Ruminants with a complex digestive system are goats. They were created to forage, not be fed. Interestingly, when goats are given a diverse environment, they will choose plants that contain the nutrients they require and will vary their diet based on their condition. It has even been demonstrated that goats self-medicate. Many of the plants preferred by goats have a deep taproot that allows them to access different parts of the soil — and more minerals — than shallow-rooted grasses. When goats are confined, their diet becomes less diverse, resulting in deficiencies.

Supplementation of goat minerals is necessary for good health, but improper supplementation can be dangerous, even fatal. While many symptoms of deficiency can be identified visually, determining the cause is more difficult. Unfortunately, many producers make supplementation recommendations without fully assessing a goat's nutritional profile. This is not only counterproductive, but also harmful.

A Minnesota breeder who has been raising goats for over ten years and has a dairy herd of 100-150 goats shared her heartbreaking experience.

I was taking a breeder's advice from a well-known and very popular Facebook group. My goats had unkempt coats, bald noses, and a fishtail. All of those mean low copper, I was told. I overdosed my animals on the advice of someone who has never seen my herd and is so convinced that copper is required that she is blind to any other needs or results."

Those overdosed goats all died, and necropsies revealed that their livers had high copper levels.

"It is unfortunate that there are others experiencing losses because, if the goat does not look better, [this producer] recommends more copper," she says. I made use of a copper bolus. I'll never give more than one bolus at a time or more than three times per year again. Too much copper manifests similarly to insufficient copper or a parasite load. The goats will begin to pee in a red or orange color. More copper was recommended and is still frequently recommended on that group based solely on appearance."

In captivity, a goat's diet consists of hay, water, and possibly pelleted feed mixes. Because minerals are essential to a goat's overall health, they should always have free-choice loose mineral specifically formulated for goats available. Other species' supplements may contain excessive or insufficient amounts of critical nutrients. Nothing should be added to the loose minerals, which are salt-balanced to control intake. Any additional supplements should be provided separately, and no other sources of salt should be present. Tubs and blocks are available, but we do not recommend them. They can restrict intake and harm teeth. We've seen goats develop chapped, sore lips from repeated contact with the mineral tub, as well as teeth marks on the hardened surface. We know from experience that the contents of the tub can melt and turn into a dangerous tar pit during the summer months. Some blocks and tubs add flavor, molasses, or protein to the minerals, which can alter consumption beyond the need for mineral supplementation, especially if their feed contains insufficient protein levels. Overconsumption and even toxicity can result from this.

If goats show signs of deficiency, it is critical to determine the nutritional profile of their hay through hay analysis and their water through water testing. What is in the soil shows up in their forage, hay, and water, which then combines with their mineral supplement. Hay's nutritional value varies according to species and soil type, which can vary from field to field and crop to crop. Water can also have different nutritional profiles. Each supplemented feed has a unique composition that must be accounted for when calculating the total nutrients consumed.

While each mineral has classic deficiency symptoms, many of these symptoms can be caused by another syndrome in the body. Some have an effect on metabolism and manifest as a lack of thrift, which can also be attributed to parasitism or disease cycles like CAE and Johne's. Some manifest as skin and coat problems, reproductive issues, low milk yields, lethargy, musculoskeletal problems, and anemia. Some have an effect on immunity, resulting in decreased resistance to disease and parasites. Before taking supplements, it is critical to rule out any other health conditions that may be causing similar symptoms. A blood panel is the most common way to determine general mineral status. Copper levels must be determined using a liver sample obtained via biopsy or necropsy.

There is no single answer to this question, which is why there are so many formulas. Melody Shaw of Narrow Gate Nigerian Dwarf Goats in Colorado has put together a spreadsheet with the various formulations for easy comparison.


What works for one herd may not work for another, even if they are in the same area! Our soil in Latah County, Idaho, is low in copper and selenium. Our feed does not address the deficiency because we buy local hay. To address this, we offered a mineral supplement, but our goats were still deficient. Selenium was administered via injection under veterinary supervision, but we had difficulty resolving our copper problem. Other goat producers who used similar management did not have the problem. We only discovered mineral antagonists in our hay and well water after extensive testing. We had to change the way we fed and supplemented. Then we relocated. Everything had to change again because what had worked for us five miles up the road no longer did. A new well with no antagonists and supplementation to compensate for antagonists resulted in new deficiencies.

Animal nutrition and supplementation are scientific disciplines. Some goat minerals are required in trace amounts, while others are required in large quantities. Synergists collaborate to improve absorption. The minerals become unavailable as antagonists work against each other. Copper is bonded by sulfur, iron, and molybdenum. Our water contained a lot of sulfur and iron. Molybdenum is occasionally added to green alfalfa, and it will be detected in the nutritional analysis. We give alfalfa. Because of our antagonists, the copper in our feed was insufficient and needed to be supplemented. When we relocated, the copper became available, causing a new problem: a zinc deficiency. Copper and zinc are competitors. Calcium also messes with zinc... Alfalfa is also high in calcium.

Mineral Interaction

In some cases, a goat receives an adequate amount of mineral but is unable to absorb it due to a lack of other nutrients. Increasing the mineral content will not solve the problem. Many minerals rely on vitamin-mineral pairing. Vitamins are classified as water-soluble or fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins (B and C) are quickly metabolized and excreted by the body. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are difficult to metabolize, accumulate, and can be overdosed. Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption, while vitamin E is required for selenium absorption. Some goats that appear to have a selenium deficiency actually have a vitamin E deficiency that selenium supplementation will not correct. Green, leafy forage contains enough oil to help fat-soluble vitamins be metabolized. Hay, however, does not. Goats fed hay for more than three months are likely to be deficient in vitamins A, D, E, and K; they will require supplementation of these vitamins as well as the fat required to absorb them. Mineral deficiencies do not always result from. Calcium requires vitamin D (from sunlight or supplementation), which requires fat. Many fat sources are high in phosphorus, and a calcium-to-phosphorus imbalance can cause urinary calculi in bucks and wethers... As a result, if fat is added, the ratio must be rebalanced.

For these reasons, if you have deficiency symptoms or complex feeding requirements, such as ours on a dry lot with hard water, it is critical to consult with a nutritionist or veterinarian. Some feed co-ops have a nutritionist on staff who can help you create supplements tailored to your specific needs. If you're not sure where to look for an animal nutritionist, contact your university's extension office.

Proper nutrition is essential for herd health and can mean the difference between success and failure.

See soil maps to determine soil toxicity and deficiencies in your area: NGS Geochemistry by County