Doc’s Blog

Looking for “Tells” 

I am not a poker player but I do enjoy reading about people playing poker and watching some of the famous poker games in old movies.  I am amazed at the professional poker player, after a few beginning hands, can predict which of the other players have a good or bad hands-on subsequent deals. They do this by observing slight, almost subliminal, gestures, eye movements, posture, and other body language clues  that "tell" the condition of his opponent’s poker hands. These "tells" allowed poker player have a better idea what's going on at the poker table.


This reminded me of my old friend Dr. Bob Scott who often said “The most productive time a dairyman spends, is leaning on the fence watching his cow.”   I think it’s another way of saying he is looking for “tells” in his cows.  There are many  ways for an astute dairyman to be on the lookout for "tells" of his cows in the same way poker player reads the cards held by his opponents. They both benefit emmensly from the knowledge thus gained.

There are many obvious “tells” known to most dairymen — body condition, eating habits, breeding efficiency. Lameness, and others.  I would like to suggest another procedure that will give valuable ‘tells” into other often overlooked areas. 

The procedure is to probide a full array of self-select cafeteria-style minerals to your cattle and observe what they eat.  Here are some “tells’ other dairymen have noticed.

  • Sudden changes in the eating pattern of the mineral can be an early warning problems and a safety net  for problems that can creep into a herd — faulty nutrition being a common one. Animals will change their eating habit over night when nutritional value of their ration changes. 
  • An unusual appetite for eating dirts and chewing on wood is common.  Animals eating dirt, especially clay, can indicated a problem with rumen acidosis  If available, they will consume a lot of buffer.  They will also benefit from free choice access to old hay with low protein and high fiber. Chewing on wood is thought to associated with a phosphorus deficiency. 
  • Animals forced to eat moldy feed will often eat a lot of I-Mix.
  • While we usually think of mineral consumption in terms of deficiency, excesses also influence consumption.  
  • Animals under any kind of stress will usually  more BVC Mix.
  • High nitrates in the water, coupled with high protein in the ration can result in nitrate toxicity and increase the need and consumption os A-Mix 
  • Most TMR’s use dicalcium phosphate as a mineral source.  The higher calcium level will usually result in high  of P-Mix (Phosphorus) to balance the Ca/P ratio.  Watery eyes and dairy cattle it Is a" tell" indicating either a toxic condition where in there shedding some of the tuxes out in their tears are it could be a vitamin A deficiency.
  • When starting on a self-select mineral program, animals will not only consume minerals for their dairy needs, but all to replenish the mineral reserved in bone and tissue deficient in previous rations.  It may appear for awhile they are eating excess minerals, but they only eat what they need.

Change the Way We  Look at Things.

   The noted Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  The ever unfolding science of ep1genetics has certainly changed the way we look at many aspects of genetics and health is both humans and animals. 

A good example of this is a recent internet item entitled, “Growing Up Poor Not Only Affects Your Health, It Changes as Many as 1 in 13 Genes.”  1    This article provides new insights into the already known problem of ‘growing up ‘poor’.  Poverty not only effects physical and mental health but has the potential to alter the expression of your genetic makeup.  

Epigenetics involves chemical changes to DNA that prevent or enhance the the effect of a gene sequence.The study revealed nearly eight percent of our genome can be affected by chemical edits that could stick with you for life.  These changes have the potential to be passed to future generations. 

The World Health Organisation estimates some 1.2 billion people across the globe are making their way through life on less than a dollar per day.The persistence of the by genetic changes passed down through the generations does not bode well for a quick fix to worldwide poverty

I think most of the principles illustrated here apply to our animals as well as humans. I don’t know how to describe what  ‘growing up poor’ means to our domestic animals.  I suspect it has mostly to do with poor nutrition along with some environmental or emotional stress. Young animals suffer from malnutrition or severe illness during her early years never to reach their full potential for health and production. As in humans these  traits are passed to succeeding generations.  

