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.