Monday, January 4, 2021

Do Animals Eat Minerals Because They Need Them or Because They Taste Good?

     Animals eat minerals because they taste good, but they only taste good when they are needed. I know that sounds like gibberish, but consider this: Appetite for any given mineral is governed by a biological feedback loop that involves taste buds, the cellular tissue concentration of the mineral, and the solubility of that mineral in the feed. When the taste buds are triggered by deficiencies of nutrients in the tissue they are able to recognize the needed nutrients. In this case, solubility equates to palatability - it tastes good if you need it. When the animal reaches satiety for that mineral, it doesn’t “taste good” anymore and they quit eating it.
This is the innate physiological ability of animals that allows them to pick and choose the elements they need from a properly presented, cafeteria-style mineral program. It is this same trait that allows grazing herbivores to balance their ration for energy, protein, and minerals in one 6 to 8 hour grazing cycle — if the proper nutrients are available in the pasture.
When beginning a self-regulated mineral program, it is not uncommon for some animals to consume considerable amounts of certain items. In addition to filling their immediate requirements, animals will also eat to compensate for previous deficiencies; e.g. to replace bone mineral loss or liver reserves. It may take 3 to 6 months for this apparent over-consumption to taper off. If it does not taper off, one needs to check other issues as described below.
    Animals will seldom over consume minerals unless forced to do so because of improperly formulated rations or mineral supplements. For example, if there is too much Calcium in a TMR ration, animals will eat excess Phosphorus from a cafeteria-style mineral program, to balance the Ca/P ratio. Consumption of P will go down if some Ca is removed from the force-fed ration. If feeding a TMR along with a cafeteria-style mineral program, it is best to add only about 50 to 75% of the computed amounts of minerals. This allows the animals to fine tune their mineral balance without over
ADE consumption goes up if there are high nitrates, excess protein or basic deficiencies in the feeds or ration, e.g. consumption goes up as hay and forages age and deplete in vitamin content.     
    BVC and Vitamin C intake increases with stress. Stress can be caused by many situations; including bad weather, extreme high production or performance, relocation, bad water, stray electrical currents, and geo-thermal events.
    Iodine consumption increases if nitrates are high, if subjected to stray voltage or geo-magnetic fields, or if they are fed moldy feed.
    Animals will often change their mineral consumption overnight in response to ration changes or anticipated weather changes. If consumption changes after stabilizing on the FC system the changes could be caused by changes in seasonal needs or ration changes. e.g. animals frequently take more sulfur when they are building a new hair coat in spring and fall.
    There is the possibility that some animals may possess or develop a taste for a particular ingredient. Little weight should be given to that opinion unless and until the other factors listed above are investigated and eliminated.

This item was originally posted to a previous issue of Doc Holliday's blog on 22 August 2019.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Do Cafeteria-Style Minerals Work Better in Organic or Conventional Dairy Herds?

I have often been asked to compare results of smorgasbord mineral feeding in different situations. Since there is no clear meaning to either ‘organic’ or ‘conventional’ — my quick answer would be, “That depends.”

First of all, it is important to understand that feeding ‘ground-up rocks’’ to supplement minerals is, at best, just a band-aid. The real problems are low mineralization of feedstuffs (from decreased soil fertility) and reduced nutritional diversity (from confinement).

It helps me to envision a spectrum or range of mineralization levels in feedstuffs with highly nutritious feeds at one end and lower quality feeds at the other end. On this continuum, it is possible to plot and compare different responses to cafeteria-style mineral feeding situations.

Animals being fed nutritious, highly mineralized feeds from the top end of the range will generally have low mineral consumption or perhaps eat none at all. Many, but not all, ‘organic’ dairies fall into this category, as do rotational grazers. Minerals consumed will probably be used to correct minor imbalances rather than gross deficiencies. Many of these dairy farms will have a long record of soil building.

On the other end of the spectrum, animals in large, intensive, high stress dairy operations will normally consume more minerals to compensate for the lower mineral content of the feedstuffs. Most of their rations will be composed of feeds of variable quality purchased from various sources.

Then too, feeding a TMR often provides too much calcium and protein. Excess protein (along with high nitrates in the water) increases the need for Vitamin A. The excess calcium forces the cows to eat more phosphorus to balance the important Ca/P ratio. Stress of any kind, especially stray voltage, increases the need for Vitamin B.

When starting out, all animals will eat minerals to satisfy their daily requirements and enough extra to begin to replenish previous long-term deficiencies. Excess mineral consumption in any herd may be a sign of other problems such as stray voltage, geophysical influences, bad water m weather changes or the environment influences.

If any of these problems are present, it would benefit the dairyman to at least partially correct them before starting to feed cafeteria-style minerals.

