Alpine Ibex Goat Breed

Goats of the Dam

Alpine Ibex Goat Breed

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Anita B. Stone – Many things defy gravity, including man and beast, but one of the most exciting and unusual is the Alpine Ibex, a mountain goat with split hooves and rubber-like soles that act like suction cups. From May to December, the Alpine Ibex spends considerable time overcoming gravity to obtain major nutrients missing from its winter-to-spring diet. Like many herbivores, the Ibex lacks salt and other essential minerals, which they cannot get from grass and winter forage. Although some Ibex herds live in protected areas, they, along with those living in less-shielded circumstances, must seek out natural salt and trace mineral sources in their environment to provide needed minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and iron.

Living high in the European Alps, Alpine Ibex have discovered a source of minerals in the stones and cement of a retaining wall of a dam at Lake Cingino in Italy. These goats display incredible skill, making it possible for them to cling to a near-vertical rock face to reach salt-encrusted stones.

Their needs are so overwhelming that these daredevils climb a 160-degree-tall dam wall to reach the stones, cement, and lichens on the dam’s face, which are loaded with mineral salts. The goats are instinctually aware of the extent to which they must strive to maintain their health and the herd’s survival. Without the salts and minerals found in the rock, they know their bodies will begin to act negatively. Their bones will not grow, and their nervous systems, muscles, and reproductive processes won’t function properly.

Their desire and actions show awareness for their well-being and health. It’s as though they know the dam wall provides unconventional salt for them, and they must seek out their own minerals. Alpine Ibex inhabit the Alps’ highest peaks, and lucky tourists can see them struggling up the dam, balancing precariously on the wall in logic-straining postures. 

Along with a hard shard outer hoof edge that uses the rock’s small uneven surface, they also benefit from advanced balance believed to result from their unusually large ears.

Their hooves are composed of two toes that operate independently. The kids follow the female onto the rock face, slipping and sliding to keep up with her. This cliff-climbing ability has the secondary benefit of avoiding any predators lurking below. Researchers and scientists believe that Alpine Ibex are attracted to ettringite. The mineral is a type of salt used in making concrete in the dam wall. The mineral is partially soluble in water, making its various elemental components available to the Ibex, as does the natural thermal and chemical stress occurring in the concrete. These components include some minerals desired by the goats. Ettringite, named for the European area where it was discovered, also occurs naturally in laminated sedimentary rock found at high altitudes. Goats can also obtain essential minerals from this.

Alpine Ibex climb the steep walls of the Barbellino dam to lick the saltpeter, an efflorescence that forms on concrete.

Alpine Ibex are not the only goats that require salt and essential minerals. Farm goats require a sufficient intake for their health and survival. Farm goats eat a lot of natural forage. However, sometimes the minerals they require are not always available in forage. Some farm goats are given a typical salt lick, but this is inadvisable because the goats may break their teeth or harm their soft tongues while trying to use a lick. Aside from loose minerals, which may be purchased, there are several important things to keep in mind when supplying farm goats with supplemental minerals. One important fact is to know that one size doesn’t fit all. Mineral supplements are formulated for specific animals. Giving minerals and salts, salts made for different livestock animals, can create serious health issues with the goat herd. A mineral supplement for sheep, for instance, will harm goats due to the differences in the animal’s need for copper. Goats require a great deal more copper than sheep and will become unhealthy or worse if deprived of an adequate amount of this or other specific minerals.

Since needed minerals are consumed naturally in forage, a related issue to keep in mind is that forage in a different part of the country and during different seasons of the year, may differ widely in mineral content. These changes will dictate the mineral composition of the supplement for the goats. 

All supplements should contain iodine to prevent iodine deficiency in goats. Make sure this mineral is stated on a bag or tag when purchased. Additionally, goat minerals needed for health are selenium, zinc, copper, calcium, phosphorus, iron, manganese, and sodium. 

In comparison to Alpine Ibex, who roam in a free-range environment, farm goats don’t have the luxury to search for various edible plants, nor do they climb rock-faced dams. Supplemental minerals must be purchased and fed to farm goats. If a farm goat demonstrates a salt and mineral deficiency, its bodies will exhibit reduced growth as well as provide reduced milk production.

Originally published in Countryside November/December 2021 and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

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