Thursday, May 28, 2020

Tools of the Trade

Precision Tools
The other day when I had my van in for service, I noticed the fine array of wrenches and other tools available for use by the mechanic. Since I am a guy who feels fully equipped if I have more than one adjustable crescent wrench, I was impressed not only by the sheer numbers of the different tools but also by the specific applications for some of them. Given the necessary skills, the mechanic had all the tools he needed to take apart and reassemble the complex engines powering today’s vehicles.

I remembered then some things I learned years ago from my good friend and veterinary colleague, Dr. Bob Scott. Bob had a unique way of looking at things and could translate complicated subjects into an easy to understand broad overview using simple analogies. Here is his view of the role of minerals in plants and animals.

Plants are made up of air and water. If you combine carbon, as from carbon dioxide, with oxygen and hydrogen (also from air or water), you have the basic building block of starch, sugar, or carbohydrates. Add nitrogen to this basic formula and you have an amino acid or a basic building block for protein.

If you burn a plant thus reducing it to ash you are left with the part of the plant that came from the soil -- usually around 5%. Therefore, 95% of the makeup of plants comes from air and water, combined by the sunshine generated miracle of photosynthesis.

Minerals are nature’s “tools” that enable this process to proceed. They are basic to the enzyme systems that catalyze the storage of the sun’s energy into the chemical bonds within the plant itself. The major elements are the big wrenches, and the smaller wrenches are the trace minerals. All are essential. Any deficiency or imbalance limits the production and the quality of the crops grown. If some elements are lacking in the soil, they will be lacking in the crop. If they are lacking in the crop, they will be lacking in the animal eating the crop.

When an animal consumes plants the same tools used by the plant to combine the CHO & N to store energy are needed to break down chemical bonds and release energy to power the metabolic processes of life and production. If the plant doesn’t have enough built-in tools (minerals), extra tools must be provided. Most of our soils are so depleted in minerals it is almost a given that some mineral supplementation is necessary, especially to arrive at the high levels of productivity we strive for today. Without the mineral tools, proper digestion and assimilation of the energy in the feeds simply does not take place.

Even without computers, animals are smarter than man when it comes to balancing their individual needs for the elements of nutrition, especially the major, minor and trace minerals. Providing a choice in mineral supplementation allows the animals to pick the tools they need without being totally locked-in to only the tools recommended by the computer.
A Precision Tool

Most farmers probably wouldn’t think much of a mechanic who tried to overhaul a tractor with a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and a couple of crescent wrenches. Unfortunately, in their role as animal caretakers, some livestock men seem to think a cheap sack of high calcium minerals and a trace mineral salt block are all the tools needed by our livestock to utilize fully the energy stored in ourfeeds. They are wrong!

This item was originally posted to a previous issue of Doc' Holliday's Blog on 3 April 2016

Thursday, May 21, 2020

A Quick Start Mini Cafeteria Style Mineral Program

Many folks are hesitant to begin feeding their animals individual self-select minerals. No doubt some are concerned the unknown results may not justify the expense. Some are put off by the perceived need to 'fiddle around' with so many different items rather than just providing an OBFA (one-bag-fits-all) mineral. Then too, the fact that such an innovative program is downplayed and sometimes ridiculed by mainstream nutritionists is discouraging to say the least.

If you are curious about cafeteria-style mineral feeding and want to prove to yourself whether or not animals have innate nutritional wisdom and can balance their own minerals if given a choice — here is a program for you.

You will need a few separate compartments to contain the minerals used in this experiment. They can be as simple as a divided wooden trough or a couple of three-hole rubberized feed tubs.  Either way, they should be protected from the elements.

1. Provide one separate basic mineral mix that is higher in Calcium than Phosphorus and another that is higher in Phosphorus than Calcium. Most mineral companies have basic mixed minerals with different levels of calcium and phosphorus. Legume forage diets are higher in calcium and need more phosphorus. Conversely, Silage based diets require more calcium. Both of these products usually contain a similar variety or other minerals.  It is not necessary to withdraw any other mineral mixes you are currently providing free-choice.

The separate sources of Ca and P allow individual adjustment of the critical Ca/P ratio. The absorption and utilization of many other minerals depend on this relationship. (See Mineral Wheel)

2. Plain white salt should be available at all times. Salt is an extender in most mineral mixes. If separate salt is not available, animals may overeat the basic mineral mix for the salt and not the minerals.

3. Kelp should be available free-choice.  If they lack trace minerals they may eat a lot of kelp. If kelp consumption remains high you may want to provide separate sources of some of the trace minerals. For example, Copper or Zinc can be missed with salt at levels of 1 to 2% but the mechanics of getting an even mix are daunting. At some point it may be easier and cheaper to consult commercial companies that provide a broad range of separate free-choice mineral mixes.