In times past it was not uncommon for some dairies to have fiver of six generations of animals in the herds.  I attribute this to the beneficial epigenetic effect of stable nutrition and environment over the generations.   Obviously this does not happen much today.  The average dairy cow in this country dies at about 54 months of age without reaching adulthood.  This is a sad commentary on our dairy industry.

Years ago a study was done on groups of Iowa pigs.  Young pregnant gilts (Gen 1) were fed a diet deficient in nutrients and minerals. The offspring of these animals (Gen 2) were evaluated for any adverse effects from the poor diet.  Amazingly these pigs performed as well as their dams and showed no obvious bad effects.

Then, gilts from the Gen 2 group were fed the same deficient diet and their offspring (Gen 3) were evaluated.   These animals showed a multitude of effects, including  low weight gain and unthriftiness.   Many of them seem to revert back to an almost primitive ‘razer-back appearance and did not show typical appearance of there breed. 

Gilts from this group (Gen 4) were then fed an adequate diet to see if they would reverse the previous damage.  They did not.

Gilts from this group were also fed a good ration and their offspring (Gen 5) again exhibited characteristics of the breed with good production and health. 

The above study provides a good example of the epigenetic effect of good nutrition or bad nutrition in several generation of swine.  


Providing our animals with good nutrition and balanced minerals has no d0wnside


A Tribute to Mules

Missouri has been famous as a producer of quality mules for many decades. The mule has been designated as the official state animal of Missouri. Having been born and raised as a Missourian, I have always been fond of mules.  The sight of a splendid, matched team of mules all decked out in their parade regalia  moving out at a fast trot is as inspiring to me as the Anheuser-Busch  Clydesdale’s.


Surveys both here and in the UK indicate that most people, even those in  equestrian circles, do not know very much about mules.  Here are some nuggets of information about these unusual and fascinating creatures. 

  • A mule is the  offspring of a male donkey or jack,  and a female horse. Horses have 64 chromosomes, donkeys have 62, and mules and hinnies have 63.  Because of this odd number of chromosomes, mules are 99.9 percent sterile. 
  • The size of a mule depends largely on the breeding of the mule's female parent.
  • Mules can live up to 50 years, with an average lifespan of 30-40 years. 
  • A male mule is called a john or horse mule. A female mule is called a molly or mare.  
  • A group of mules is called a ‘barren’, probably because of their reproductive sterility.
  • A female donkey is called a jennet and can be bred with a male horse to create a hinny.  
  • Throughout history mules have played major roles as beasts of burden during wars. Mules were used to carry artillery, food, supplies and even wounded soldiers on the battlefield in WWL , and subsequent conflicts up to and including Afghanistan,
  • There are just under 10 million mules in the world, and the majority of these are working in agriculture or as pack animals in isolate areas. 
  • Legend has it that George Washington is “The Father of the American Mule.” In 1785, King Charles III of Spain  presented Washington with a large Spanish jack. Another gift of a Maltese jack and two jennets from French General Lafayette was received in 1786. These animals provided the genetic base for the American mule. 
  • Mules are prized for their hybrid vigor, strength, endurance, and resilience.  Mules are reputed to be more intelligent, patient, hardy and long-lived than horses. Mules have a reputation of being stubborn.  I believe this is unwarranted and stems from the fact a mule is too smart to work itself beyond the bounds of healthy behavior. 
  • The expression ‘kick like a mule’ stems from the fact that, unlike horses, mules have no accessory ligament that limits lateral movement in the hip joint.  This allows them to kick sideways or as some say ‘cow-kick.’  Horses can only kick backwards. 
  • Famous Americans —including Mark Twain, Buffalo Bill Cody, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan — have ridden mules.  Ken Curtis in his  “Gunsmoke” role as Festus rode a male mule named Ruth. 
  • Finally, for those concerned about climate change,  mule farts contain less methane than horse farts.

It has been said that the mule is an animal with no pride of ancestry and no hope for posterity — Nevertheless, these noble animals seem to go through life with a regal equanimity that belies their humble beginnings.