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.”