Doc’s Blog

 Why Isn’t There more  Research on 
Self Select Minerals for Livestock?

     Our current scientific culture is almost totally enamored with reductionist  research.  Typical investigators try to divide everything into smaller and smaller portions and then research the tiny remaining part.  As one pundit put it, “They seek to find out more and more about less and less until they finally know everything about nothing.”  

     Another side of reductionist thinking is it allows short term, small sample evaluation of new drugs or agricultural chemicals.  This enables Big Pharma to quickly get government approval for toxic products before the appearance of the almost inevitable side-effects.  Monsanto’s originaly safety test to gain approval for  Glyphosate — two small groups of rats compared for three months — is the epitome of  reductionist research.

     I believe it is impossible to research the effect of holistic practices using reductionist thinking.  The very term “holistic” indicates the concept must be taken as a whole.   

     The mineral wheel is a simple way to illustrate the complicated  interrelationships of  holistic model,  Each mineral has a relationship with most of the others. Any change in one mineral  changes at least two others, those two each affect two more, and so on.

For example, investigating the single relationship of Calcium to Phosphorus is meaningless if the other minerals are not also considered.  A change in one element of a holistic system causes a ripple of changes in all the rest.

     The same is true in any milieu , whether it be the  health of one animal or of the entire farming operation and human community.  As Barry Commoner once stated, “Everything is related to everything else.”

     I believe the only way to assess the value  of holistic principles is common-sense observation  of the results of using those methods over a long period of time.   All one needs to do is to take a look at  the health benefits to crops, animals, humans, and the environment resulting from the practice of holistic, sustainable agriculture. 

     There are many good researchers today.  One of the best is Fred  Provenza, Ph.D. He is professor emeritus of behavioral  ecology in  the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University.  He is the author or co-author of  230 publications in peer reviewed journals and books. He does not specifically address the value of self select minerals, but his work gives considerable insight into the ability of animals, and humans, to self regulate their nutritional needs.  Fred’s newest book,  “Nourishment - What Animals can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom” ,  was recently published.  It contains the essence of his life’s work and contains much valuable information for anyone that eats food or feeds animals.  

Research - Reading Between the Lines.

We rely on university research in many of our management decisionUnfortunately, often the conclusions or summary statement in a research report does not match the actual data or results.   Here is an example of erroneous conclusion drawn by some researchers. 

    In 1977 a study was done at South Dakota State University entitled       “Cafeteria Style Free-Choice Mineral Feeder for Lactating Dairy Cows” by L. D. Miller, L. V. Schaffer, L. C. Ham, and M. J. Owens.    1977 J Dairy Sci 60:1574-1582

    The authors stated - “Little evidence was found that dairy cows offered minerals and vitamins free choice consumed to a specific appetite or need under the two nutritional regimes.”

    Let’s take a closer look of some of the excerpts from that study along with some comments (comments in red).

“Trial 1 was 16 weeks in which two groups of cows in mid-lactation (10 cows / group) were group-fed rations with either corn silage or alfalfa hay as the sole forage, and all supplemental minerals and vitamins were provided free choice.”  This is too small a group and too short a time to really evaluate the nutritional wisdom of animals. A full 12 months would be better as that would encompass the gamut of lactation, dry period, parturition, and back to lactation.  Even better would be a multi-year experiment that examines the health and productivity of the calves born to the two research groups, thus evaluating the multi-generational effect.

    “Minerals and vitamins were provided in a “cafeteria style” mineral feeder, one feeder per group. The feeder was sheltered and afforded protection from wind and rain. Mineral and vitamin mixes were: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and sulfur trace mineral, bicarbonate of soda, sodium bentonite, sodium chloride, iodine mix and vitamins A, D, and E Intake of each individual mineral was determined weekly for each group.”

    “Intake of phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins differed between rations. A higher free choice intake of phosphorus by cows fed alfalfa was not expected.” It should have been expected as it is well known that cattle need to balance their Ca/P ratio. “Cows could possibly have been consuming more P to narrow the wide Ca:P ratio due to high Ca intake from alfalfa.” Of course they ate more P to balance the high Ca in alfalfa. That’s what free choice is all about – giving them the opportunity to self regulate their needs.

    “Cows fed corn silage consumed more potassium free-choice, but additional intake still was needed to meet requirements.” Whose requirement are they trying to meet NRC standards or what the cow actually needs? The authors could not explain why this gåçroup’s milk production exceeded the alfalfa group even with their assumed K deficiency.

    “Little evidence was found in these two short trials that lactating dairy cows have a specific appetite for individual minerals. Where corn silage and alfalfa, forages that differ in mineral content, were fed as the sole forages to two groups of cows, only in the cases of potassium and vitamins did cows fed corn silage consume large amounts free-choice possibly to compensate for a dietary deficiency.” Actually the main mineral ratios were balanced by the cow’s mineral preferences. They balanced the critical Ca/P ratio by eating more P to compensate for the high Ca in alfalfa. The cows in the alfalfa group took almost no K while the corn silage group consumed 36 times more K than the alfalfa group.

