|Selenium — It Does a Goat, Sheep or Any Livestock Good!|
In the December issue of AFC Cooperative Farming News, I talked about the importance of insuring proper nutrition in goats and sheep. In other issues, I have talked about the importance of vitamins, minerals, primary nutrients and micronutrients. Also in AFC Cooperative Farming News, Jackie Nix, Sweetlix’s animal nutritionist, does an outstanding job of sharing insightful details on these same aspects, but she provides much more detail. Yet I continue to encounter people who are "short-changing" their animals on nutrition and the situation is reflected in the animal’s poor body-condition and subsequent health problems. Based on discussions with other producers and my personal experience, this article addresses a very relevant topic. Also, knowing many farms are in the midst of or about to encounter kidding/lambing season, this is a good time to address selenium deficiencies. Pregnant animals and their unborn should be prepared for a healthy experience, which is why this article is going to address selenium and the important roles it plays. A little bit of selenium provides an abundance of benefits, while deficiencies cause all kinds of complications!
There are three things that prompted this article. (1) During a recent dairy goat conference in Tennessee, one of the presenters addressed selenium, its sources, deficiencies and benefits. Animals’ intake selenium through two primary sources: (a) ingesting vegetation uptaking minerals and other nutrients from soil, (b) through mineral supplementation, whether it be in block or loose mineral a farmer buys and provides to the animals. However, if excessive amounts of sulfur are present in soil, it binds up selenium causing selenium deficiencies in vegetation, which shortchanges animals on selenium in their diet. Where do excessive quantities of sulfur come from? Facilities which burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. This situation is common in much of the Southeast. (2) Throughout various experiences, I have seen kids born with weak back legs bending in every direction or unable to stand at all. I have worked with producers who give their pregnant does/ewes vaccinations including selenium approximately 30 days prior to kidding. I have seen the benefit first hand and seen the complications caused by not administering the preventative treatment. Generally, when kids or lambs are born with weak legs or unable to stand, it is due to White Muscling Disease, the symptom of a selenium deficiency. Proactive measures of vaccinating the pregnant animals with some form of selenium are most effective; newborns can receive a shot also, but will take a day or two for them to improve. Consult with your veterinarian of choice to learn more about treatment options and dosage! (3) In the February issue of the Tennessee Farmers Co-op’s paper, Dr. Paul Davis (TFC Nutritionist) wrote an excellent article addressing the role of selenium, copper and zinc for cattle; much of the same applies to goats and sheep. He tells us most Southeast forages are inadequate in these three minerals. They play an important role in late gestation, lactation, reproduction and immune tolerances. And, selenium and vitamin E are specifically involved in reproduction, immune functions and placenta expulsion after birthing.
I would expect many of you are wondering what the proper intake of selenium is. Based on the information I could find, goats require 0.2 parts per million of selenium and the toxic level is 3 ppm. Based on other information found, the toxic levels for sheep is lower. Again, consult with your veterinarian or a ruminant nutritionist to find out what they recommend. Other resources of information include: http://www.sheepandgoat.com/articles/WMD.html; Sheep & Goat Medicine edited by D.G. Pugh (2002); Goat Medicine by Mary C. Smith and David M. Sherman (1994); and Sheep Production Handbook by the American Sheep Industry Association (2002).
The information is out there and veterinarians and Extension specialists are out there to help you. It always bothers me to see livestock owners struggle with an issue that can be readily and affordably dealt with. From my perspective, selenium plays an important role in a healthy delivery, strong newborns and much more.
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.