This post about minerals has been sitting in my journal for a long time. Some recent emails prompted me to finish it up and share it.
It can be a real merry-go-round trying to figure out a proper balance of minerals as there are so many connections and variables. Going around and around was the reason I finally decided to trust that the animals must know more about it than I do, so I'd have to ask them. Right about then I discovered the book Natural Sheep Care written by Pat Coleby, which has since become my mineral bible.
I source the minerals and buy them individually. The minerals can be offered as a mix or as seperate components.
I have tried offering minerals seperate and I have made my own mineral mix and offered that. Currently I am going with the mix. I also provide livestock salt seperately.
If offering seperate, each mineral goes into a seperate tub. Tubs should be covered as the minerals do change composition when wet. If offering as a mix, I follow the recipe in above book with my own modifications. I use far more kelp and half the amount of copper sulphate since I raise sheep for meat, rather than for wool production.
If I had to offer only one mineral it would be kelp because kelp is chalk full of trace minerals and vitamins. During the times I don’t keep up with making a batch of mix, the sheep still get kelp and livestock salt. We have to top up our mineral mix with Vitamin B in the Fall, otherwise we seem to run into troubles related to lack of Vitamin B.
Bear in mind that the whole picture of sheep health isn't about minerals alone. As with everything natural there are always connections and cyclical relationships - far more than we can see. It is equally, if not more, important to provide a smorgasbord of grasses on the pasture and let sheep graze grass as much as possible. The more species variety they have on pasture (or in the hay) the less of a guessing game we have to play with the mineral supplementation. Plus the more natural the mineral the better the uptake in the animal. Get soil and grass health in line and livestock health follows.
I few things I have noticed:
I imagine that some minerals, when offered singly, are not very tasty to sheep who are in general good health (that is, they are not so deficient that they will eat anything to get what they need). In a mix this would be less of an issue.
When offering a mix the worry becomes do they get enough of a balance. This is why I sometimes like to go back to offering minerals seperately. You can move back and forth and see which one suits you and also see what the animals are needing.
There are always some ewes who do not get onto any mineral program. Chances are pretty good they are the ones who degrade in health quicker too; so eventually they cull themselves. I always ask myself, I am managing for the sake of a few individual animals or the sake of the whole. This helps me worry less and stay on track.