Let Your Animals Teach You Nutrition
This article was first printed in the May-June 2002 issue of the Organic Broadcaster, published by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
I believe that a ruminant's tongue is the finest nutritional, analytical laboratory in the world! Many experiences over the years have taught me to trust in the natural inclination of animals to seek out the best nutrition they can find and to know instantly when they have found it. Let me relate a few examples to help you discover similar occurrences in your own animals.
When I first became interested in holistic animal care, I had a client that planted a large acreage of corn (maize) in a fertile river bottom area. Everyone that farmed around him used chemical fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. He used only a trace mineral rich, gypsum (Ca Sulfate) substance that was mined in Colorado. He experienced little damage from insects or weeds but the native deer would come from miles around to eat his "organic" corn, leaving his neighbor's crops untouched.
I have seen cattle escape from their pens, wander past fields of lush looking "chemical" corn, and then, right to the row, begin to eat plants that were being grown according to natural principles.
have seen swine that were accustomed to eating "organic"
corn, literally quit eating for 2 or 3 days until hunger finally
drove them to begin eating a new batch of feed containing conventionally
grown corn of inferior quality.
Finally, one last example showing that ruminants can instantaneously detect minute changes in forage quality. Research from England indicates that grazing cows prefer clover during the day and grasses during the evening, because sugar levels are highest in grass late in the day.
Mainstream nutritionist tends to downplay this ability of an animal to balance its nutritional needs possibly because they spend more time watching computer screens than observing the eating habits of the animals. I admit that this ability does not apply to all situations and to every type of feed. Some feed items (grain and concentrates) may be so tasty that most animals would overeat if fed free choice. Other ingredients are so unpalatable that voluntary consumption may not meet their requirements. Any attempt to increase the consumption of any one item by adding flavorings only seems to compound the problem. Nevertheless, this natural trait can be used to improve animal health and nutrition. And, in fact, there are many successful commercial suppliers of free choice mineral feeding programs wherein the major components are fed separately.
No prepared ration can match the exact needs of every animal or group of animals. In any given group being fed the same ration, some will get about what they need, some will get too much and some will get too little. This is especially true of mineral components. For example, to provide trace minerals, most nutritionists disregard any trace minerals that may already be present in the feed and add a trace mineral package that provides the total trace mineral requirements. In theory, this assures that adequate amounts will be present. However, it does not address the possibility of interference caused by any excess thus created. (See Mineral Wheel)
SELF-FED MINERAL PROGRAM
1. A mineral mix that is high in calcium with little or no Phosphorus. You could use ground limestone (Calcium Carbonate) or oyster shell flour or combinations.
A mineral mix that is high in Phosphorus with little or no Calcium.
3. Loose salt (not block salt), the more unrefined the better.
4. Always feed a source of kelp ... free choice if possible. Kelp is a rich source of all trace minerals and iodine. Trace mineral deficient animals will eat a lot until their needs are met. After that, they consume very little.
Supplemental Magnesium and Potassium may not be necessary in all areas, but it does not hurt to make a feed-grade source available and see what happens.
Oxide and magnesium sulfate are common sources. Both are relatively unpalatable. They can be mixed with salt to improve palatability so long as a separate source of plain salt is also available. An alternative is to provide dolomite limestone that contains Mg carbonate as well as Ca carbonate.
In many areas, potassium is already adequate or excessive. Potassium chloride or potassium bicarbonate is commonly used in commercial mixes to supply this mineral.
is often deficient. Elemental sulfur can be provided free choice
or mixed with salt at a 1 to 10 ratio.
Avoid sudden changes to the ration. If they seem to grossly over-eat any one item, it may be prudent to partially limit that item for a week or so to let them catch-up gradually.
If possible, avoid mineral mixes that are flavored to increase palatability.
If you are already feeding a complete ration with minerals added, do not change the ration. Use this program as an add-on, free choice, monitoring system to let the animals tell you what they think of your ability as a nutritionist! This allows us to use our science and computers to at least get close to a balanced ration and still provide a way for the animals to fine-tune for their individual needs.
Don't forget that even with the best feeds you can still have malnutrition if the ration is not balanced and the ingredients are not appropriate to the species, age and purpose of the animals being fed.
Excess protein is often more common than a protein deficiency and can be more damaging. Test your feeds and water for nitrates. Nitrates in the feed or water plus excess protein in the ration, can add up to nitrogen intoxication with a variety of symptoms. One of my clients experienced a devastating storm of abortions within a week after he began feeding some purchased hay that was later found to contain over 5000 ppm nitrates.
In conclusion, consider these sage words from the poet, Longfellow
Nature, the old nurse, took
wander with me,' she said,
Richard J. Holliday received his DVM degree from University of Missouri in 1959 and conducted a private mixed practice in northwest Missouri for 25 years. For the last 17 years he has been employed as a Technical Services Veterinarian by IMPRO PRODUCTS, Inc., a company that produces and markets holistic animal health and nutrition products for dairy cattle. Dr. Holliday became certified as a Veterinary Acupuncturist in 1988 and was President of the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society for a 2 year term from 1992 to 1994. Holliday has been actively involved in promoting organic agriculture and holistic veterinary medicine for over 35 years. He believes that his interest in these concepts began when he was 14 years old and read Louis Bromfield's books "Pleasant Valley" and "Malabar Farm". Richard and his wife Ruth have been married for 47 years and have 3 daughters and 14 grandchildren.Return to TOP