So where does it work the best? I think it is a toss-up! The farm with fewer problems and less mineral consumption benefits from the superb animal health achieved. On the other hand, ‘conventional’ herds have more room for improvement and will be greatly rewarded as many of their problems are reduced. 

This item was originally posted to a previous issue of Doc Holliday's blog in May 2019.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Stable

I wrote this little essay in the early 1970’s. It was published in the local newspaper - The Chillicothe Missouri Constitution Tribune - around Christmas time of that year.

    In the summertime my stable estivates. Its life-flow is at low ebb. Seemingly dead, it is kept barely alive by the flutter of swallows’ swift wings, the scurry of mice, and the occasional intrusion of a stray cat. Except for these interruptions, its sleep is sound. The horses won’t come in, for to them the summer stable means saddles, sweat and separation from their beloved shade tree next to the pond in the upper pasture. The cattle stay away because…well, cows are beyond comprehension…they are very independent when their bellies are full of good green grass and their udders are full of sweet, rich milk to nourish the fat little darlings at their side.

    Nature can change all this in only a few hours. Her tools are snow sleet, blizzard winds, and temperatures that drop as quickly as a skier on a steep, snowy slope. Science tells us that activities slow down as the temperature falls, but then they may never have visited a stable on the magic night of the first cold snap of winter.

    Tonight was such a night. My stable was suddenly alive and I knew it even before I opened the door. I hesitated as I groped for the light-switch and stood in the dark for a moment or two to savor the scents and sounds of a stable returning to life. I listened to the soft whicker of remembrance as the horses acknowledged my entrance - my nose sensed the acid-sweet aroma of cattle’s breath. Even the penetrating odor of fresh manure was a refreshing signal that life had returned.

    I turned on the light! The suspicious calves kept darting in and out, as if unable to decide if their dam provided security enough to protect them from the unfamiliar glare of lights. The older cattle were arrogant in their unspoken demands for something to eat besides the bitter, frosted grass in the now snow-covered meadow. The soft, brown, blinking eyes of the horses were almost apologetic as they begged for sugar, or oats, or anything to show that they were forgiven for a summer of rebellion.

    It was good to have them back. After a pat for some, a soothing word for others, and a handout of feed for all, I started back to the warmth of my living room fireplace. The northwest wind was bitter cold. Even the normally boisterous Collies were well behaved as they pranced at my side. I think they sensed, as I did: “What a perfect place a stable is for the Son of God to enter his Kingdom!”

Monday, December 14, 2020

Measuring Mineral Balance

Many years ago, when I was a student in veterinary school, a blood test was developed that could detect pregnancy in sows as early as 18 days after breeding. This innovative procedure was greeting with some interest until a laconic classmate pointed out, “Or, you could wait three days and see if they come in heat!” (Note: Swine have a 21 day estrus cycle.)

I believe this is an excellent example of how our society is often enthralled with new “scientific toys” and completely overlooks the obvious lessons to be learned by observing nature.

This principle also applies to our livestock management today. Many livestock nutritionists and producers rely heavily on feed analyses, blood tests, computer generated livestock rations and force-fed total mixed rations (TMRs) — and sometimes never actually observe the animals.

From time to time, questions are raised about the need for testing along with a cafeteria-style mineral program. It is certainly possible to do this. A blood sample can reveal the presence and amount of dozens of minerals, enzymes, etc. The problem is, a blood test is a “snap-shot” of that particular moment in time. Metabolic processes are dynamic and ever changing. A test taken today may not be relevant tomorrow or next week.

It is also possible to test hair samples for mineral balance. This gives an accurate picture of the past history of mineral balance. Again, interesting but not necessarily useful. In past years the effects of annual periods of mineral deprivation were seen in the ‘rings’ on the horns of mature cattle.

In my opinion, blood testing, while valuable in some situations, is not really relevant to evaluate the need for or the response to cafeteria style mineral feeding.

The best way to assess your animal’s need for individual minerals is to just put out the full array of ABC’s free choice cafeteria-style minerals and vitamins and watch what they eat. There are no expensive laboratory fees, the results are available immediately, and the results are extremely accurate. The beauty of this method is that it self-adjusts for the ongoing changes all animals are subjected to over time.

The best test of the success of this program is the owner’s personal observation of the health of his animals and their response to the mineral program.

There is a ‘generational effect’ to this program and its effects and value increase the longer it is used. Calves born to dams who were on the program from before conception and throughout pregnancy are noticeably healthier and more productive that those that did not have this advantage.

In conclusion, I would like to remind the reader of the sage advice of Dr. Wm A. Albrecht, “Study books and observe nature. If they don’t agree, throw away the books.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

All Free Choice Minerals Are Not The Same!

