WARNING: Too much selenium is toxic.

NOTICE:  My area is deficient in selenium so the goats don't get the proper amount in their hay or browse.  Anything I say below should NOT be applied to areas where selenium occurs in normal amounts in the soil; for those areas, please consult a local goat-keeper or vet.


So everything I had ever read told me that the symptoms of a selenium shortage were dramatic.  My experience now is that that ain't necessarily so.

I started out in 2007 with two sheep and an angora buck.  They didn't need a lot of calories and so got very little grain, but free choice minerals.  They never had any health issues.

In 2008, I added three dairy does.  Two were doelings and one was a first freshener who had had twins before I bought her.  I fed (free-choice) a loose mineral formulated for our area and a 16% dairy ration that was also formulated for our area.  Both had added selenium.  Both (which worried me) said "feed as the sole source of selenium".  I checked with other goat owners and this seemed to be standard practice.  The goats thrived and all seemed well.

In 2012, I gradually moved the does over to a home-mixed grain which I had tested at a lab for protein content and calcium/phosphorus balance.  They still got the free-choice mineral.  All went well for the first two years.  Then, in 2014, I started to see a gradual, subtle decline in herd health.  It was very hard to pin down -- even hard to explain clearly to the vet.  It was just that I knew the does weren't feeling 100%.  The vet and I discussed it and decided to test for those dreaded goat diseases:  CAE, CL and Johnes.  We learned that the does had CAE, but not the other two.

But, the problems persisted.  What was I seeing? Here's a list and perhaps you'll see why it was darn hard to decide what was going on.

     * wet noses were common but there were no other symptoms at all (no fever, no wheezing...)
     * there was more mastitis than before (2-3 cases every year) -- but not hot, bacterial cases, just a low
       level clumping in the milk and sometimes an off taste.  It cleared up with antibiotics injected into the
     *  in 2013, Lucy (who was 5) had a really hard delivery, but both boys had enormous heads, so that
        seemed completely understandable -- doe & babies were all fine after the birth
     *  in 2014, Lucy again had a lot of trouble with her delivery:  the second boy was breech and I couldn't
         get him repositioned (my inexperience meant I didn't push him back in far enough to get his legs
        sorted) and the resulting birth was prolonged and painful for Lucy.  She then had a long pause and
        when she finally started pushing again, the third babe was already dead.  Lucy was slow to recover
        from the process, but it honestly just seemed like a case of bad positioning and bad midwifery.
     *  in 2014, Lucy started to act like more of an oddball than usual (goats are all a bit odd in their own
        special ways of course and so it's hard to tell when "personality" slips over into "psychosis") -- she
        wouldn't come to be milked as usual, but had to be rounded up every time
     *  in 2014, the other three does who kidded all seemed to have a tougher time than in previous years,
        but all delivered successfully and the babies were all healthy
     *  in 2015, I had to assist in almost every birth (5 out of 6) and I lost two babies (one was a triplet who I
        didn't realize was there until too late, and one had it's neck bent double and didn't survive being
        repositioned) -- again, does and surviving babies all seemed healthy afterwards (if very tired)
     *  starting in the Spring of 2015, the does were becoming reluctant to jump up onto the milk stand --
        some just hesitated and seemed to have to plan the jump, and others didn't want to at all and had to
        be "boosted" -- they were still play-fighting and running around outside
     *  several of the does started to display the following behaviours (not all at once, and not every day)
               ** reluctant to come to be milked
               ** unusually fearful (afraid of a dog they'd known for years, afraid of the milkhouse...)
               ** reduced night vision (well, that's what appeared to be happening; sadly they couldn't tell me)
     *  then in the summer of 2015 I started to see muscle tremors - some had them in the hind legs and
        some in the front legs, over the next few months some began to 'shiver' all over when stressed

Now, at this point you will be saying either, "why didn't she call the vet?" or "how could she not have known this was a selenium deficiency?"

On the first question -- I did.  And he had a good look at the girls and concluded that it made no sense, but that perhaps we were seeing the effects of the CAE virus -- that it was wearing them down slowly.

On the second question -- remember that they were exhibiting unusual levels of fear.  For many months I thought the trembling was connected to the fear response.  They trembled only when under stress -- fear (even if unwarranted) or extreme cold (and in that situation, I put blankets on them and they stopped shivering).

Then, in the Winter of 2015, one of the does started to exhibit hind-end weakness -- Lorelei walked like a car that has been knocked out of alignment.  She was one of the worst tremblers.  She was Lucy's daughter.

I read everything I could get my hands on.  I asked questions in on-line forums (although I've become leery of them as a lot of the people give advice without much information to base it on).  I talked to other goat people.  It was a mystery.  I decided it wasn't selenium because the symptoms listed in all the sources always focused on birthing and weak babies -- none of the babies were the slightest bit weak and the does seemed to be pushing as hard as ever (the 'bad' births all connected to malpositioning).

I decided it was a calcium shortage (I'll do a post about calcium later).  I read up on how to make a calcium supplement and I started Lorelei on that.  She seemed to improve.  Well, a bit.  I kept it up.  I bought a commercial supplement.  I gave it to everybody eventually.  There was certainly some brightening of disposition, but ultimately, after several months, I had to declare it a failure.

What was I left with?  Back to the books.  Deep discussions with Mum (a physician for 50 years).  Finally, we decided that selenium was the only option remaining.  I bought an oral supplement (figuring that I might have a chance to save a doe from an oral overdose where I might not from an injection, which might act more quickly).  I gave it to the sickest doe, Lorelei.  I watched her like a hawk -- within 24 hours, she seemed brighter.  Within 48 hours, she was decidedly brighter & happier.  I gave it to 2 more does and got a similar improvement in outlook.  I gave it to all the does & doelings (lower dose to the younger ones).  Within 1 week, all but the most occasional tremors were gone and all the does were jumping up with relative ease (the worst affected were still hesitating & planning, but were improved).  The night blindness and fears disappeared gradually over 2 weeks.  Lorelei (who had been listing like a ship at sea) was much improved -- she still showed muscle weakness, but I think that is because they were atrophying from lack of use (my God, that sounds awful).

So, it's been three weeks now.  There are still a couple of wet noses.  There are no tremors, night blindness, or irrational fears.  I will give all the does a second dose 1 month after the first (as recommended on the medication).  Then it will be a question of determining whether to give any more doses.  I will definitely be giving every doe a shot before she kids from now on.  I'm just not sure about how much (if any) they will need in between kiddings.

The goat owners I've spoken to who give selenium injections to their FULL-SIZED dairy goats give: 
     *  1 cc to each adult doe 3 weeks before kidding
     *  0.25 cc (NOTE: a 1/4 of a cc) to each baby just after they are born or if they seem healthy when
         born then 2-3 weeks after birth
PLEASE, remember that this is for goats who are selenium deficient.  If you give a dose that isn't needed, you can kill your goat.  I did ask my vet whether they can blood test for selenium levels and he wasn't certain.  I'm going to see if one of the Universities can tell me that....I'll keep you posted.