On-farm research shows that natural supplements effectively support goat health

For Release: April 22, 2016

AMES, Iowa — Parasites can afflict all species of livestock, and controlling them is an important part of management. But for farmers raising small ruminants, like goats, managing internal parasites is especially critical for animal and financial health. Beyond the cost of treating sick animals, internal parasites can prevent goats from gaining weight, and in severe case, can even result in death.

Many farmers turn to commercial dewormers to help control internal parasites in their goats. But some farmers are striving for a holistic approach to management, seeking ways to boost their animals’ underlying health and immune systems so they can minimize the need for chemical treatments.

Cheryl Hopkins is one such farmer. She raises meat goats at Frog Hollow Farm near Walker, and for the last several years has been conducting on-farm research on ways to raise her animals more naturally, with less reliance on chemicals and medicines.

In her most recent study, conducted in partnership with Practical Farmers of Iowa, Cheryl compared how three different mineral supplements – a standard mineral block, natural loose minerals alone, and a natural loose mineral-kelp mix – affected goat health indicators such as parasite load, body condition and hoof health.

Her results reveal that naturally mined minerals and organic supplements can be as effective as a synthetic mineral block for goat health: Goats eating all three supplements remained healthy throughout the trial, with no significant differences in any of those key indicators.

Read the full report – “Alternative Free Choice Minerals in Goats” – online at http://practicalfarmers.org/farmer-knowledge/research-reports/2015/alternative-free-choice-minerals-for-goats.

On-farm research yields farm-specific answers
While Cheryl still treats her animals with chemical dewormers when they are infected, she has been investigating alternative ways to raise her goats that would reduce the need for chemical treatments. Because all three mineral treatments seemed to support the health of her herd – including keeping parasites at an acceptable level – the experiment has helped convince Cheryl that a more natural mineral program works for her herd.

“We wanted something more environmentally friendly,” Cheryl says, “something a little more in sync with nature. Animals that are healthy produce better, and they’re less expensive to raise. It’s expensive to treat sick animals. We’d rather prevent illness in the first place.”

At the same time, Cheryl is quick to point out she takes a holistic approach to goat health, and the mineral switch is just one change she has made to give her animals a healthier environment. Besides mineral supplementation, Cheryl carefully manages her pastures and improves the genetics of her herd by selecting animals with strong resistance to parasites.

These combined management practices have allowed Cheryl to gradually reduce the amount of chemical deworming needed on her farm: Between 2014 and 2015, her use of a chemical dewormer decreased 24 percent.

Decisions informed by data
While the natural supplements used in the study were more expensive, Cheryl says she’s willing to spend more on what she believes will be better for the animals over the long-term. She explains that she worked in the feed industry for many years and saw how mineral blocks are produced. “I want to avoid some of the problems with inorganics,” she says, referring to the large number of dyes and artificial flavorings she saw are included. “These are typically by-products of other industries, and that means there is the potential for contamination.”

The alternative mineral supplements may also be more bioavailable to the animals, meaning they would need to eat less to provide the same benefits. That’s good for Cheryl’s operation: Because her goats are raised on pasture, they need to spend more time grazing to gain weight, and less time eating minerals.

This year, Cheryl plans to expand her research by dividing the herd into two groups: One will receive a standard mineral block supplement, and the other will receive a mix of naturally mined loose minerals and organic kelp.

Cheryl says she hopes this will allow her to more specifically measure how each supplement type affects goat health. She plans to host a field day in 2017 to share the results of the trial and how on-farm research helps inform how she manages her farm.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Cooperators’ Program helps farmers use accepted scientific methods to help them transition to more sustainable and economically profitable systems through research, record-keeping and demonstration projects. The Cooperators’ Program began in 1987 with farmers looking to save money through more judicious use of inputs, and now includes research on a wide range of field crop, livestock, horticulture, on-farm energy and cover crop questions.

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Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Our values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. To learn more, visit http://practicalfarmers.org.

Contact:

Nick Ohde | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | [email protected]

Tamsyn Jones | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | [email protected]