Our animals had three strikes against them this year when it came to selenium/vitamin E deficiency

All the wet weather we had last summer caused major amounts of stress for our livestock, particularly our goats and sheep. We saw parasites, respiratory issues, and many other unexplainable and seemingly unrelated symptoms. Our vet suggested that we had an underlying stressor that was suppressing our live-stock’s immune system, but what was it? It didn’t take too much thought to suggest that swimming across pastures had something to do with our problems, but my gut was telling me the weather wasn’t the only thing wrong.

After a lot of Internet research I noticed that most, if not all, the problems we were experiencing could be linked back to a selenium/vitamin E deficiency. A particularly good chart for goats can be found at www.saanendoah.com/nutritionalchart.html.

Most of the seemingly unrelated problems we were seeing could all be linked to white muscle disease (Enzootic Muscular Dystrophy). The skeletal muscle form of the disease causes mild stiffness when walking. If left untreated, the stiffness will get worse until the animal is unable to stand. If the heart is also involved, the Merck Veterinary Manual says some animals may exhibit profuse diarrhea, and others may just seem tired — or “unthrifty.”

We had seen symptoms of selenium/ vitamin E deficiency in our animals years ago, but never as much as this year. About four years ago a nutritionist recommended a product called E-AD made by Vetoquinol to counteract the selenium problems in our area. He explained that livestock need vitamin E to absorb selenium and it is safer to supplement with E than selenium because selenium can be toxic. Since then, we needle our stock with E-AD a month before parturition in conjunction with feeding selenium in our mineral mix. But we didn’t this year because E-AD was unavailable due to recertification by the government.

We compounded our problem by switching to a different brand of mineral, which was lower quality than the one we usually buy. The weather we had here this summer most likely made the situation worse. Forages from areas that are deficient in selenium, which the Interlake region of Manitoba is, are usually not good sources of dietary selenium even in a year of optimum growing conditions. In a wet year, the plants take up less selenium than normal. At the same time, we had also started feeding whole barley instead of our regular ration, which contained a mineral pack.

In order to save ourselves a lot of health issues next year, we have to make sure to get these vitamins into our livestock before the 2009 crop hits the ground. We have been told that because vitamin E and vitamin A are fat soluble vitamins, they have to be injected into the animal at least one month prior to having their babies for the highest levels to be found in the colostrum. There are three reasons we won’t depend on our feed/mineral mix to supply these vitamins.

We have had palatability issues in the past and then the livestock don’t eat enough of the feed/mineral.

We know they are coming into the winter this year low. If we were just maintaining them at a healthy level, then we could depend on the feed/ minerals.

We know the feed is going to be low in quality due to all the stress it experienced during the growing season.

Our veterinarians also recommend we needle all the babies at birth with Dystocel, a selenium/vitamin E product. These guidelines should remedy our selenium/vitamin E issues and make 2009 a bit easier.

As always on our farm we have learned many valuable lessons the expensive way. We learned that it is a lot easier to get an animal deficient than it is to get them back into shape. It took all summer on a high quality mineral to get the livestock back to normal. We have also had to needle a lot of the ones that showed signs of white muscle disease and nurse many of them back to health. Now to keep them that way, we will try very hard to resist the temptation to save a few bucks on a bag of mineral again. We also bought a bottle of vitamin E capsules just in case they ever decide to take the E-AD from Vetoquinol off the market again for recertification.

Debbie Chikousky farms at Narcisse, Man. Email her

at [email protected]

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