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Animal Health Notebook

Our cattle spread a little calcium every day

Easy way to spread calcium is as a finely ground component of daily supplement.


The vast majority of minerals and trace minerals fed to cattle or other animals in a non-acidic form pass through the gastrointestinal tract and straight into the manure.

Potassium and sodium chloride (table salt) are the exceptions to this rule, with near 100% absorption into the blood stream. Both are excreted through the urine, unlike calcium and the rest which go out in manure.

Calcium deserves first consideration in soil management because it increases animal nutrition and health. It helps the soil become more healthy and grow better plants. In turn, those plants grow, sustain and yield healthier cattle. You can actually see healthier soils with the help of a shovel or spade. They have varying degrees of development, but the best are granular, darker in color, and stocked with organic matter more than 4%.

Calcium is the primer of the soil nutrient elements, and its role in the mobilization of other soil nutrients is paramount in healthy, fertile soil and in the plant roots that grow there.

The addition of calcium to soil in small but just-right amounts is accomplished by nature in parts of the world that have 10-25 inches of annual moisture, deep-rooted perennials and adequate organic matter and soil life. Higher annual moisture, lower organic matter and warmer temperatures lead to lower calcification of soils, as does a lack of limestone in soil parent material.

So, those of us who live in wetter environments in the East find adding calcium a worthwhile and sometimes necessary endeavor. I live in an area that typically gets more than 50 inches of annual rainfall, or the equivalent of one inch per week. I have long found it critical to add calcium to my soils. There are some problems with this, however.

Large lime applications over 1,000 pounds per acre can tie up other minerals, especially phosphorus, which is critical for production and health. Also, you must pay to have it spread, which isn't a large cost but it's one more cost.

Feeding significant amounts of finely ground lime through the cattle in our high-density grazing program has helped us move closer to the naturally healthy soils of the upper and lower Midwest. It is cheap because it goes into our daily supplement.

When that is combined with the high impact we get from high-stock-density grazing, this really helps plant root development and health. The combination of animal impact on the surface, deep plant roots moving nutrients around, and increased soil life that comes about from this type of grazing management helps process and distribute the added calcium.

These things together, with the help of the added calcium, helps move the soil and the soil life toward higher function.

The first big ecosystem improvement we saw was in the water cycle: We stopped seeing standing water after heavy rainfall events.

Other improvements we've observed as a result of the regular addition of calcium and grazing management with complete recovery include these things:
1. higher organic matter
2. better water cycling
3. higher plant palatability
4. more legume growth and numbers
5. higher plant energy
6. less bare ground
7. higher plant density
8. higher stocking rate

We have also seen faster pasture cleansing from higher soil microbial activity.

A little added calcium on a regular basis helps a lot in many environments. When applied along with planned grazing and complete plant recovery, I have found the response is dramatic.

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