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Understanding mineral deficiencies in homestead livestock.

New Zealander Vaughn Jones is considered to be the leading international consultant on intensive grazing with special emphasis on micro-elements, stock health and profit. Writing in the Sept. '92 issue of The Stockman Grass Farmer he noted he has been to the U.S. dozens of times, visited just about all parts of the country and has seen case-after-case of malnourished livestock. The probable cause: a deficiency of one or more minerals.

Selenium: Too much or too little

For example, selenium is a mineral which is toxic in large quantities, but is essential in small quantities for good livestock health. While some areas of the U.S. contain too much selenium, many others are deficient in it. Researchers in Mississippi found by providing a mineral mix supplemented with selenium, the health of the study animals increased significantly -- and this wasn't even in an area of the state which is considered to be selenium deficient.

Much of the U.S. is considered to be phosphorus deficient and much of the northern half, particularly around the Great Lakes and the Sierra states, is considered to be iodine deficient. Before widespread food distribution and iodized table salt, this area was known as "the goiter belt."

Other soil deficiencies involve cobalt, copper, iron, sodium and calcium. (A boron deficiency can hamper the growth of legumes, particularly alfalfa.)

Some areas have multiple deficiencies. Louis Bromfield in his writings noted a far higher number of military inductees during WW II from the South than from the North were rejected for health reasons. He largely attributed it to a deficiency of calcium and other minerals in their diet.

Examples of some common mineral deficiency problems in livestock are lack of appetite; difficulty in rebreeding in females; low sex drive and low quality semen in males; abortions; retention of placentas; premature, weak or sickly offspring and their susceptibility to navel ill; premature aging; depraved appetites (e.g., eating soil, bones, wood or manure); excessive licking of other animals and a general unthriftiness. Some writers go so far as to say susceptibility to almost all livestock diseases is related to mineral deficiencies.

If you suspect a mineral deficiency may be causing a problem, if nothing more than your livestock don't seem to do as well as others in the area, there are several ways to proceed:

Have a complete soil and/or forage sample analysis done from representative areas, including your garden. Most local Extension offices can assist you in sampling. Discuss the results and your alternatives with your Extension agent and also, if possible, with knowledgeable people at your state's agricultural college. Your local ag agent's knowledge may be more attuned to NPK requirements for large operations.

Discuss use of supplemental minerals with your vet as to what is commonly needed for your area and what they recommend.

If there is someone in your area who consistently produces top-quality animals, arrange to visit their operation and question them about their mineral deficiency practices. If they don't view you as competition, chances are good they will be more than willing to give advice.

Once a mineral deficiency is identified, there are several options to correct it: subsoiling, increasing the natural fertility of pastures, increasing the biodiversity of forages, promoting plants which have a reputation for a high-mineral content, pasture spreading, supplemental minerals free-choice or in feed, and supplemental minerals delivered through the water system.

Determine if your pastures need to be subsoiled. If a hardpan has formed over the years, it may be preventing root access to minerals in the subsoil. Indications of a hardpan are standing water after rain, susceptibility to even short-term droughts and a low population of earthworms. If any of these conditions exist, dig several trenches at least two feet deep to examine the soil structure. Louis Bromfield used to ask farmers visiting Malabar Farm how they would like to buy another farm just like theirs, but with more fertile soil, at a fraction of the cost of the current farm. His answer was to subsoil. Instead of just farming the top few inches, let the roots go as deep as they want.

Increasing the natural fertility of pastures through increasing the humus-level and stopping heavy use of artificial fertilizers will increase the microflora in the soil, which, in turn, will help make minerals available to the plants.

The value of worm castings

For example,tests have shown worm castings to contain 40 percent more available calcium, 204 percent more available magnesium, 366 percent more available nitrogen, 644 percent more available phosphorus and 1019 percent more available potassium than the soil in which the castings were made. As a kid on the dairy farm in Wisconsin, I remember seeing flocks of birds following my father's plow for the worms and grubs exposed. You don't see that today. Some writers make note of the strong correlation between increasing use of artificial fertilizers and the increasing incidence of livestock diseases due, in part, to their negative impact on soil life.

