While salt deficiency isn’t a common problem for humans, lactating cows are particularly vulnerable to it. Every day, they need salt to make milk which contains a good bit of sodium and chloride.
If cows don’t get enough salt, the first sign would be a loss of appetite and weight. In time, cows craving salt would start eating odd materials like dirt, rocks and wood to try to satisfy their instinctive taste for salt. A lack of salt can initiate a number of debilitating diseases and even death.
Natural salt licks in the wild serve as a gathering place for various animals that make their way there to satisfy their craving and the needs of their bodies, particularly during a harsh winter. Salt is needed for the proper development and maintenance of bones, muscles, circulatory systems and even the nervous systems.
What’s in Salt? Salt is made up of sodium and chloride, but it’s also an ideal carrier for a variety of essential trace minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. For a lactating cow, it’s all good.
Sodium helps control the blood’s pH levels, and chloride helps in digestion and keeps the blood acid levels balanced. Cows need salt every day of the year.
For lactating cows and nursing calves, calcium from salt is critical for building strong bones and teeth, milk production, a regular heart beat, blood clotting, muscle movement and nervous system function.
What’s the Danger of Salt Deficiency? Lactating cows without enough calcium are disposed to milk fever, and calves without proper calcium are susceptible to rickets.
With milk fever, a milk-producing cow may first show signs of not being able to stand. Rather than a fever, a cow with “milk fever” has a lowered body temperature. For a lactating cow, it usually begins because her body uses more calcium to make milk than the body has. Prevention is the best cure, and many vets routinely prescribe a calcium salt in gel form for newly lactating cows.
Rickets is a bone disease indicated by softened bones in the earlier stages and abnormal growth and impaired movement in later stages. It’s totally preventable with proper nutrition for the calves and the mama cows.
Magnesium deficiency may cause grass tetany, an often fatal disease for dairy cows that can strike without any warning signs. It’s a problem in spring when cows with young calves graze in pastures with new lush grass. This disease is preventable if cows have access to salt containing vital traces of magnesium.
Cows lacking selenium have an increased number of calves dying at birth or shortly thereafter of white muscle disease. Symptoms are lameness, a failure to stand or simply heart failure. It’s called “white muscle” disease because the muscles look white rather than red.
While many humans have to carefully limit salt intake, farmers need to carefully supply salt daily to their dairy cows. So now you know: a little salt helps make the very best tasting milk.
The next time you lift a glass of delicious Reedy Fork milk, you may find yourself belting out a new love song: Salty Cows Forever!!