accessible minerals to keep goats healthy. Loose minerals are easily consumed by goats and generally contain a better ratio of minerals than mineral blocks or complete feeds. It is very important to make sure that the loose mineral blend is specifically for goats. “All stock” minerals or those not labeled for goats will not have the proper amount of certain minerals. 

My favorite mineral blend is Sweetlix Meatmaker 16:8. It’s a good quality and affordable blend. It works great for all breeds of goats, not just meat goats. My goats have free access to their minerals all the time. I have hanging mineral tubs in each goat pen. I clean and refill the mineral tubs every couple of days because goats don’t like stale minerals.

The second thing you must do to supplement your goats is give them copper boluses a couple of times a year. Most goats in the ADKs are extremely symptomatic of copper deficiency. Copper deficiency makes a goat have rough, dull hair and causes their hair color to fade. Take a picture of you newborn goat kids and then compare that picture to them when they are 1 year old. If at a year old, they look washed out and faded, then you know that they have severe copper deficiency.

Copper also plays an enormous role in parasite resistance. Goats that are copper deficient also tend to have very high internal parasite loads. Internal parasites rob nutrients and calories from goats and cause them to be more prone to other diseases, have fertility and lactating trouble, can cause fatal diarrhea, cause weight loss and poor growth, and cause anemia. Anyone who raises goats for any period of time learns about the role internal parasites cause. The old joke is that you aren’t goat farming, your parasite farming! It can be extremely difficult to manage internal parasites when a goat is copper deficient. All the dewormers and medicines in the world won’t be able to help until you get the goat on track with mineral supplementation. 

I recommend using Copasure Sheep and Goat copper boluses at least every 6 months. Dose each goat at 1 gram of copper per 22 lbs (or 1 gram per kilogram). Copper boluses are little gel capsules that contain small copper rods. The rods are meant to be ingested by the goat and then slowly absorbed through the rumen wall. When dosing your goats with boluses, it is important to maximize their chances of staying lodged in the rumen for slow absorption. Give the boluses on an empty stomach and don’t feed the goat anything for at least 1 hour after dosing. Use a balling gun to insert the bolus in the back of the goat’s throat so they are forced to swallow it without chewing. Follow the dosing with a slug of selenium/E gel or Probios gel. The gel will stick to the boluses and help them to stay in the rumen. 

The final thing you need to do to supplement goats living in the ADKs is to give them selenium. Goats need selenium to help with muscle contraction and growth. Selenium deficiency is most often seen in newborn baby goats who are born with curled under ankles and can’t get up within 15 minutes of birth. Baby goats can also suffer from “White Muscle Disease” which is severe selenium deficiency to the point where their heart fails a few days to a few weeks after birth. They don’t have enough selenium to stay alive. 

Selenium is a micro-nutrient and is only needed in very small amounts. Selenium overdose is possible and it can be fatal. Luckily there are selenium supplement products available that are easy to use and hard to overdose. I prefer to use Selenium/Vitamin E Gel in my goats. Many people recommend using the prescription supplement called Bo-Se or Mu-Se. Unfortunately another lovely feature of living in the ADKs (besides crappy soil) is that we have no veterinarians who will treat goats. So getting a prescription supplement is out of the question for me. The gel works great so I don’t have a problem using it. I dose all of my goats once a month with the gel. My pregnant goats get extra bi-monthly doses in order to help the kids. 

In conclusion, be sure to evaluate the soil of your area before deciding on what minerals your goats might need more of. If you live in Northern NY, please be sure to supplement your goats with loose minerals, copper boluses, and selenium gel.

1 comment:

upickcsa.com said...

Thank you for the very helpful information - our farm is in NYS also and we give our goats lots of TLC, great grass, hay, minerals - and still the lactating goats have rough coats and look anemic - I will try the copper, selenium, and sweetlix - where do you shop for all of these - do you recommend a certain wormer for lactating goats?