July 2019 Issue



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Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.


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Critical to Raising Healthy Goats

Selenium is an essential trace mineral present in the soil and its availability to goats is critical to their health. Soil is considered "selenium deficient" when there is less than 0.5mg of selenium per kg of soil. Selenium is stored in the liver and kidneys and can be identified in blood. A complete blood count (CBC) test can be used to identify selenium levels in the goat's body.

In the United States, soil is generally selenium-deficient in parts of the Pacific Northwest, from the Great Lakes region to the New England states, and along the Eastern Seaboard into Florida. Local, state, and federal agricultural extension services usually maintain soil maps that indicate selenium levels. A Google search will also bring up maps of selenium-deficient areas in the USA. Because selenium levels can vary greatly within an area, testing the soil's selenium content is recommended.

Selenium in soil is absorbed by growing plants that are eaten by foraging/browsing goats. Proper selenium levels are necessary for goats to reproduce, lactate, give birth, urinate, and have properly functioning muscles. Selenium in conjunction with vitamin E helps develop and protect healthy brain cells, assists in thyroid function, helps the immune system function properly, and prevents cell wall damage. Symptoms of selenium deficiency are similar to those of Vitamin E deficiency. White Muscle Disease, also known as Nutritional Muscular Dystrophy, is a condition in which kids are too weak to stand or suckle at birth, they consistently cough, milk sometimes runs out of their nose after nursing, and they develop pneumonia because of muscle weakness in their lungs. In adults, abortions, stillbirths, retained placenta, or inability to conceive can indicate selenium deficiency (as well as other illnesses or problems). Your diagnostic abilities must come into play by identifying and eliminating possible problems so you can recognize selenium deficiency.

Selenium has a narrow margin of safety. Goats require 0.2 parts per million of selenium, and the toxic level is believed to be 3 ppm. Some symptoms of selenium deficiency are identical to those of selenium toxicity. A doe's failure to conceive can be the result of either selenium deficiency or toxicity. Kidney failure, stillbirth, and abortions also may be attributable to deficiency or toxicity. Hair loss in the beard and flank regions and cracks and deformities in horns and hooves may also indicate too little or too much selenium in the goat's diet. Get your soil tested to find out selenium levels on your property. Ask your local soil service agency for assistance.

Over-concentrations of selenium occur in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, Idaho, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and adjacent states. Your local soil service agency can provide information on selenium concentrations in your area. Alkali-based soils allow plants to absorb selenium to levels toxic to goats, causing "alkali disease." Certain "indicator" plants reveal a toxic level of selenium in the soil. Some species of Astragalus (locoweed) indicate high levels of soil-based selenium. Goats can become addicted to these plants if they are not completely removed from forage areas.

Symptoms of severe selenium toxicity include impaired vision and staggering ("blind staggers"), rear legs which won't support the body, then muscle weakness in the front legs, and progressive weight loss. Each of these symptoms can also be symptoms of other illnesses, so you must learn your area's selenium levels in advance to avoid an incorrect diagnosis. Once a goat has severe selenium toxicity, there is no known effective treatment. Removing the affected animal from the area where the problem occurred and performing supportive therapy is the best chance of saving the goat. Goats affected by selenium toxicity remain bright, alert, and are eating well up to the time of death.

As a general rule most of the United States has more selenium deficiency than toxicity. You must determine the selenium levels on your property through soil analysis.

Pen-fed goats can be more susceptible to selenium and vitamin E deficiency since they don't have access to forage plants containing them. High levels of sulphur in feed prevent selenium absorption. Proper levels of calcium in feed can help in selenium and vitamin E uptake. Calcium levels should be twice the phosphorus levels (2:1 calcium to phosphorus) for goats.

Selenium is routinely added to processed grain by feed mills, but the amount permitted by US law is sometimes often insufficient. Some goat raisers obtain a veterinary prescription for injectable selenium supplements (BoSe). Oral selenium supplements in gel form are available over the counter if you cannot obtain injectable BoSe. Injectable selenium tends to work better and faster, based upon my experience, but the availability of oral supplements is certainly better than nothing. (MuSe, a selenium supplement for horses, is too strong for use with goats; do NOT use MuSe.) Dosages vary by region and should be discussed with a knowledgeable vet, but the following is a general outline of how many goat raisers supplement their goats to achieve adequate selenium levels:

Annually before breeding season, all adults, including breeding bucks, are given injectable selenium with Vitamin E (BoSe) IM (under the skin). Bucks may be given BoSe injections twice a year. Pregnant does are again supplemented with BoSe four to six weeks before kidding. Selenium-deficient dams produce selenium-deficient kids. Kids are injected with BoSe at birth, again at one month of age, and if the soil is very selenium deficient, injections are repeated at two and at three months of age. Use 1/4 cc BoSe for small-breed newborns and 1/2 cc BoSe for medium-to-large-breed newborn goats. Adult goats are injected SQ with 2-1/2 cc per 100 pounds body weight. If you can find a qualified goat vet in your area, discuss your goats' needs in detail.

In extremely selenium-deficient areas, some goat raisers use Multi-Min (aka Mineral Max) injections instead of BoSe. This product is a high concentration of four essential minerals (zinc, manganese, selenium and copper) in injectable chelated (slow-release) form and should be used sparingly and when repeated should be used in in smaller doses as the goat ages because selenium builds up in fatty tissues. I would not give it to newborns or young kids; I would use BoSe instead. I give Multi-Min SQ (under the skin) because it stings the goat when given IM (into the muscle). Oral supplementation of vitamin E should be given in conjunction with Multi-Min injections. Multi Min is is prescription medication that is used off-label for goats and must be used under a qualified vet's prescription and supervision. When I have a goat that is losing patches of hair over its body and I know that the problem isn't worms or external parasites, I conclude that the goat is likely mineral deficient and I use a one-time injection of Multi-Min that restarts hair growth in two to three weeks.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 7.1.19

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