Sheep and goat nutrition: Why minerals matter


Do you supplement your sheep and goats? Do they have access to the nutrients they need each day? As someone who is personally involved in the small-ruminant industry, I have a firsthand understanding of the lack of good-quality, palatable supplements formulated specifically for sheep or goats. You may wonder why supplementing sheep and goats is necessary. First, let’s look at what makes a sound nutrition program, and then we will dive into the advantages of mineral supplementation.

As with all ruminant diets, protein and energy are the first limiting factors. Many livestock producers want to focus solely on protein — and while protein is important, allow me to use an analogy to describe how significant other nutrients are in the development of a well-rounded, sound nutrition program.

Think of building a nutrition program like building a brick wall — with protein as the bricks, energy as the bricklayer, and minerals and vitamins as the mortar. To be able to utilize the available protein, it is essential to include energy in the diet, just as a brick mason must first have a pile of bricks in order to eventually build a wall. Of course, a brick wall can stand on its own once the bricks (protein) and bricklayer (energy) are formed — and, similarly, in most cases, animals can survive without mineral or vitamin supplements. What would happen, however, if you pushed against a dry-fit wall? With enough force, it would most likely topple over. A wall in which the bricks are properly mortared, on the other hand, will withstand a much greater amount of stress. In the same way, proper mineral and vitamin nutrition will allow the animal to withstand stressors and be more productive. These added benefits help animals thrive instead of merely surviving.

Why are minerals important?

Mineral supplementation is always necessary for sheep and goats on pasture. Although the grass may appear lush and green, there are natural deficiencies and/or excesses that exist in soil — and if certain nutrients aren’t available, the forage will be lacking. Additionally, some minerals that are found in soil, water and other feedstuffs may bind with different minerals, rendering them unavailable. Examples of these negative interactions include excess calcium interfering with the availability of magnesium and excess sulfur interfering with the availability of copper.

These deficiencies or excesses may not be noticeable overnight — but what happens when the mineral requirements are not met over time? Production will be negatively affected before clinical symptoms even appear. When the immune system is compromised and growth and reproductive function decline, the animal is inefficient and, ultimately, costs the producer money.

Trace amounts, big impact

When it comes to supplementation, trace minerals may only be needed in small amounts, but they are highly important for all bodily functions, including enzyme activity, antioxidant status, skin, hair and bone health, and much more.

As we move into the fall breeding season and, for some, fall lambing or kidding begins, proper mineral supplementation is key to achieving reproductive success. Mineral deficiencies in females can negatively impact reproduction in various ways, including:

  • Delayed estrus
  • Embryonic death
  • Decreased conception
  • Delayed puberty
  • Increased instances of dystocia
  • Silent heat
  • Retained placenta
  • Weak lambs or kids

Trace mineral deficiencies also impact the fertility and capabilities of rams and bucks. Deficient males may experience delayed puberty, decreased libido, reduced spermatogenesis and reduced semen viability. Not semen-testing rams and/or bucks prior to turn-out could have costly consequences for producers — especially if trace mineral supplementation wasn’t provided throughout the year.

Function follows form

We know more about minerals now than we ever have before. Additionally, we are beginning to understand that the mineral’s form can have a major impact on how readily available that mineral will be when it enters the animal’s digestive system. For many years, inorganic trace minerals — including sulfates, oxides and chlorides — were really the only option. Studies have shown, however, that these forms are reactive within the body, which could potentially create oxidative stress. Fortunately, organic trace minerals — including proteinates, chelates and complexes — have recently been made available. These forms of trace minerals more closely resemble the natural forms that appear in plants. They are also more readily-absorbed and bioavailable to the animal than their inorganic counterparts.

Supplementation with Bioplex® zinc and copper, for example, has been shown to aid the overall performance of breeding bucks. Organic zinc and copper can contribute to earlier onset of puberty and improved semen characteristics (Arangasamy et al., 2018), compared to bucks only supplemented with inorganic mineral forms.

When ewes were supplemented with organic zinc during late gestation, their milk quality improved and lactose concentrations increased, and lambs from those ewes had greater daily gains (Mackenzie et al., 2005). In addition to these reproductive benefits, supplementing sheep with organic zinc has also been shown to improve hoof quality, which may be due to the improved deposition of zinc in tissues and areas such as hooves (Ryan et al., 2002), compared to sulfate forms.

Supplement, supplement, supplement!

When it comes to sheep and goat nutrition, one of the best — and, potentially, easiest — things you can do is to provide a self-fed supplement and make it available to your animals around the clock. A year-round nutrition program is important for maintaining and elevating the productivity and health of your livestock. SWEETLIX® offers a variety of supplements designed to specifically meet the needs of sheep and goats, and those supplements include the added organic trace mineral benefits offered by Bioplex minerals. Protein options are also available for times when forage quality is limited, or additional protein supplementation is required. Several recommended options are included below.




For more information, contact your local SWEETLIX dealer or call 1-87-SWEETLIX to speak with a SWEETLIX nutritionist.