So here it is, the label from the Snohomish County Cattlemen’s Association’s custom mineral mix made for our area by a nutritionist. It hits the mark pretty well for what I was hoping to find, or make.

Minerals (2)Wants, Needs and Avoids

I won’t bore you with detailed history in case you’ve read all my thoughts on this before. The bottom line: I started with Stockman brand, had foot problems. Switched to Purina Goat, and some Sweetlix, feet got better, but then I think I had slower growth. My sheep foot problems get worse in summer, better in winter.

One nutritionist told me that our “hot” high protein grass here causes ruminants to “lay down” hoof tissue too fast, and create big cells that don’t bind well together. Thus leading to tissue that separates easily under stress, and leads to soreness and delamination. And opens the door for foot rot bacteria to thrive. This guy was recommending going very high on zinc and biotin to combat foot problems. He also said that we need more Magnesium in our area, because our high Potassium ties it up. Pat Coleby’s book cites low Magnesium as a contributor to laminitis too. Colebly also recommends increased copper for foot health, as does another expert I consulted. So, in the end, here is the ideal mineral supplement I seek:

Sure Needs: Copper, Selenium, Vitamin E
Maybe needs: Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, Iodine, Cobalt, Biotin
Avoids: Iron, Potassium, Molybdenum, Sulfur
Don’t cares: Calcium and Phosphorous (we have an adequate ratio of 1.66 : 1, and as long as it’s added in a good ratio, more is not bad)

The Holy Grail?

So this new mix fits the bill- no Iron, or Sulfur, Molybdenum and very little Potassium (Sweetlix has 10-20 times the amount of Potassium). Good amounts of Zinc, Manganese, Magnesium and Vitamin E. And very pushy amounts of Copper and Selenium.

The copper is higher than the Purina- 2145 ppm versus 1750-1800 ppm. But in an as-fed ratio taking into account how much my sheep eat in their total diet, that is only bumping them up 1-2 ppm. That puts my sheep, taking into account the pasture forage, at about 28ppm as-fed, tops. This is the best advice I’ve found for what to do with sheep that are on soils with multiple copper binders. What I’m feeding is high, but not shocking. Pat Coleby’s mix, as-fed according to her instructions, is 299 ppm, and many people are successful with that. It seems the best guidance is your own sheep, whether they are showing signs of copper deficiency, and whether you’ve killed any with copper excess! Sad, but true; this is an area where science hasn’t been able to help us.

The selenium in this mix is as high as I’ve ever seen, at 102.9-121ppm. I’ve seen several brands that offer 90 or 100, and many are much lower. This is right up at the legal limit for feed additives. Calculated as-fed for my sheep, this puts them at 0.95ppm. 2ppm is toxic, 0.1 is deficient, so this seems to be right square in the middle.

I should mention the salt content here as well. Salt is used as a base for mineral supplements because animals crave it, so that’s how you get them to eat all the other stuff. But salt itself is also required by ruminants, and is an appetite stimulant. Sheep should consume about 0.25-0.5% of their diet in salt per day, depending on the source you read. That translates to about 5 grams of salt per day, about a teaspoon. This mix delivers that appropriately.

Now the only things missing from this mix that I wonder about: Iodine and Cobalt. The ingredients actually list Cobalt Sulfate, so I’m not sure why it doesn’t appear in the breakdown, unless it’s in very small quantities. I don’t have numbers for my forage on either Iodine or Cobalt, but they were points of suspicion for me. Kelp has small amounts of these, but not nearly as much as the commercial mixes which offer them. If I decided later I wanted these, I could add them to the mix, still saving me effort over mixing  my own supplement from scratch.

Taste and Texture

I worried a bit when I opened the bag of Cattlemen’s mix, as I found it to have a weird chemical smell. I had previously found this to be true of the Manna Pro brand, which my sheep didn’t prefer. But, I’ve had the Cattlemen’s mix out for a week, and the sheep are eating it fine.

This brand has some mineral oil in it, which is used for “flow” and to prevent the high salt content from clumping in damp weather. It still does tend to crystallize if left out for days, and the sheep tend to avoid mineral mixes when they get like this. So as with most minerals in our climate, it’s best to put out a fresh amount every day. This is a good practice anyway, as it helps you keep an eye on how much the animals are eating (since they haven’t read the label!). I weigh my scoops initially with how much I think they should be eating, then I know if they are departing from that.


The quantity question is interesting, since the mix is only labeled for cattle. Most labels are going to be constrained by the Selenium content, because there are legal limits. Thus is the case here: the label must tell you to only feed 0.87 ounces per day per cow, which delivers each cow the legal limit of 3mg of Selenium per day. This is, of course, a simplistic calculation, because it doesn’t account for whether you are talking about a one ton bull or a 300 pound calf. Presumably this limit is aimed towards some simple average, like 1,000 pound cows, and you hope that if you have a mix of sizes and ages in your herd, that they eat more or less accordingly. Even though they don’t! Open-mouthed smile 

So going from this, if my sheep herd has a weight average of 150 pounds, then the sheep should eat about 15% of the recommended amount, or about 0.13 ounces per day. But they don’t know that, and they prefer to eat between a quarter and a half ounce per day from their free-choice feeder. Should I panic? No. For one, there isn’t a linear correlation of food intake between sheep and cows. Cows eat about 1.5% of their bodyweight in forage per day, while sheep eat around 3-4%.

This is why it’s important to do the extra calculations of how much your sheep are eating overall and divide in the mineral supplement content. The labels have to be conservative because they don’t know how big your animals are or how much they eat, and what else they’re getting from their feed. Once I run the numbers, I satisfy myself that even at a half ounce per day,they are well within the limits for Copper and Selenium, given how much hay they consume. If I followed the label or tried to go by animal body weight differences between cattle and sheep, I would most likely be shorting them what they need.


The final matter is cost- how does it compare to other commercial mixes? The Cattlemen’s association is getting a discount rate because of their collective buying power. They mark up the cost a little bit to fund their programs- scholarships, beef promotion and educational activities. A 50 pound bag is $20. A 25 pound bag of Purina goat mineral is $19.54 including tax at my local store. Sweetlix is $19.49 for 25 pounds as well. So, Cattlemen’s is half price compared to those. American Stockman is $15 for 50 pounds, so it’s a little cheaper, but has a lot less in it. The only catch is you have to join the Association, at $50/year for an associate membership.

With the 30-some sheep I have now, I anticipate they’ll eat just under a half ounce each per day. That adds up to over $200 a year for Purina, and half that for Cattlemen’s. So even with the $50 membership, I still save money. And get a product that’s much closer to ideal for my soils.

So here I go on another year’s cycle of experimentation: I’m starting them off now on this new mineral, and will wait to see how they do through winter, lambing, summer feeding and growing, and then fall breeding and conception.