The past two years we have battled pink eye and foot rot in our cow herd. While they are not life threatening to the animals, it is often the sign of a larger problem. Both illnesses cause the animals discomfort, something we work hard to minimize and cost us time, effort, and money to treat.
Frequently, such illnesses are a sign of a nutritional deficiency. The summer we had pink eye, we literally went through GALLONS of cod liver oil, which is high in vitamins A and D. The stuff smelled revolting, but the cows were slurping it up like crazy.
This Spring we made the switch to a cafeteria style mineral feeder, or free choice minerals as it is sometimes known. The long mineral feeder has 20 separate compartments so animals can pick and choose as their body tells them what they need.
We choose Free Choice Enterprises out of Wisconsin and so far are very happy with them. Taken from their website, this is how the individual elements work in animals:
Calcium: Skeletal development, osmoregulation, muscle contraction, blood coagulation, decreases permeability and reduces nerve irritability.
Iodine: Controls thyroid, regulates metabolism
Magnesium: Activates enzymatic systems- catalyzes starch digestion, essential for proper nerve and muscle formation
Phosphorus: Bone formation and fat and carbohydrate metabolism
Potassium: Primarily bonded to protein. Influences osmotic equilibrium and intracellular osmotic pressure, aids uptake of neural amino acids
Silicon: Important constituent of connective tissue, skin and arteries
Sodium: Primary alkaline plasma electrolyte producing 92% of fluid alkalinity
Sulfur: For production of cystine, cysteine, methionine and biotin. Essential to co feed with non-protein nitrogen for amino acid production.
V4: Vitamin Mix
Vitamin C: for electron transport, formation and maintenance of collagen. Enhances iron absorption (reduces ferric to more readily absorbed ferrous form.) Improves lysine and proline utilization
Vitamin A: aids vision (adaptation to low intensity light) growth (cellular stability in carbohydrate metabolism) participates in mucus secreting, cell growth and synthesis of proteins and mucopolysaccharides
Vitamin D: Facilitates transfer of calcium ions and other divalent elements from mucosal to serosal side of intestinal tract, increases absorption and retention of phosphorus
Vitamin E: Antioxidant, prevents pre oxidation of lipids in cellular and subcellular membranes and unsaturated fatty acids.
Alkaline Neutralizer: Aids in pH control
Acid Neutralizer: Aids in pH control
Free Choice salt
Now, before you think animals are not capable of balancing their needs, remember that they have been doing it for thousands of years before scientists, nutritionists, and laboratory analysis.
Nourishment by Fred Provenza is an excellent resource on animal nutrition and behaviors. Specifically, in how animals know how to eat for what their bodies need.
In one study, pastoralists had 124 observations of 50 self medicating behaviors, treating 35 different diseases. More than 70% of animals showed improvement of symptoms and a cessation of symptoms. Of the plants the sick animals use, 72% are used by pastoralists to treat livestock and human illnesses.
Part of the skepticism comes from nutritionists expecting the animal to supplement for the level of production that man desires. When in reality, the animal only consumes what it needs to be healthy.
Animals select diets that support health. They do not attempt to prevent deficiencies by taking supplemental nutrients. Instead, they choose to maintain a balanced diet by eating foods to correct nutrient deficiencies and limiting foods that cause an excess.
This is another reason why diverse pastures are important. Not only is it important for biodiversity, but also for the animals to have a varied and balanced diet.
So far we are very pleased with our mineral feeder and are looking forward to seeing the long term results and benefits.
Welcome to Willow Farm's blog! I'm Kyle, farm manager and all things marketing