When a Goat is Zinc Deficient
Kidding time is a wonderful time because it means new life on the farm! Who doesn’t enjoy watching these amazing creatures that can begin hopping and jigging within minutes of being born? It’s quite intriguing!
But what happens when, after days or weeks, mama begins showing signs of bodily stress? After all, she is giving all she’s got to producing amazing milk for those adorable kids. Sometimes trying to find what will help her can be daunting.
Let’s up her feed…that doesn’t work.
Let’s worm her…that doesn’t work.
Let’s try copper bolus…doesn’t work.
Well, how about selenium…nope.
What do you do when the most commonly mentioned stuff isn’t helping?
Well let’s consider our options. Upping the feed can get expensive. Worming over and over again creates resilient worms. Giving a stressed goat copper or selenium when those aren’t what is needed can be quite dangerous, because too much can lead to a potential overdose.
Let me introduce another player in the game of goat health: zinc. Such a tiny word and tiny mineral, but oh so important! Zinc deficiency, in my experience, shows up as very coarse hair, erratic shedding (even bald patches), and weight loss — symptoms are sometimes quite severe. Hoegger Farms uses the term “scruffy” to describe the appearance of a goat with zinc deficiency, and the word is quite fitting.
What causes zinc deficiency? There are a few possibilities.
First, an imbalance in the calcium to zinc intake ratio can result in a deficiency. If a goat is eating a diet or supplement high in calcium, that goat can become too low in zinc. Too much calcium blocks the efficient absorption of zinc. Or, alternatively, the goat’s diet may simply have too little zinc. Most US soils are zinc deficient to one degree or another, so zinc is an ingredient in a good goat mineral. Just decreasing the calcium intake may solve the issue, but sometimes going a step further really gets the ball rolling. I will tell you what we have chosen to do that has worked many times; but please note, I am not a professional. I am simply a goat mama who has learned what works for us through trial and error, talking to other goat owners, and my own research.
We decreased the alfalfa, since it is high in calcium. We then begin giving a human adult dose of zinc once a day. Typically, we can begin feeding our hungry mama more alfalfa after several days on zinc. Typically, within a month, we see a beautiful shiny coat and weight gain, but the transformation has happened as fast as two weeks. Goats in milk do require more food, so making sure does are getting enough is important. If that fails, give your scruffy doe’s calcium-to-zinc ratios some consideration. It’s cheap, safe, and simple.
Zinc deficiency can also crop up among other goats in your herd, including bucks. But the solutions are straightforward: check those feed ratios and supplement as required.
Healthy goats are happy goats, and happy goats make happy farms!
By Tamara Newton
Zinc deficiency (as well as copper toxicity) might also be caused by an imbalance in zinc to copper. A proposed ideal ratio is 4:1 zinc to copper.
Zinc deficiency symptoms include:
Dermatitis that is responsive to zinc supplementation.
Hair loss, especially on the back, legs, and face.
Small testes and reduced libido in bucks
Hoof deformities, especially flaking hooves
After working closely with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, extensive testing on forage, hay, water, and mineral, and necropsies, it was determined an imbalance of zinc to copper was causing both secondary zinc deficiencies and copper toxicity in her Nigerian Dwarf herd. The buck pictured is exhibiting dermatitis and hair loss from secondary zinc deficiency. More information can be found at the website and Facebook page for Red Horse Valley, LLC and in the paper “In Search of Balance: A Nigerian Dwarf Breeder’s Experience with Chronic Copper Accumulation” written by the breeder, Kathy Winters.
Recently, research has also indicated that goats can exhibit zinc deficiency caused by genetics alone and might need additional oral zinc supplementation. Zinc can be supplemented in the form of loose minerals, lozenges, or capsules.
By Kendra Shatswell
M.C. Smith and D.M. Sherman Goat Medicine, 2nd Ed
Zinc-responsive dermatosis in goats suggestive of hereditary malabsorption: two field cases. Krametter-Froetscher R, et al. Vet Dermatol. 2005.
Winters, K., 2019. In Search Of Balance: A Nigerian Dwarf Breeder’s Experience With Chronic Copper Accumulation.