Feed tags do not tell the whole story.  Two mineral tags may show the same ingredient list and guaranteed analysis and still vary greatly in cost and in nutritional performance.  You get what you pay for … cheap minerals are often the most expensive in the long run!   If you choose the wrong one you are actually setting a timer for production and reproduction failure.     


1. ABC Plus™ minerals contain DUA™,  a wide spectrum prebiotic, probiotic & enzyme product that enables your animals to efficiently digest fiber and protein in the ration and thus release the minerals and other nutritional ingredients already present in your feed for greater cost savings.  Fiber digestion provides a source of major and micro minerals in a natural chelated form. 

2. ABC Plus™ minerals contain a proprietary blend that remediates the effects that glyphosate contamination has on the safety and quality of feedstuffs.

3. Cheap sources of some minerals are not as readily available to the recipient animal.  They then have to consume more to satisfy their nutritional needs.  Excess consumption can result in mineral imbalances that lower immune response and productivity.

4. ABC Plus™ Minerals do NOT contain consumption limiters to limit consumption of the more expensive items. This is false economy as it does not allow the animals to take what they need to maintain health and sets the timer for future herd health and production problems.

5. ABC Plus™ Minerals do not contain enhancers to force consumption of some items so that they conform with University Standards for mineral consumption.  This practice forces the animals to consume an unbalanced mineral diet and also sets the timer for future problems.  

6. Cheap sources of minerals are more likely to be contaminated with toxic heavy metals. More and more minerals (less expensive but of poorer quality) are being imported from foreign countries.  Phosphorus and zinc sources imported from China have been found to be contaminated with Cadmium and have been determined to be responsible for toxic symptoms in some herds.  The best way to avoid contaminated minerals or feedstuffs is to know your suppliers and buy from a company that has a history of succes

Thursday, September 24, 2020


It is a difficult task to briefly describe “holistic” or “alternative” veterinary medicine.  The dictionary defines “holistic” as being concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with parts or divisions, while “alternative” describes something existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system.  Both definitions are correct but do not adequately address the wide variations within the realm of holistic veterinary medicine as practiced today.
The range of alternative therapies  is immense ... acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, refined colostrum products, microbial products (lactobacillus and yeasts), mega-vitamins, radionics, and many other natural products and procedures. The list goes on and on and I apologize if I’ve left out someone’s favorite therapy. Most are useful and generally effective alternatives to the drugs, hormones and antibiotics commonly used  in veterinary medicine today. 
I believe that the distinguishing characteristic of  holistic  practitioners is the way they approach problems ... in short, the way they think. A true holistic practitioner not only looks at the patient as an integrated unit but also views it in the context of the whole ecosystem in which it lives.  In this regard, a sick animal is not only a patient to be treated but is also a symptom of  a sick farm.  Both patients need help.  Any remedial action must include what is necessary for the immediate relief of the patient as well as a critical assessment of the long-term effects of the chosen therapy on the patient and the environment. Part of the treatment must also be the removal or reduction of predisposing factors. 
 A holistic practitioner should also be well versed in several treatment modalities and  be able to pick the most appropriate ones needed in any situation.   In some situations this might even include the judicious use of antibiotics, if really indicated and if it has a reasonably good chance of success. 
 Finally, a true holistic practitioner should emphasize holistic animal health management (proactive) rather than any kind of treatment (reactive), whether it be holistic or conventional. 
 It should be noted that the terms holistic and alternative are not interchangeable.  For example:  an acupuncturist may be practicing alternative medicine, but if he only treats symptoms and does not search for the cause or other useful therapies ... then he is probably not a holistic practitioner. A fine distinction perhaps, but a significant one.  