Some Other Options:
  • If animals are eating dirt, provide a source of bentonite.
  • For high producing dairy cows and feedlot animals being fed "hot" rations, provide a bicarbonate buffer to alleviate rumen acidosis. 
  • If your cattle are grazing lush spring pastures, provide some magnesium.
  • Do not change your current ration.

If you have questions, please leave your contact information in the comment box.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Antibiotics — Good or bad?

I had a phone call from a man with a question about injecting his horse with antibiotics. His Vet had diagnosed a case of Strangles (Streptococcus equi) and recommended a course of antibiotic treatment. The owner wanted to know if that would upset his plans to be organic. I think he was concerned that using antibiotics would violate some basic precept of holistic thought. I assured him it would be a prudent thing to do.

I think antibiotics are a good and useful technology. Since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1927 it has saved many thousands, perhaps millions, of lives. Antibiotics, in and of themselves, are not bad. The problem we have with them is misuse. Fleming warned, early on, that if penicillin was used at too low a dose or for too short of a time it would lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. We ignored his advice.

In 1947, a hospital in London experienced an outbreak of staph infections that did not respond to penicillin. By 1953, the same resistant bug sparked an epidemic in Australia. In 1955 it crossed to the United States, infecting more than ore 5,000 mothers who had given birth in hospitals near Seattle –and their newborns too.

In 1948 Thomas Jukes, a poultry nutritionist at Lederle Laboratories, fed a few ounces of the left over growth medium from the production of the newly discovered broad-spectrum antibiotic tetracycline or aureomycin to a group of chicks. The results in increased growth rates were amazing as were the short-term health benefits.

Jukes shared his results with some colleagues and the practice of feeding low levels of antibiotics to livestock spread like wildfire. This enabled the start of the CAFO industry and was the beginning of the lethal game of leapfrog that organisms and antibiotics have engaged in ever since.

                                         This item was originally posted to a previous issue of Doc' Holliday's Blog on 21 March 2018

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Are OBFA Minerals Suitable for Livestock Feeding?

In the early 1960s one of my dairy clients called me about a couple of problems he was having. Two of his heifers in late pregnancy had aborted calves about two weeks early. The calves survived but both heifers died. I recommended he take one to the Veterinary Diagnosttc Lab at the University of Missouri for an autopsy. The diagnosis came back "starvation” which really didn’t fit the circumstances on the farm. This shed little light on the problem so the actual cause was still a mystery.

Carl was also concerned that his animals were eating an unusual amount of minerals. He was feeding a ‘one-bag-fits-all’ (OBFA) mixed dairy mineral and they were eating all he would put out for them.

A feed store next to my Vet office sold products made the Morea Company of Crete, NE. Their main product was a feed supplement made from molasses. They also promoted a cafeteria style mineral program. Carl decided to try this new system.

The 12 compartment mineral feeder, on skids, was positioned in his cow lot, and he began loading it with the separate minerals. The cows watched him as he carried two 25# bags of minerals into the lot and emptied them into the feeder. When he entered again with another two bags, the cattle suddenly ran up, tore one of the bags from his hands and ate the entire contents of one of the bags. The main ingredient in that bag was zinc. Over the next week his cattle ate another bag of zinc and small amount of some of the other mineral. No more heifers aborted, the animals quit eating the OBFA minerals, and overall herd health improved. 

What was happening here? The previous season had not been the best crop year and the animals' preference for zinc indicated their feed was low in zinc. — this increased their appetite for zinc. — the OBFA mineral had a minimal amount of zinc, but was high in Calcium. — Calcium ties up zinc. (See Mineral Wheel) . Thus the excess calcium in every bite of mineral they ate increased the mineral imbalance and adversely affected the metabolic processes in the animals. The young heifers, pregnant and still growing, were the most vulnerable and suffered the earliest and most drastic symptoms.

In actuality, the herd was being force-fed excessive amounts of calcium which affected the absorption and utilization of other essential minerals. (See Mineral Wheel).

I suspect that if the exact same type and amount of minerals in this OBFA mix had been separated out and fed separately the animals would have adjusted for their own needs and no problems would have occurred.

This incident, from over 50 years ago, was the beginning of my education in mineral nutrition. It epitomizes the many pitfalls of feeding OBFA minerals. Since that time, I have never questioned the intrinsic nutritional wisdom that animals exhibit when given proper choices

Doc Sez: The goal of any mineral program should be to achieve balanced mineral adequacy for each individual with no excesses.