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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

All Text of Sheep Need Selenium, Too

"Sheep Need Selenium, Too"

A long time ago, a popular cartoon character named "Popeye" got his vitamins and minerals from eating spinach. He was then able to fight off any villain that crossed his path.

One of the minerals in spinach is selenium, which occurs naturally in soil and water. Plants that grow in soils rich in selenium can absorb this mineral.

Just like humans, animals such as sheep also need selenium for normal growth and development. It helps protect them from disease and enables them to gain enough weight to stay healthy.

However, selenium doesn't last in our bodies forever. We must continue to eat foods rich in selenium or take supplements.

Sheep get their dosage of selenium from plants that they eat. But some soils have very little or no selenium at all. In these areas, like parts of North Dakota, sheep have to be given supplements such as sodium selenite, which doesn't last long in the body and must be provided often.

A new organic or natural selenium supplement has been found by scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) U.S. Sheep Experiment Station near Dubois, Idaho. The natural selenium product is a "leftover" that's produced when wheat grain is milled to make flour.

ARS animal scientist Bret Taylor and other researchers fed the selenium product to female sheep, which are called ewes (pronounced "YOUS"). The ewes were able to pass the selenium to their baby lambs through their milk.

What's also great about this natural selenium product is that it lasts longer and costs less than the selenium supplement that farmers have been giving their sheep. That means the sheep don't have to come back to the farm as often—and the farmers don't have to go to the sheep as often—to get their selenium. That makes life easier for everybody: the farmers and the sheep!

By Sandra Avant,, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff

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Last Modified: 8/7/2012
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