The Ever Important Minerals

Minerals are hugely important, moreso for Icelandic sheep even than other sheep breeds because they seem to have a higher need. Proper minerals for these sheep aid in parasite resistance, digestion, general thrift, birthing, and lamb growth, which is why it is so important to give them what they need. Now, before I get into what I do for a mineral regimen, I want to add the disclaimer that different states and even different regions within a state have different mineral contents in the soil and water. This means that each flock’s needs will vary according to location. I highly recommend a soil and water test to get an idea of mineral values, as a starting point to figuring out what the sheep need. That being said, I am going to explain my regimen at least as an idea of what might work for other flocks, with the understanding that it will likely need to be tweaked depending on region.

But first, I will briefly explain each of the most important minerals for Icelandic sheep and what they do.

1. Selenium and Vitamin E: I team these two up because selenium needs vitamin e to work. These two together help to bolster immunity and aid in proper muscle tone. This is especially important for pregnant ewes, who need good muscle tone for strong contractions. Plenty of selenium helps for easier birthing. Selenium is also very important to the unborn lamb. If he did not get enough selenium in the womb, then he will be born weak. Severe selenium deficiency is called white muscle disease, in which case the lamb can generally not even stand or nurse. In the heat of the summer, too little selenium can lead to coughing. There is more to selenium and vitamin e than this, but these are the major functions. This is one of the most important minerals to make sure that Icelandics have enough of.

While there are multiple forms that selenium and vitamin e can be delivered in, my preferred form is selenium in the organic form, which is the selenium yeast. SelPlex specifically is the brand that I use. The organic selenium is easier to absorb than the inorganic form found in most minerals, and near impossible to overdose on. (Whereas the inorganic carries a higher risk for being overdosed.)

2. Copper: Yes, copper. Many sources warn of the risk of copper toxicity in sheep. Icelandic sheep, however, are more akin to goats for mineral needs. They both need and tolerate a higher level of various minerals, including copper. Having proper copper levels are extremely important for Icelandic sheep, as copper aids in parasite resistance. Too little copper means a lot more trouble with the dreaded Haemonchus contortus, the barberpole worm. This blood sucking parasite can be deadly to sheep quite quickly if the levels get too high. It is the parasite of most concern in Icelandic sheep, not just because it’s deadly, but because it is getting ever more resistant to all the wormers available for sheep. However, sufficient copper levels go a long way to give the sheep a resistance to the worms.

Copper can be found in the more readily absorbed chelated form or else in the copper sulfate form, and is generally added to loose minerals. It can also be given in slow release pellets or boluses, or in a high copper containing drench such as Red Cell for horses.

Cobalt: The third of the three most important minerals for Icelandic sheep, cobalt resides in the gut and promotes the synthesis of vitamin B12. Sufficient cobalt means better growth and nutrient uptake in the sheep, and especially the lambs. Sheep with enough cobalt maintain better condition than those who do not on the same feed. Too little cobalt is most evident in lambs in the form of poor or slow growth. Cobalt also aids in parasite resistance.

You always want cobalt in the cobalt sulfate form for loose minerals, as this form is more slowly absorbed. It is the presence of the cobalt in the gut that aids the microbes that produce the vitamin B12; you don’t want it absorbed too quickly. It can also be found in a slow release pellet or bolus form.

My Mix:

4 lbs. goat mineral
1 lb kelp
1 Tbsp. cobalt sulfate
2 oz. SelPlex (selenium yeast)

I start with 4 lbs of straight goat mineral as the base for my mix. The main reason I use the goat mineral rather than a sheep mineral is for the increase copper content. Anything less than straight goat mineral does not seem to deliver enough copper. (We tried mixing goat and sheep mineral at first.) As not all goat minerals are the same, the specific brand I use is MannaPro. One thing I like about it is the low salt content; it’s almost straight minerals with 12-14% salt. Loose white salt is cheap and I can add more or less depending on the time of year and need. (Sheep need more salt on hot days.) I like the flexibility, and not having to pay for salt when I want the other minerals. Some of those mixes are at least half salt. Something else I like about it is that it contains chelated minerals, which absorb more readily. Thus less mineral needs to be consumed for the same effect as the non-chelated version. It also has some vitamins, the most important being E to help in selenium usage. It contains ammonium chloride, which helps prevent bladder stones in rams, and lactic acid bacteria, which helps increase the good rumen bacteria. I’m not really brand picky; I’m a label reader. Any mineral that contained similar contents to this one, I’d be happy with.

