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Let's talk salt and animal healthLet's talk salt and animal health

Critical for many bodily functions, salt is not a mineral to be overlooked or withheld.

3 Min Read
Cattle need salt on pasture and otherwise. They need it and they will seek it out.Alan Newport

One day this spring we were driving through Golden Mountain and a gray squirrel was lying out in the road, dead, I thought. I often retrieve these fresh road kills and feed them to Brenda's hens, so I stopped. This one rose up from the pavement and moved easily into the woods.

"What the hell," I exclaimed and Brenda retorted that the squirrel was licking over the pavement for salt. I mentioned the fact that she had made that statement in the past and I had forgotten the previous conversation and learning.

The following morning I was on the phone with Richard Cleve from Fayetteville, Tennessee. He and his wife Ann had just returned from a trip up I-40 and I-55 to St. Louis, then Farmington, Missouri and then back south. On the interstates, they had seen no less than eight dead coyotes road-killed. Some of them were in pairs quite close together. He was asking about the large numbers since they are known to be smarter than generally succumbing to car or truck tire disease.

My reply was somewhat of a guesstimate that included the lesson from the squirrel:

  • Weaning by the bitch.

  • Estrous and hormonal stupidity.

  • March hunger and the lack of food out there to eat.

  • Salt and brine solution that has been applied multiple times to the roads this winter.

Now, the truth is that I don't know all the answers and I'm certainly not a animal behaviorist, but I have been instructed with multiple hours on fluid therapy. Sodium chloride (NaCl) at approximately 5% concentration is nearly always present in the normal solutions. Most "experts" agree that salt is the most important mineral to livestock. History tells us that "long hunters" and Indians made most of their kills on game trails leading to and from salt licks. Nashville, Tennessee, was founded on a salt lick and the early pioneers spent more energy, time and money procuring salt than gunpowder.

The Lord spends considerable time talking about salt in the Holy Scripture. Salt is a big deal.

Forty years ago and more I was riding with a veterinarian in a mountain and creek-bottom practice on the Tennessee and Kentucky border. The stockman was calling the cattle out of what looked to be a thousand acres of mountains. He was carrying a three pound box of salt. I ask a question and Dr. John told me that any good hill man could lead cattle off a bluff or into a corral with a box of salt.

Truth is that we do not need to forget that animals require good amounts of salt and it is not a good idea to restrict salt for periods exceeding a few days.

 In the last four decades I've learned some facts that I think we would do well not to forget concerning salt (sodium chloride or (NaCl):

  • Salt is a necessity for most life functions.

  • Salt is near non-toxic and can likely not be overfed if good water is readily available.

  • Salt is a necessity for animal hydration.

  • Salt needs to be loose and easy to consume on a regular basis.

  • In high moisture environments, salt increases palatability of almost all plants and feedstuffs and decreases the chances of accidental poisoning (most fertilizer poisoning results from cattle desiring salt).

  • Salt should be provided in a loose form.

  • Salt can be an important soil and plant increaser at levels of five to 50 pounds per acre on an annual basis. This depends on moisture levels and location.

We provide salt almost every day to our cattle in our supplement. Often this is fed on plants where we are desiring a "hard hit" on the plants. The field birds, turkey and deer all appreciate our management techniques. The result is an increase in profitability.

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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