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Signs of mineral deficiency.

Listen to what your cattle tell you

Vaughn Jones is considered New Zealand's leading consultant on making a profit from livestock. At the February, 1993, Stockman Grass Farmer's Northeastern Grazing Conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Mr. Jones gave the following advice on identifying mineral deficiencies:

Tell-tale rough coats

* Cattle that are wild and have a brownish tinged, rough haired coat are probably suffering from a mineral deficiency. Normal animals should be docile, hold their heads up when walking, have bright open eyes and have a shiny hair coat even in winter.

* If cattle lift their tails and leave manure splattered behind them while keeping the tail and rump clean, it indicates a selenium deficiency. An animal with a dirty tail usually indicates a worm infection. An animal with manure spread from side to side on the rump indicates its anus is itching, which is likely caused by coccidiosis.

* If clover grows better in dung pats than in the open pasture, it is an indication of low soil phosphorus. If grass grows better in a urine patch, it is an indication of low nitrogen or sulfur. If clover grows better in a urine patch, it is an indication of low potassium.

Are your worms working?

* A thatch buildup on the surface indicates an insufficient number of earthworms, and thus a problem with the soil. Earthworms should be slimy and clean. If soil sticks to them, it is a good indicator of the need for additional calcium in the soil.

* If cattle enter a fresh paddock and almost immediately bawl to get out, something is wrong. It could be the forage isn't palatable. Many New Zealand grazers broadcast salt on their pastures to increase palatability.

New Zealand grazers periodically broadcast about 50 pounds of salt per acre. It can be the rock salt used in water softeners. You can test this concept by broadcasting salt in a circle in the middle of several paddocks and then noting if these areas are eaten in preference to the remaining forage next year. Other minerals (e.g., calcium) can also be tested in a similar manner for growth and livestock preference.

Low palatability could also be due to the type of grass. For example, fescue is not only low in quality but also tastes bitter most of the year. In this case liming as required and broadcasting legume seeds to get stepped in the soil by the stock will improve both quality and palatability. Another possibility is that the forage may have been allowed to get too high and is now dry and tough rather than tender. Unless forage is being set aside for hay or stockpiled for winter use, it normally should not be allowed to get more than six or seven inches tall. Rotate faster to keep it clipped off.

* Animals licking each other is a good indictor of a sodium deficiency. (Normally cattle require from one to four ounces of salt per day.)

In addition, a depraved appetite such as eating wood, bones or soil is often a sign of a phosphorus deficiency. In a study in a known phosphorus-deficient area of Texas, mentioned in the 1942 U.S.D.A. Yearbook Keeping Livestock Healthy, one cattle herd was given a phosphorus supplement while a second, control herd, was not. The supplemented herd had an 83 percent calf crop compared to 58 percent; 72 percent rebred two years in a row compared to 21 percent; they had a 78 pound higher average calf weaning weight; one-year-old heifers weighed 100 pounds more and mature cows weighed 200 pounds more than the control herd. The supplemented herd was noticeably healthier than the control herd. The performance results paid for the cost of the phosphorus supplement many times over.

Mr. Jones believes forage analysis is a far more reliable indicator of a deficiency than soil tests since it measures what livestock are actually eating.

The losses from mineral deficiencies are generally indirect. Examples are a loss of appetite; lower efficiency of feed conversion; weak bones; decreased milk flow; lesser ability to handle temperature extremes or stressful situations; difficulty in breeding; birthing problems; and small, sick or weak calves.

Identifying a mineral deficiency from symptoms alone can be very difficult as different mineral deficiencies can cause similar symptoms. In addition, in Cattle Fertility and Sterilit, (1955), S. A. Asdell noted, "A deficiency is usually multiple, not specific. Calorie or energy deficiency is usually accompanied by a protein deficiency. A protein deficiency is usually associated with a low mineral content of the ration, especially of phosphorus. Poor-quality hay usually means a multiple vitamin deficiency. In all such cases the best remedy is to improve the general feeding standard."

For supplemental minerals, several respected livestock writers suggest, at a minimum, two free choice boxes; one with trace element fortified stocker salt (including area specific deficient minerals, e.g., iodine, selenium or cobalt) and dicalcium phosphate or deflourinated phosphate, and a mixture of one-third stocker salt to two-thirds steamed bone-meal (a well-balanced source of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals and trace elements) in the other.

Salt helps to maintain osmotic pressure relationships in body cells and fluids; aids in the regulation of water metabolism; is an essential constituent of milk, eggs and all body cells; helps to regulate body temperature and aids in digestion. About 70 percent of the mineral content of an animal's body is calcium and phosphorous, predominantly in the bones and teeth.

Several producers have reported good results from using one-half stocker salt to one-half kelp meal as a trace clement source. They note given the choice between commercial trace mineral mixes and kelp meal, the animals will always choose the kelp meal.

Although it has not been documented as effective by researchers, diatomiceous earth is used by some producers to try to control internal parasites (e.g., two parts stocker salt, two parts kelp meal and one part diatomaceous earth).

It is generally not advisable to provide minerals free-choice to newly acquired animals as they may not have been provided before. For example, a salt starved animal can gorge itself on salt to the point of causing salt poisoning. Consumption of supplemental minerals during the first one to two weeks should be monitored to avoid this.

The Stockman Grass Farmer holds several intensive grazing or grass-based dairying conferences each year. For information on upcoming conferences contact them at P.O. Box 9607, Jackson, MS 39286.
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Title Annotation:in cattle
Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:1069
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