image In early December, I reported how excited I was to finally have no limping sheep, to which I credit getting their mineral supplementation, and copper intake, sorted out. Late December, I started seeing some tender feet and slight lameness again, and attributed it to the fact that I had been experimenting with Sweetlix brand, offering it as a choice alongside the Purina Goat Mineral. So, I took away the Sweetlix and stuck to just Purina, which had the most copper to offer, and also the least amount of copper binders.

I waited another month, but in late January, was still seeing some lameness. I checked all their feet and did a little trimming. Most of them looked fairly decent, so the source of the foot pain wasn’t clear. But one thing I realized is that their intake of the Purina mineral had gone down, way down. I think I know why.

18 out of 18 Sheep Prefer Mineral Freshness…

When I was experimenting with a whole buffet of mineral choices last fall and winter, I was placing small amounts in little dishes inside their covered mineral feeders. Partly I had to, to fit all the choices in the feeders; but I was also carefully monitoring how much was consumed each day. When I settled on only feeding the Purina mineral plus kelp, and felt I understood how much they were eating, I was delighted at the prospect of leaving out larger quantities. It was easier only having to re-fill the feeder once a week.

Well, the new problem being: the Purina mineral has enough salt in it that it attracts moisture. Though the mineral feeders have good covers, I’m sure the sheep tend to hang out with their heads in the feeder enough that rain can still get in, a little. And, we just have damp air here. Though the mix didn’t block-up completely, it got gooey and dark-colored. And presumably not so tasty. So the sheep weren’t eating much.

…And Then They Don’t Limp

So, <sigh>, OK, back to filling two little bowls daily with just the right amount. I’ve been doing this for the last month. And yep, the sheep started eating it at the expected rate once again. And now, here at the end of February, I can say, the last couple of days, no limping is achieved again! Yeah!

Is It Surely the Copper?

There are still some variables in the equation that make it so I can’t say 100% for sure it’s the Purina mineral doing the trick, but I’m narrowing it down pretty close. I wasn’t sure how hay and grain might be playing into the equation. But: in December-January, they had only grass hay, and there was still limping. Two weeks ago, I switched hay crops, this grass is a little nicer than the stuff I was feeding earlier in the winter. But I don’t think they’ve eaten enough to account for the recent cease in limping. So I don’t think hay is solving the problem.

They ate grain (dry COB) during most of the month of October for flushing, and I’ve been graining them up since early February again in preparation for lambing. But, since there was no limping in early December, I’m guessing the grain intake that ended in October couldn’t take credit for that. So, I’m pretty firm in thinking it’s the copper.

Fat Makes “Flow”

While at the Cattlemen’s Winterschool in January, I took a class in livestock mineral supplementation. The instructor was a dairy nutrition scientist from Wolfkill, and the class was interesting. He talked about how they add fats to their mineral mixes to keep them from clumping in our wet climate, to retain their “flow.” He didn’t say what kind of fats they use at Wolfkill, but I did ask him about mineral oil. He said in the small quantities found in livestock supplementation it’s not an issue (at least in his opinion). And,  considering our climate, adding some fat seems unavoidable, unless you don’t mind doling out measured quantities of supplements daily. I mind, though!

The Price you Pay

And, I also mind the price of the Purina supplement. It’s $.78 a pound with tax, and my sheep enjoy eating about a pound a day. That’s $285 a year: more than the gross profit of an entire lamb. Now, I’m glad to spend money on no limping sheep, and it’s also less foot medication expense, and hoof trimming labor for  me. So I’ll do it if I have to.

But, it’s on my to-do list to call Wolfkill and investigate if they can mix me a less costly mix. And maybe with more fat in it too, so that I can leave out at least a week’s supply without it turning to goop. And, I still keep revisiting the reality that I (in my siutation only) probably only need to supplement with selenium, copper and plain salt (not all the other stuff), so maybe I can still just figure out my own homemade gig. Still thinking… But thrilled to have no limpers again, just in time for the start of grazing and lambing.