Salt Lick Study

I hope you all are enjoying your Easter weekend.  As I was thinking of our own Easter feast, I thought about the differences in the diets of people and cattle.  This should be quite obvious:  grass vs. everything delicious (including beef).  But more specifically, I thought about how salt was such a big deal in diets.  We all know that too much salt is bad for your health and it's easy to over consume it.  I know I do.  Cows don't though.  Cows know how much salt to eat and when they need it.

 Big Trails Beef cattle gathered around the salt tub. 4/1/18

Big Trails Beef cattle gathered around the salt tub. 4/1/18

This is important to remember.  Salt is vital to humans and cows alike.  Cattle need an average of three to four ounces of salt per day.  It is essential for biological processes.  Every aspect of cattle performance is impacted if they are deficient in salt:  growth, reproduction, and even carcass quality.  It's needed for osmotic balance and maintaining pH in every living cell.  There is a good article about this from the Angus Journal if you're interested in learning more.

Of course, it depends on what they are eating as to how much salt they need supplemented.  We try to keep salt out all year long because cows know when they need it and will self-regulate.  As long as they have fresh, clean water, it's hard to cause salt toxicity.  The article linked above even states that "Studies have shown that diets containing as much as 10% salt have not hampered digestion, as long as ample drinking water is available."  Depending on the time of year, we may keep out loose salt (coarse salt crystals) or salt blocks.  If they are not consuming mineral as we would like them to, we will mix the salt with the mineral to achieve the desired intake.  I am planning to get deeper into mineral supplementation in future blog posts.  Depending on how deep you want to go, there are a lot of nutrients and plenty of mineral topics to discuss.

 A partially eaten trace mineral salt block in a salt feeder. 4/1/18

A partially eaten trace mineral salt block in a salt feeder. 4/1/18

Salts aren't always white either.  You can buy salts that have trace minerals (copper, zinc, iodine, cobalt, etc.) to help balance any shortfalls in their diets.  Additional zinc can help with hoof integrity while iodine can help to prevent "hoof rot," which is basically a foot infection.  So you may see blue, yellow, or red salts.

If you use composted manure on your garden, you may be surprised that too much can cause an accumulation of salts.  Now you know why.  Cattle need that salt and will past some through into their manure.  It is amazing to me that they can regulate their salt intake.  I can't even be trusted if Megan leaves the salt shaker on the dinner table.  And I doubt that I am in danger of a salt deficiency.  But cows need it and will crave it for its vital functions.  Did you know that cows could easily run short of salt and that it was so important?

by Brandon Greet