Mineral Series in association with Terra NutriTECH

In the last few weeks there has been a surge in reports from farms of cows eating stones, soil, plastic or any other random object they can find.

While these cows may appear healthy, this behaviour can lead to health and fertility issues if left untreated.

This syndrome is referred to as pica which is often defined as a cow’s desire to eat things that do not have any nutritional value.

Mineral series – pica

Pica can be caused by a shortage of minerals and particularly a  phosphorous (P) deficiency

It is important to note that pica often occurs in herds which are thriving and healthy. Low dietary fibre in the cow’s diet, due to the rapidly growing grass during the breeding season, can also cause pica. 

Typically associated with drought conditions and poor P index soils, a cold/dry spell in April can exacerbate the issue.

Image: Terra NutriTECH

Symptoms of pica:

  • Eating and licking stones off roadways;  
  • Licking clay from banks and ditches;
  • Chewing water piping, cubicle mats, eating electric fence handles; 
  • Lameness, sore limbs, sore joints and the sound of cracking bones in older cows (severe cases).

Low fibre in a cow’s diet will lead to: 

  • Loose dung; 
  • Reduced ‘cudding’ and therefore saliva production which can result in ruminal acidosis due to the decreased buffering from saliva within the rumen;
  • Reduce milk fats due to a change in the balance of fatty acids being produced by a more acidic rumen;
  • Feed intake drops and therefore milk production suffers.

How to prevent Pica

Analyse fresh grass for mineral content. This will also indicate if there are antagonists present that might reduce P absorption from the gut, and take advice on supplementation from a nutritionist.

  • Give cows access to a source of long fibre such as straw, hay or ‘stemmy’ silage in the paddock or near the collecting yard;
  • Extra sodium (salt blocks) can aid in reducing the problem of pica;
  • Feed additional phosphorous. 

Studies have shown that phosphorus content in grazing pastures is far lower to what is required in order to maintain adequate levels in the dairy cow. 

It is recommended to take blood samples from the herd to diagnose if there is a phosphorous deficiency present. Using analysis of this nature can help target exact deficiencies and get the best results on farm.

Phosphorous can be easily added through the drinking water and will help rectify the deficiency. It takes time to lift P in blood and usually will take 10-14 days before you see a response to supplementation.

Terra NutriTECH has phosphorous available in 20kg drums and 200kg barrels and can be dispensed manually or automatically through the company’s mobile dispensing system or directly into the water line.

The advice is to act early to stop impacts on rumen health and performance.