 To me, the greatest advantage to the holistic approach is that it works!  In the hands of an experienced practitioner most holistic/alternative treatments have as good or a better success rate than conventional therapy. I think this is true because holistic practitioners attempt to find and treat the cause not just the symptoms.  
 There are many other advantages to holistic medicine ... less pollution, fewer side effects, and especially the fact that holistic medicine follows the old medical axiom, “at least do no harm.”  This advice seems to have been lost or overlooked in the U.S. as evidenced by the recent report that pharmaceutical drugs are now either the 4th or 6th leading cause of death.
 Unfortunately, several factors have slowed public acceptance.  The sale and use of natural products do not generate the huge profits necessary to buy researchers, lobbyists and politicians as does the sale of  antibiotics,  pharmaceuticals, herbicides and insecticides. Thus we have little credibility in some circles because we do hot have research to back up our empirical observations.
 Because so few schools teach these advanced concepts, there are not enough qualified practitioners, although the number is growing. Those that do engage in holistic practice are often subjected to harassment by government agencies.
 The biggest disadvantage is that most people tend to use it for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time!   They will turn to alternative treatments only as a last resort when everything conventional medicine has to offer has failed. Usually by this time the patient is in advanced stages of the disease and also suffering from the side effect of all the prescribed drugs they have used. When the alternative  approach also fails, and it usually does in this situation, the patient gives up on the entire concept and never realizes that the alternative treatment might have worked had they used the right product or technique at the right time.  Unfortunately, this apparent “failure” provides more evidence for the pharmaceutical /medical complex  to ridicule and condemn  the entire concept of holistic medicine.
 The success of the holistic approach requires a change in perspective and the development of a holistic outlook towards livestock management and disease control. It is not as simple as merely substituting a “natural” alternate therapy for a  “toxic” drug. The principles behind the success of holistic therapy go much deeper than the characteristics or source of the  medication. 
 Conventional Veterinary Medicine is primarily concerned with the  treatment of sick animals.  Even if successful, the loss of life and production added to the cost of treatment makes this approach by far the most expensive.
 Veterinarians also emphasize disease prevention.  Herd health checks and vaccination programs fall into this category. As essential as these procedures are, the outlook is still towards preventing disease.  Vaccinations may increase resistance against a specific organism but does little to elevate the animal’s vitality to the health enhancement level. Typical of this category are herds or flocks where the animals are not really sick or showing symptoms but are not really well and productive either.
 A third concept, usually neglected by conventional veterinary practitioners, is that of  health enhancement through holistic management.  Everything possible is done to raise health and vitality to the highest level possible.  All management practices are evaluated on the basis of their effects on the vitality of each animal in the herd. Strict attention is given to providing superlative nutrition.  In so far as possible, all environmental stress factors are eliminated.  Water is checked for nitrates or other toxins. Housing and ventilation are maintained at optimum levels.  Any equipment with which the animals come in contact is properly maintained and adjusted.  There are literally hundreds of other environmental factors that impact animal health and they all must be considered.  When animals are maintained at a high level of vitality their resistance is much 
higher.  Health enhancement is much more profitable than either treatment or prevention.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Mineral Toxicity?

Many myths and misconceptions about cafeteria-style mineral feeding programs abound in the agricultural community. I thought I had heard them all, until I was recently confronted with the following situation.

A livestock owner who was planning to begin a self-regulated mineral program was cautioned that mineral deficient animals would tend to over-consume deficient minerals to the point of toxicity. He was advised to start out by feeding a blend of the same minerals that would be offered individually later on.

In my opinion, there are several problems with this approach.
  1. While it is true when starting a self-select mineral program some individual animals will eat an alarming amount of some products, I have never seen a confirmed case of actual toxicity when the full array of recommended minerals is provided.
  2. If an animal consumes an inordinate amount of a blend to compensate for a previous deficiency of one mineral, it is, in effect, being force-fed all the other minerals in the blend which it may not need. It is expensive to force feed minerals the animals do not need.

Here are some other key points to consider.

  • The essence of the Cafeteria style system is Choice— giving the animals the choice to exercise their innate nutritional wisdom. If you are concerned, you can start them off slower by only putting out small amounts at first and then gradually increasing the amount. That way they maintain their choice and are not forced to eat minerals they do not need.
  • When starting on a program like this, animals may eat what appears to be excess minerals because they are not only eating to satisfy their daily needs but also to remedy the deficiencies they may have experienced in the past.
  • Minerals are team players. You need the entire team on the playing field to win the game; minerals are the same way. You need to provide the full team to have a successful mineral program.
  • Feeding other mineral blends, either top-dress or in the ration, should be minimized or avoided.
  • Always provide a separate, free choice source of plain white salt.
The following incident illustrates another aspect of this ability:
Weather had made it a bad year for crop quality. In late winter, a good client called me about two problems. His cattle were eating excessive amounts of mineral, and his heifers would abort a live calf about 10 days before they were due to calve. The calf would live, but the heifer would usually die. Focusing first on his mineral problem, he decided to try a “cafeteria” mineral program in which each mineral was fed separately. He had to carry each bag of mineral through his cow-lot to get to the mineral feeder. His first few trips were uneventful. Then suddenly several of the normally docile cows surrounded him, tore a bag of mineral from his arms, chewed open the bag and greedily consumed the contents … a zinc supplement. 

Within a week after the mineral change, consumption returned to normal, and his remaining heifers calved normally. Apparently, the previous year’s stressful growing season had resulted in crops that were deficient in zinc or perhaps high in zinc antagonists. His mineral mix was high in Calcium with only small amounts of zinc. Their quest for zinc impelled them to over-eat the mixed mineral. Excess calcium interferes with zinc absorption. Every mouthful they took increased the imbalance and escalated their need for zinc. Inevitably, metabolic problems began in the most vulnerable group - young, growing heifers in the last stages of pregnancy. Finally they just gave up and checked out ... all for want of a few grams of zinc.

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