    Given the above perspective, it’s difficult to understand how the authors concluded that cattle could not balance their own mineral needs. 

    It pays to “read between the lines” when evaluating research reports.  It is also helpful to know who paid for the research, who did the research and where did the researcher worked before and after he did the research.  A good dose of common sense is also indicated. 

Drying-Off Dairy Cows

I recently read an article entitled “5 common mistakes farmers make when drying off cows. The author discussed many items of concern to insure a healthy dry-off. It is a good, informative discussion that is well worth the time to read.  It can be viewed at

While drying-off dairy cattle can be a daunting task, it is also an opportunity to prepare the cow for the next lactation. If done right it can affect the health and productive of the cow as well as her calf and future generations.  Done wrong it can have devastation results.

Here is my prescription for drying-off a dairy cow.  I know some of the steps may not be acceptable to some dairy professionals but it does conform to the innate physiology of the cow.    Give it a try,  I think you will be pleased at the results. 

At Dry-Off

  1. Milk out a 4 quarters, then quit milking  (After cessation of milking, it takes 5 or 6 days for the hormonal system of a cow to get the message to actually quit producing milk.  During that time, if the cow is milked to relieve the tight udder, the clock starts again - and it takes another 5 or 6 days.  The only valid reason to milk a cow during this critical period is if she shows signs of an udder infection.) 
  2. Administer a natural immune stimulant.  After 5 - 6 days, when the swelling in the udder begins to recede, check the milk and milk out completely. 
  3. If milk is normal, dip the teats.  The transition from a lactating cow to a dry cow was successful.
  4. If milk is of questionable appearance, repeat steps 1 to 3 above until the milk appears normal.
  5. Moderately restricting feed and water at this time will hasten the dry-off process. 

2 Weeks Before Freshening

  1. Administer a natural immune stimulant.
  2. Pre-Partum Milking.  Check the milk in  each quarter. If pre-fresh secretion is of questionable appearance, start milking all 4 quarters, twice a day.  At first, the secretion will look like honey gradually changing to look like skim milk and they regular milk. 
  3. The colostrum is produced when the cow starts to calve.  Save the milk right before and right after calving and give it to the calf.

Fresh Cows

  1. If indicated, for extra support, administer a natural immune stimulant.
  2. Avoid letting the fresh cow eat the placenta.
  3. Seven days after calving, infuse the uterus with a natural uterine flush.
  4. Check for elevated temperature daily for 10 to 14 days to get a head start on any problems that may be developing.
  5. Check for sub-clinical milk fever.

Am I a Luddite? 

I was recently accused of being a Luddite.  I looked it up  and found that the original Luddites were a group of radical English textile workers. During the early 1800’s they protested by destroying new weaving machinery that was replacing them as weavers. After five years, the region-wide rebellion was quelled by military force in 1816.  Today the term Luddite has come to mean anyone opposed to industrialization, automation, computerization,  , or new technologies in general.

 I guess I have to admit it, I am a Luddite in some ways at least — but not in all areas. 

  For example, I am not a Luddite in the areas of electronics and communications.  To be able to have a real-time video conference with friends and family almost anyplace in the world is a boon to mankind that overshadows many of the negatives. The ability to have the knowledge of the world at our fingertips via the internet is akin to a miracle.  

I am not a Luddite when it comes to the advances in travel—automobile engines operate cleaner—tires are safer and last longer.  While it took the the pioneers months to travel in  wagon-trains from St. Joseph, Missouri to Oregon in the mid 1800’s, we can now make the journey in an automobile in a few days or mere hours in a jetliner.  

I am definitely a Luddite when encountering many of the facets of today’s so-called conventional  agricultural technology.  I am encouraged by the revival of holistic farming but alarmed by the pervasiveness of GMO technology and the associated herbicides. I believe the keyword here is ‘irreversibility’. It is a slippery slope like a ski-slope with a swamp full of alligators at the bottom.  Once you are on it there’s no turning back.  

Today, it is almost impossible to buy food that is not contaminated with GMO’s, glyphosage, and myriads of other toxic agricultural chemical.  These substances do not just go away. Even if we stopped using them today, it would be decades, and probably generations,, before they are completely cleansed from our soils and crops.   

 Consider this quote from Dr. Don M. Huber, Professor Emeritus, Purdue University.  "Future historians may well look back and write about our time, not about how many pounds of pesticide we did or did not apply; but about how willing we are to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations with this massive experiment we call genetic engineering that is based on false promises and flawed science, just to benefit the 'bottom line’ of a commercial enterprise.”