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.
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.”