Biodiversity means maintaining a number of different forage species in the same pasture. This helps to extend the grazing season, provides a choice to livestock, and some, like legumes, are higher in mineral content than grasses. A combination of several different warm and cool season forages is generally recommended, as is roughly a 50/50 mix between grasses and legumes.

Some forages, commonly considered to be weeds, contain a high mineral content due to their deep and/or extensive root systems. Examples are dandelions, plantain, comfrey, chicory, dock, sheep's parsley and pigweed. Thus, rather than being considered weeds and fought, plants of this nature should be viewed as productive forages as livestock will frequently seek them out when first entering a fresh pasture. Many other weeds and nuisance grasses (e.g., Johnson grass, crabgrass or quack grass) will also be readily consumed by livestock if kept young and tender through intensive grazing followed by pasture clipping as required.

In other articles, Vaughn Jones has noted pasture spreading of salt rock phosphorus and other minerals is a common practice in New Zealand. This is beneficial in that the plants take up these minerals and provide them to the livestock in a very usable form. For example, spreading natural sources of phosphorus and potassium on pastures not only helps the forages to grow better in most cases, but it also supplies these to the animals grazing on them. Pasture spreading tends to be expensive if done solely as a supplemental mineral method.

Adding minerals to feed

If the pasture soil and forages are still deficient in minerals, they can be added to livestock feed or provided free-choice alone or in a mixture. When provided free-choice, salt is normally used as a controlling agent. The required minerals and mixtures will vary not only between animal species, but also between animals of different ages, individual animals and whether or not they are lactating. Some of the minerals consumed will be eliminated in the urine or manure, resulting in pasture supplementation on a small scale.

Louis Bromfield provided about a dozen minerals to his livestock and poultry on a cafeteria-style basis. He believed they would take what they need when they needed it. For a while he purchased young dairy heifers from other areas of the country. He noted they almost always fed heavily on the minerals for the first few weeks which indicated, to him, they came from an area with mineral deficiencies.

Joel Salatin, an innovative and diverse farmer in Virginia, reports excellent results from using dried kelp meal as a supplemental mineral source. The kelp apparently draws the minerals out of the sea water and changes them to a readily available source for livestock. He provides a free-choice mix, by volume, of two parts stocker salt, two parts kelp meal and one part diatomaceous earth. The latter two are available from the Necessary Trading Co., P.O. Box 305, New Castle, VA 24127--catalog on request--and other sources.

N. Bruce Haynes, D.V.M. in Keeping Livestock Healthy: A Veterinary Guide recommends free-choice access to a mixture of equal parts, by volume, of di-calcium phosphorus and trace mineral salt as a livestock supplement.

Cement dust in feed

Research at the Beltsville (MD) Agricultural Experiment Station in the late 1970s indicated adding cement kiln dust to livestock feed resulted in faster growth of a higher quality meat on less feed than control groups. Cement kiln dust is basically a form of finely ground rock dust (also called gravel dust, glacial dust, granite dust, stone dust, stone flour or stone meal). Some alternative agriculture writers believe rock dust, in addition to being a source of various minerals, results in an explosion and then continuing high level of microflora in the digestive system which, in turn, better utilize the feed provided.

Plastic barrels are becoming readily available and could be adapted as mineral feeders. Several barrels could be put on a small trailer, with a different mineral source or mixture in each barrel. Examples of contents which might be considered are Joel Salatin's mix, commercial minerals recommended for the area (e.g., with extra selenium added), trace mineral salt, bonemeal, ashes/charcoal from hardwoods, rock phosphorus, high calcium ground limestone or rock dust. Let the livestock decide what they need.

