The Most Essential Nutrient for Grass Fed Cattle

By: Bill Roberts, 12 Stones Grassland Beef
It was my distinct privilege and pleasure to attend The Ohio State University many years ago and attain a B. Sc. degree in Animal Science. Before any readers equate me with the likes of Darth Vader for saying Animal Science instead of Animal Husbandry, let me say that is what the diploma reads. Before and after the degree, my passion has been and is Animal Husbandry – which in my limited understanding is the art of dealing with livestock and poultry in a holistic manner by understanding and working within the laws of nature and wisdom.
During my time at OSU, Dr. William Tyznik was a professor in livestock nutrition, friend and mentor. He had a favorite question he would ask all his new students, "What is the most essential nutrient or nutrients for livestock?" He would get a myriad of answers from the uninitiated students. The correct answer then and now is, "The one or ones that are missing in their diet." An animal, plant or human will prosper in the physical realm only as far as the completeness of their dietary requirement. Dr. Joel Wallach fortified this concept vividly in his works and dissertation on "Dead Doctor's Don't Lie." His initial research project performed autopsies on nearly 17,000 animals and close to 4,000 human cadavers. He concluded that all died due to complications from "malnutrition." Dr. Wallach has gone on from his initial research to gain an MD degree and help countless people achieve health through colloidal mineral and other nutritional support regimens. I think Dr. Tyznik would relish Dr. Wallach's extensive practical verification of his theory.

Our company is extensively involved in production management, sourcing and sales within the grass fed and grass finished cattle industry. I recently wrote of an Achilles Heel within the industry - the lack of adequate energy in many instances to adequately finish grass cattle. In these instances, the most essential nutrients for the identified problem are those lipids, oils and carbohydrates that supply energy. The finish will be directly related to that limiting factor being supplied.

It is not my intent to belabor the aforementioned point. My intent in this discourse is to illuminate the fact that cattle are by nature's design, famine animals. That is, they are designed to store up nutrients to survive seasonal times of nutritional depravity. They have many mechanisms to store nutrients during times of plenty and then meter them out to the system during times of famine. Realizing this about cattle aids our understanding when we see disease or other signs of nutritional deficiency. The manifestation of the deficiency usually comes about six months after the deficiency actually occurred. It just took the extra time for the storage mechanisms to be depleted and the deficiency to manifest visibly. It has been my observation in most operations we have been and are involved with that most are in some state of nutritional deficiency. The question becomes, "Is it affecting animal performance and profitability?" If so, "what is the management protocol to correct the deficiency in an economically sound and ecologically sound manner?" Remember, the most important nutrient or nutrients are those that are missing. They are the limiting factor to animal performance and profitability.

Many researchers are defining why our soils and forages are predisposed to spawning deficiencies. Dr. Lee Manske from the University of North Dakota is doing a wonderful work on the relationship of microbial life in the rhizosphere on growth and nutritional completeness of grass. I am a neophyte in learning what he has to offer. Even in my brief exposure to his work, it is easy to understand why most of our farmed out, chemically sterilized soils take years to return to normal biostasis for optimal forage nutritional content. Suffice it to say, he explains why a famed thoroughbred farm in England during WWII would not tear up their pasture's sod to grow vegetables for the Victory Gardens. They bought and leased land to fulfill their production quota. They said it was their experience that it took 13 years to restore pastures that were ripped up for crops to pastures nutritionally complete enough to produce stakes winners! It is not nice to disturb Mother Nature really rings true in the rhizosphere.

The reason for all this background is to address what I believe is a common problem in the grass fed industry. We have many wonderful and very knowledgeable consultants scolding people for not applying all the additives they recommend to supply quality grass as the "only thing your cattle need." I hear the statement, "Your cattle do not need anything that has to be fed out of a feeder box." I believe that is true in a perfect world where your soils have not been disturbed for at least 13 years and proper forage management has been practiced. That is probably true in some western states in remote areas. It has not presented itself as true to me in most of my travels in cattle and crop country. It appears to be gaining ground through management practices like mob grazing and other sustainable pasture practices. However, I think it is a deep ditch to not thoroughly examine "what are the missing or limited nutrients in my particular pasture environment?" Cattle's performance will be limited to the least available nutrient and its impact on them. When calves are sick, look at the nutrition of the cow, not the disease manifest in the calves. When only 80 % of first calf heifers rebreed, it might be the mineral profile in the forage instead of "heifers that just don't make the grade." I am all in to culling for those cattle that do not suit a particular environment. But it is not wise economics to cull because one is starving their cattle until the environment matures and can supply their need.

That is why we have joined in relationship with Advanced Biological Concepts to offer the cafeteria mineral program to the grass fed and grass finished industry under the 12 Stones label. It utilizes the herbivores innate ability to seek out those nutrients it needs to balance its diet. It allows a restricted environment to mimic an unrestricted environment. It allows the animal to tell us what are "the most important nutrients in their particular diet" and supply them so animal performance does not suffer. I will agree that if pasture management proceeds over time, the mineral program can and should become functionally obsolete as the forages become complete in their ability to provide all the animal needs. Until then, it is idealistic to allow animal performance and profitability to suffer by turning a blind eye to "the most important nutrient or nutrients in our animal's diet."