To the 4 lbs of goat mineral I add a pound of kelp. I like to add kelp because it has a number of helpful nutrients, and adds a little extra palatability to the mix. My sheep do seem to eat my mix quite readily.

I add 1 Tbsp. cobalt sulfate to the mix, because this mineral does not contain any cobalt. I used to add 3 Tbsp. before I started giving my sheep slow release cobalt pellets from Mayo Healthcare. Here’s a link to the copper version, and a link to the non-copper version. I give the version that also contains copper in the winter, since I do not drench Red Cell during the winter. (More on that later.) They get the non-copper version in the summer, since I give the Red Cell drench every 30 days during worm season. I give these once every 8 weeks. (See below for more info.)

I also add 2 oz. SelPlex to the mix because this mix does not contain enough selenium for Icelandic sheep, and the selenium it does contain is the inorganic, less absorbable form.

***An important note on this: SelPlex is only good at room temperature for about 3 months, but can be kept for up to two years if stored in a refrigerator. (As told to me by the dealer.) Since SelPlex is added to this mix, the unused portion should be kept cold. Also, it is sensitive to moisture. If it gets wet, the SelPlex is no good any longer. I personally like to add a small amount of minerals every few days to maintain maximum freshness and palatability. Plus, the sheep have a tendency to dump minerals, so this cuts down on waste.

***Also note: It is best to give these minerals free choice at all times. They eat them as they need them.

Additional Means of Delivering Minerals:

Cobalt Pellets: On top of the free choice minerals, I also use the Mayo cobalt pellets that I mentioned earlier. Again, see this link for the copper version and this link for the non. While there is a once yearly bolus available, I like that the pellets also deliver other nutrients. Plus, the pellets can be used on lambs, whereas the boluses are only for adult sheep. The downside is I have to give pellets 6 times per year rather than once, but it’s worth it to me for the added benefits of the pellets. Every 8 weeks, every lamb at least 8 weeks old gets a single pellet, delivered with a special little attachment to my drenching syringe. Each adult gets two pellets every 8 weeks. Since I started doing this, my lambs have been growing much better and have had better parasite resistance.

Red Cell Drench: Every 30 days during worm season, which for me means 30 days after the sheep start grazing in the spring, I also give a Red Cell drench. There are other similar brands that work just as well, such as Magic Cell. Red Cell, which is a horse supplement, is just the most readily available in my area. The most important components of the Red Cell for my purposes are the high copper content and the high iron content. The copper helps to kill off the H. contortus in the sheep’s system, while the iron helps to build up the red blood cells that the H. contortus aim to deplete. I use this drench as a worm preventative, to keep the worm load from getting too high for the sheep to handle without the need to turn to chemical wormers. I give 30 mL per adult sheep and 15 mL per lamb, with a pinch of cobalt sulfate and of SelPlex added for good measure. I also add a mix of various herbs that are supposed to help ward off worms to the Red Cell mix, at a quantity of 2 tsp. per sheep. The mix sometimes varies, but usually includes black walnut, mugwort, garlic, turmeric, and fennel. I don’t rely on the herbs for worming; I just figure they might help.

***Final Note: With the above regimen of mineral delivery for my sheep, I rarely, if ever, have to pull out the Prohibit, one of the few wormers that still kills H. contortus . If I need it, it’s usually because a lamb was somehow otherwise compromised, such as being a bottle lamb and not having quite the weight of her counterparts, or else getting ill somehow. I never have to pull it out for the adults. For more information, see my article about worms in sheep. (Coming soon!)