Monday 16th January 2017
Minerals and vitamins
Mrs White is demonstrating somewhat beautifully how much the sheep enjoy their salt lick. We have these licks available all year round for all our livestock: the idea being that the animals lick them when they feel the need. Salt licks are just that: they mainly contain sodium chloride plus a bit of magnesium, calcium and phosphorus. Salt is needed for many physiological functions and indeed without salt the body (human and animal) is unable to function.
In the winter some farmers/ smallholders provide licks that contain more minerals and vitamins to make up for the fact the animals are eating poorer quality grass and so may not get be getting all the essential nutrients they need. Good quality hay should however, contain quite a lot of vitamins still and even in the winter, some mineral content can be found in various plants. Sheep, goats and cows, unlike the alpacas, don’t have the same issue with Vitamin D (see entry on 14th) and so don’t need specific vitamin paste.
Then there is the hard feed that is often fed in the winter: a good pelted feed produced for a specific animal should contain all the appropriate minerals and vitamins too. We don’t provide extra mineral licks for our animals but will probably buy in some ‘energy’ licks as we get nearer lambing, calving, kidding and unpacking. These are full of protein as well as minerals and vitamins and can aid milk production for when the animal begins lactating, as well as providing enough calorific content to support both the expectant mum-to-be and her growing foetus.
We were once told that alpacas don’t lick and hence licks are not suitable for them. We do see our alpacas lick or bite the salt licks but, admittedly, not as often as the sheep and goats. Salt deficiency is not however, something we have ever had a problem with in any of our animals, so we have to assume that the licks and/or hard feed do the job.
A belt and braces approach to the whole essential nutrients issue is to test the soil and see what may or may not be missing and then to buy a specific mineral lick to suit. Selenium and magnesium in particular, can be deficient in some ground.
As smallholders, and therefore only owning a small number of animals, we usually find the best way forward is to adopt a ‘broad spectrum’ approach, e.g. basic salt licks, a small amount of hard feed etc, and then to monitor our animals carefully and frequently for any signs of different behaviour or potential ill-health.
It has worked well for us for the last 8 years!!