Minerals for Livestock
Minerals....Even though I learned something very wrong in college (mixing salt with minerals to "prevent them from wasting minerals" or several other erroneous theories), I got straightened out with one lecture from FRED PROVENZA! If you haven't heard his lectures, it's awesome stuff, he's the popularizer of the notion that all animals know exactly what they need, and, if given the correct opportunity, they will balance their own minerals, never wasting a dime's worth! Shocking news. So, bottom line, there are times they need salt, so it should be available, and there are times they need more-than-normal-levels of minerals, and they shouldn't be hampered by the presence of excess salt. Uncoupling these two major inputs changed everything for me. I should add that I went through a 10 or so year period where I was trying to convince people to go to full-boat cafeteria-style 16 hopper systems. Long story short, it's too expensive, too labor-intensive, and virtually impossible to maintain. Furthermore, it's not necessary. Mike has built ratios very close to the body's own levels, so when we are building or maintaining the body, these ratios are fairly stable. Sure soils and forages vary somewhat, but that variation is easy for the body metabolism to self-regulate. If they have adequate levels of mineral X, they will therefore absorb less from the mineral premix, and visa-versa. You are certainly correct in that seriously deficient animals show the spectacular results. It's so much so that I've been trying to convince Mike to let me offer minerals at 100% money-back guarantee because everyone sees something (usually unexpected) when they switch to his mineral plans. The reality of good nutrition, good management and good genetics, is that the "good news" is what you DON'T SEE. Diseases, parasites, infertility, and poor production. I like to use those round rubber triple-hopper mineral feeders but I also make them out of wood. Mine have 3 hoppers on each side and have adapted lids for sheep and goats. For cattle I use a rubber lid, for the smaller animals I use plywood flaps with hinges and thin rubber waterproofing.
My Mineral Program
1) MINERALS, like drinking water, like breathing oxygen, are not optional. Every living thing needs to take them in on a regular basis. Whether you get them from the ground, the plants or from a bag varies from farm to farm. it's extremely rare to see a single farm with adequate minerals. Wild animals find them through nomadic grazing through the seasons, various "salt licks", and more intact soils/plants. Supplied minerals that pass through the animal gut (the majority) goes right into the soil and plants, thus building fertility and tilth.
2) EXPENSE? Animals will not waste a nickel's worth of minerals, if given appropriately in a free-choice manner they will take only what they need, no more. The only way you can out-wit their natural instincts is to doctor it up with too much sugar, causing a potential situation for poisoning, otherwise don't worry about it. When deprived from proper minerals (the typical minimal-input sales barn stocker!) they will consume minerals until their body is saturated. That tapers off in a few days but it might take up to 9 months to completely fill the chronic deficits in the entire body. Likewise, when you run out of minerals the body can be "mined" for minerals for a while, never a good idea, but it explains the "lag phase".
3) CHEAP MINERALS are not really cheap. When you use non-chelated, Chinese-sourced, or unspecified minerals (like those in cheap lick tubs or feed store bags and blocks) it can actually block the native instincts of the animals such that they may not eat the good minerals, thus remaining deficient in spite of abundance in front of them. Expensive prices however, do not guarantee quality. Many big companies have an enormous mother ship to feed (staff, advertising, benefits, etc). I look at several hundred feed tag labels a year and I continue to be stunned at how many are shockingly low in critical minerals, especially CU, SE, ZN, and I.
4) SALT- Never lock in the ratio of SALT to MINERAL. In other words, always keep them in separate serving containers. Also, salt blocks are a terrible waste of tongue usage (they need to be eating) and can cause pecking order deficiencies, therefore use LOOSE salt. Also, in spite of what some salt companies say, all the common livestock salts are, just that.....salt. Calling it a "mineral salt" is not only a misnomer, it's false advertising. I know I'll make some "enemies" here but......I sent samples of all the major salts into a lab and they are all 98% sodium chloride, with a spit of minerals; all the pink salts actually have iron in them (in the undesirable ferric form too). Personally, I like using "ancient" and therefore unpolluted seasalts from underground mines, as opposed to "modern" salts, but maybe there is something I don't know. Good old mined grey Kansas earth salt is natural and clean and hasn't been hyped with advertising and marketing. It will run you $2.50-$5 a bag depending upon distance from Kansas and how much you can buy at a time.
5) CAFETERIA-STYLE? I've been recommending the complicated and varied 16 (or so) hopper cafeteria-style for many years, BUT, when I make visits to the farm or ranch I find varying degrees of compliance. There are almost always empty hoppers. This style requires a lot of attention, and many peoplehave bailed out, primarily because so much inventory is required. You are also paying $XXX for bags many of which are 80% salt (carrier) plus some of the hopper systems are relatively fragile.. I no longer recommend the standard 16 hopper systems for most farms or ranches. BTW, there are at least 5 farmer friends who are successfully using their cafeteria systems and will continue with them. Those farms have lots of staff and time, and probably actually save money in the long run because certain animal mineral needs vary from day to day and they can get the exact mineral they need for that exact moment, without consuming the other minerals that would otherwise be consumed lock-step.
6) For the majorities of farms or ranches with practical realities, but that want to do it right.... I like to use a SIMPLIFIED FREE-CHOICE SYSTEM. The simplest of all would be 3 variations.... Hopper A- SEASALT (I recommend Kansas seasalt which runs $3-5/bag, depending on order size and shipping distance from Kansas) Hopper B- A FULL-SPECTRUM 2:1 MINERAL PRE-MIX (I use Mike Wichman's variations on a theme, they are amazing and range from $30-40/bag) Hopper C- HEALING CLAY ( This could be Redmond's conditioner, although I use Jerry Brunetti's Desert Dynamin (varies from $8-15/bag w/ shipping) see wicksminerals.com and agri-dynamics.com for more details. With a 6 HOPPER MODEL you can repeat these three on both size for easiest access for everyone in the herd. This is a great system. OR it makes room for some optional mineral choices, KELP, FLIES-BE-GONE, PARASITE CONTROL PREMIX, or a 1:2 MINERAL PREMIX *** I also offer free-choice or force-fed Apple Cider Vinegar to just about all livestock, but that is another story****
7) HOPPERS- The round rubber 3 hopper dispensers with the rubber flap lids work very well. You can also insert a plywood divider if you need 4-6 hopper options. You can add a felt inset inside the rubber lid, which can be doused with herbal insect repellant such as ECTOPHYTE botanical fly control.
8) I MAKE AND SELL PORTABLE MINERAL HOPPERS. The most common ones I sell are 6-hopper systems, but I can make 2-4-6 or 8 hopper systems. The 6 hopper gives you a lot of variety, they are cheap to ship and they are easy to drag around with an ATV or pickup hitch. They are virtually indestructible, they are easy to teach usage, they keep the minerals dry. They also hold at least 50# per hopper for ease of refilling. The 6-hoppers sell for $195 each and can be shipped 2 per skid. They are made here in WI and can be shipped throughout the Spee-Dee delivery area for about $100-130/skid. Satisfaction assured. These photos show the actual model. Everything is solid 2" treated lumber, there are also rugged steel bolts holding it together, with tow rope attached to the front, the runners work far better than wheels. You can make your own too, but these are ready to go. They work with cattle, bison, sheep, goats or horses. Baby calves and lambs need a bit of help to open it so we prop it open for a few days til they get the idea.