Grazing livestock? Please pass the salt

Salt is an item commonly used in livestock feed rations and because it’s used so regularly, it is easy to forget the importance of it in the diet.

Salt is the best source of both sodium and chloride, which all farm animals need.

Important nutrients

Sodium constitutes a very high percentage of the basic mineral elements contained in blood. It is required for muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission and other required functions within the body.

Chloride, too, is very important in the blood stream and is necessary for production of hydrochloric acid used for digestion of nutrients in feedstuff.

Producers may incur significant production loss before
observable deficiency symptoms occur.

The sodium requirement for beef cattle is the primary factor determining how much salt should be fed. Generally, it is thought the sodium requirement is approximately 0.08 percent for growing cattle and 0.10 percent for lactating cattle. If the sodium is supplied from salt, this would be equivalent to 0.2 percent for growing cattle and 0.25 percent salt for lactating cattle (3-4 ounces per day/1,000-pound animal).

Needs will vary

Sodium requirements increase during lactation because cows milk contains sodium. The amount of sodium livestock need also increases when cattle are fed lush forages because the amount of water in fecal excretion is higher.

Heat stress increases the need, too. Certain minerals, including sodium, are excreted in sweat and urine in higher amounts during periods of extreme heat and humidity. Water consumption may double the normal daily intake causing more minerals to be lost through sweating and excretion.

Various studies of beef, dairy, sheep and other livestock have consistently documented negative effects in production when salt was removed or reduced below minimum recommended levels in the diet.

Producers may incur significant production loss before observable deficiency symptoms occur.

Graziers need to add salt

Most operations feeding high amounts of concentrates add sufficient salt in the ration to accommodate the animal’s needs, but grazing dairy herds, as well as beef, sheep and goat graziers, need to monitor their livestock’s salt consumption on a regular basis.

Free choice, loose salt should be provided to ensure animals have opportunity to meet their sodium needs. Proper salt placement within a pasture can help distribute grazing activity in some pastures.

If you have paddocks that are not uniformly grazed because livestock tend to stay closer to the water or shade source, placing the salt near the under-grazed area may promote better utilization of the forages.

High temperatures and humidity have really stressed livestock some days this summer. Make sure to keep plenty of clean fresh water accessible to them to reduce stress as much as possible and don’t forget to check the salt and minerals.

About the Author

The author is an Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator in Monroe County, Ohio. More Stories by Mark Landefeld

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