Winter Lick – Don’t Assume, Find Out [analysis]

WHEN implementing the Baseline Nutrition Survey for the Millennium Challenge Account Namibia (MCA-N) in the northern communal areas (NCA), we also injected livestock with micro-minerals twice a year, at the start (May) and towards the end (October) of the dry season.

As explained before, the absorption of many micro-minerals is antagonised in the rumen and thus it is better to inject them than to feed them by mouth. This supplementation was based on analyses of 980 samples of liver, blood, hair, milk and faeces to determine the mineral status of cattle and goats in the NCA. A major deficiency of copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn) and iodine (I) in all of the NCA from the Kunene to the Kavango was identified as well as a selenium (Se) deficiency on the leached, white sands of the eastern NCA.

The response of cattle and goats injected with a cocktail of micro-minerals was overwhelming! Injected livestock completely changed in appearance. Their coat changed from drab to shiny, their muzzles were glistening, their eyes and appearance lively and they continued foraging long after their unsupplemented peers were already resting in the shade. You could easily spot the difference between supplemented and unsupplemented livestock while driving towards the homestead of a participating farmer. Farmers reported a drastic decline in the occurrence of health and fertility problems such as retained placentas, abortions, deformed foetuses, infertile and sub-fertile cows, mortality of young progeny, etc. in addition to better appetite, growth and production, which we had expected.

Simultaneously with the Baseline Nutrition Survey, my then-colleague at Agra, Dr Rainer Hassel, implemented a MCA-N-supported Survey of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) amongst cattle and goats in the NCA, which cause many of the same health and fertility problems already mentioned and are assumed to be rampant in the NCA. To our immense surprise, the incidence of STD amongst NCA livestock was very low completely out of proportion to the high incidence of health and fertility problems in animals.

It appears that, what had been assumed to be health issues are really nutrition issues, caused by a severe (clinical) deficiency of some micro-minerals. When livestock animals were supplemented with micro-minerals, their health problems disappeared! It appears that we were trying to solve a problem with a wrong solution. Such is the value of scientific data: turned into information, it is powerful in the hands of a producer.

Of course, it is well known that micro-minerals are involved in hundreds of metallo-enzymes in the animal (and man’s) body that regulate everything from the immune system, the cellular energy cycle, basal metabolism, reproduction and growth. But never in our wildest dreams did we expect micro-mineral deficiencies in the North to be so severe as to cause the clinical (health) problems mentioned above. After all, Namibia is the land of the EPL! At best, we expected some sub-clinical, diffuse problems such as poor growth and production, conveniently called “erosion disease” because we cannot pin-point its cause.

Well, injecting a micro-mineral cocktail into the back muscle of livestock (picture) or sub-cutaneously in the neck, twice a year, addressed both clinical deficiencies and erosion disease, as measured during a 12-month lick pilot trial (which is way too short to demonstrate generational effects of supplementation, which can be worth more economically than immediate benefits). Total costs came to N$18 per cow per year an insignificant cost compared to the immediate and expected longer-term benefits of vastly improved production and reproduction.

There are many areas in Namibia where micro-mineral deficiencies are rife. I mentioned some of these areas before. Some companies also have extensive data bases of liver analyses which indicate that Mn and Se are nearly always deficient and Cu and Zn often (e.g. in south-eastern Namibia). If you farm in an area where a micro-mineral deficiency is known, expected or suspected, it is aisable to inject a cocktail into dams (females) four weeks before they are mated and again four weeks before they are expected to give birth. Why four weeks? It takes an injected micro-mineral about four weeks to be integrated into the relevant metallo-enzyme where it exerts its biological effect. Progeny will benefit if injected at weaning.

Is it not ironic that Namibia, a country richly endowed with commercially-exploitable mineral deposits of all kinds (including copper, manganese and zinc) can be so deficient in these minerals in its topsoil that the productivity of livestock animals is seriously limited by this?

Source : The Namibian