An example of different mixes using the same basic sources was given by Dirk van Loon in Small-scale Pig Raising, Garden Way Press, as follows: Mixture 1--two parts ground limestone, two parts steamed bonemeal or defluorinated phosphate and one part stabilized iodized salt. Mixture 2--five parts ground limestone, two parts steamed bonemeal or defluorinated phosphate and three parts stabilized iodized salt. Mixture 3 - two parts ground limestone, two parts wood ashes and one part stabilized iodized salt.

Value of wood ashes

Wood ashes, particularly from hardwoods, are a good source of major and minor minerals and charcoal is a digestive system calmer. I am reminded of the story of a farmer who gave a pig to another farmer because he was sure it was about to die from some wasting disease. The second farmer took it home and, by chance, put it in a pasture where he had been burning brush, stumps and tops from clearing part of it. As soon as the pig found the ashes it gorged itself on them for several days. When the first farmer saw it several weeks later, he refused to believe it was the same pig.

Golden Associates, Box 177, Springville, PA 18840 ph. (717) 965-2656, specializes in consulting on forage-based dairying, including recommending supplement minerals. Minerals can be custom mixed. One southern source is Drude Minerals, 800-256-9149. They deliver to Louisiana, Mississippi, East Texas and West Alabama with plant pickup from other areas.

Supplemental minerals can be provided by injecting them at a controlled rate into the livestock water system. While used in New Zealand, this is a relatively new practice in the U.S. which uses soluble fertilizer with trace elements as the mineral source. Kelp is also available in a liquid form. For further information on this concept contact Kentucky Grazier's Supply, 1929 South Main St., Paris, KY 40361. Livestock salt should still be provided.

All of the above practices must be viewed from a bottom-line perspective. Does it more than pay for itself? For example, it may be economically feasible to pasture spread only minerals which are chronically deficient, provide others as supplements and to broadcast seedings, including "weeds," at the proper time of the year.

Recommended reading.

The Comfrey Report: The Story of the World's Fastest Protein Builder and Herbal Healer by Lawrence D. Hills, available from Rateavers, 9049 Covina St., San Diego, CA 92126 for $12.00 postpaid.

Grass Productivity by Andre Voisin, available from The Stockman Grass Farmer Bookshelf, P.O. Box 9607, Jackson, MS 39286 for $24.45 postpaid. (This is the book which started the grass-roots intensive grazing revolution now underway.)

Fertility Pastures and Cover Crops by Newman Turner, available from Rateavers for $22.00 postpaid. (Turner's herbal pasture mix and grasses from New Zealand are now available through Modern Agri-Products, 3700 Aldergrove Rd., Ferndale, WA 96248 -- 206-366-4343.)

Herbal Handbook for Farm & Stable by Juliette de Bariacli Levy, available from the Necessary Trading Co. for $13.95 postpaid.

Keeping Livestock Healthy: A Veterinary Guide by N. Bruce Haynes, D.V.M., available from the Necessary Trading Co. for $18.95 postpaid. (Written for the layman, emphasis is on healthy livestock through preventive measures.)

More Food From Soil Science: the Natural Chemistry of Lime in Agriculture by Dr. V. A. Tiedjens, available from Growers Fertilizer Solutions, 321 Huron St., Milan, OH 44846 for $12.00 postpaid.

Soil Fertility: Renewal & Preservation by E. Pfeiffer, available from The Pfeiffer Foundation, Threefold Farm, Spring Valley, NY 10977 for 21.50 postpaid. (Before ordering this book you might want to send $1.00 and a business-size SASE for a copy of their pamphlet Bio-dynamics: A Short, Practical Introduction.)

The Survival of Civilization by John D. Hamaker and Donald A. Weaver, available from Hamaker-Weaver Publishers, Rt. 1 Box 158, Seymour, MO 65746 or P.O. Box 1961, Burlingame, CA 94010 for $12.00 postpaid--state resident state residents add sales tax. (Emphasis is on the benefits of rock dust.)
COPYRIGHT 1994 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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