Veterinary: Eating stones off ditches

Every now and then, I’m shown a cow ‘licking the ditches and drinking water from pools on the passageway’. Other than that, the cow might appear normal.
Veterinary: Eating stones off ditches

My suspicion is aroused, and, following an examination of all the systems, I would take blood samples for mineral analysis.

There is not much point in taking blood samples from just this one cow. That will only give a limited opinion, so we would drive in other companions, perhaps nine, and bleed them, too.

The symptoms outlined above would make me think of a phosphorous deficiency, and that is common.

Phosphorous is a word we hear often, and maybe we take it for granted.

It is extensively mined in Florida and North Africa, and used throughout the world, mainly in agricultural products, like fertiliser, but it also appears in organophosphorous products used in animal dressings and pesticides.

Phosphorous also pops up in baking soda, detergents, water softeners, and in the manufacture of fine china, soft drinks, and, among other things, smoke bombs.

It has a wide range of industry and military uses. It is vital for the growth of plants, and, without it, animal life would not exist.

In animals, it is needed for bone growth and development, and in loads of enzymes used for metabolism, and in utilisation of the energy that the animal takes in by way of food.

It is needed for the making of protein in the rumen by specialised microbes and for the DNA of every animal.

Average daily weight gain by yearling animals rises according to the intake of phosphorous in the diet.

Animals obviously get their phosphorous from their diet.

In recent years, fertiliser spread on grazing ground has been reduced, due to nitrate restrictions. Because of this, there has also been a reduction in the amount of phosphorous spread.

It has become more important to monitor levels of minerals in our animals, so that we can carefully adjust how much is needed in the diet, particularly as mineral additives.

Some pastures, like those that are iron-rich, may be phosphorous-deficient. Diets that have too much calcium, relative to phosphorous, can also be problematic.

Parasitic infection in the gut can drastically reduce the amount of phosphorous that is absorbed.

When we see an animal with phosphorous deficiency, there is a reduced mineralisation of the bone.

The animal’s appetite is usually reduced, and, as a consequence, there is weight loss and sub-normal growth. So, there will be a reduced production; milk yield is reduced, and conception rates drop.

Recent reports suggest world production of phosphorus may have peaked, leading to the possibility of global shortages by 2040. This makes phosphorous a more expensive mineral to buy and, as a consequence, the same levels have not been put in to animal compound feeds as previously.

When we came across phosphorous deficiency in the past, we were able to treat animals with injectable forms of the mineral, but these disappeared from the market, and we were left in a predicament.

Thankfully, some new alternatives have appeared, and the situation is not so critical.

Over the years, I’ve realised that meddling with individual minerals can be very dangerous, and that expert advice should be sought before any homemade remedies are initiated.

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