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This week's Book of the Week feature is Natural Sheep Care, by Pat Coleby.

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Chapter 4: Wool and Meat Production

About thirty years ago I worked out a formula which included six of the completely essential minerals needed for a lick – they were all mixed together and did, to a point, serve their purpose. But I and others soon realized that the minerals needed to be given free-choice for all livestock. The first lick saved a huge amount of stock on a station in Queensland, Australia and even then I did not realize how lucky we had been. The station was fortunately adequately supplied (naturally) with enough magnesium so the livestock only took what they needed. Had the magnesium levels been very high (rare in Australia, but not elsewhere), they would never have touched it (they already had enough). Another disadvantage of putting out a mixed lick is that it is all lost when it gets wet. It was this happening on another spread that alerted me to the fact that the copper (almost the most necessary mineral) would all have immediately been entirely neutralized by the lime and/or dolomite.

I now recommend an alternative to the blended lick which has proved extremely successful. It is easier to put out and easier to renew for whichever animals need it – and there is not so much handling. It is of course less wasteful as separate components can be returned to their bags. This can be done in two banks of three or one long line of six containers.

Find six (or three according to how much you want to put in. It is best not to overdo it.) containers – 20 liter food grade plastic drums (3-4 gallons in the United States). Either cut them in half or cut the tops off to match the size of the sheep that are going to help themselves. After trying out several other methods I found that a chain saw was by far the best implement for this job. Then make a frame for them so that the whole outfit can be pulled from one paddock to another. Anyone with basic welding skills will be able to make a frame for the containers from unwanted odds and ends. Old trailer wheels will do this job, but several people have told me that sleds are most practical – wheels sometimes flip the whole lot over. The cover (if not in a shed) must obviously be of a desirable height so that the stock can get their heads in but not their legs too. The container must be waterproof as well.

Pat Coleby’s Standard Sheep Stock Lick

Use the ingredients listed above but only put one mineral in each container or trough section. Other trace minerals (like boron) are best added to the feed when necessary. Your soil analysis will tell you the levels of these minerals available. For cobalt consult a relevant book (read up on shortages of this mineral – they are quite unmistakable and are usually very responsive to an injection).

Many stock keepers find it difficult to believe that all kinds of animals (from geese to camels to ordinary farm stock like sheep) have a very good idea of what they need, and I have seen many different animals taking straight copper sulfate when they need it.

This is about the most labor saving method of doing a very important task – as the containers can be topped up (not too full) from the back of a truck or whatever and the lick station does not have to be brought back to the barn to be filled each time – nor is it so heavy – speaking for myself.

The lick mentioned described here and in Chapter 8 must be available at all times as the dolomite helps prevent mastitis, a most uneconomical complaint in sheep, because it is usually too late when the farmer finds out that a ewe is afflicted. On concerns where the size of the acreage precludes land improvement, this lick is even more necessary. On farms where soil analysis and top-dressing to balance the lime minerals and gypsum can be carried out, the resultant improvement both in performance and health will make the exercise worthwhile. But even on these farms it pays to have the lick out all the time as seasonal variations can affect mineral availability.

A farmer who rang me in January 1993 started to put licks out for his sheep shortly after. We worked the licks out from what was missing in the analysis of his farm. The pH was low, calcium, magnesium and sulfur were greatly out of balance and in short supply. Copper was extremely low as were cobalt and zinc.

Before giving copper in a stock lick, talk to your attending veterinarian or livestock diet consultant. Many North American soils are not as deficient as Australian soils and some breeds will not require supplementation. Only copper sulfate should be fed to stock, never copper carbonate. Copper carbonate is twice as strong as the sulfate in the body and is not so easily lost. Therefore an overdose could easily be fatal. Copper, like most minerals, is highly toxic in excess. Zinc in excess suppresses copper, but it appears that the reverse, according to a researcher (Robert Pickering) with whom I have discussed this, does not occur. I have also observed this fact in the field.

Too much copper kills, but too little does just the same. If copper is always available in association with dolomite, I have found that there have been no signs of intoxication with this method. Copper injections should be avoided because an overdose cannot be treated, the same applies to using copper carbonate. If too much copper is ingested orally, dolomite, sodium ascorbate (vitamin C) powder taken orally, and vitamin B15 injections together produce a quick cure.

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About the Author:

Pat Coleby was one of the pioneers of natural farming in Australia and instituted eco-farming techniques in Australia for the last half-century. She practiced commercial-scale farming while writing and traveling extensively as a lecturer and farm consultant. She recognized that good nutrition is the key to preventing ill health in animals, and her prescriptions of non-invasive, natural remedies resulted in amazing, seemingly miraculous cures in animals whose cases conventional veterinary wisdom would abandon. As word of the success of her natural treatment spread, Pat Coleby quickly became known as an expert on holistic animal care. She died at the age of 87 in 2015 after a lifelong love of looking after the wellbeing of farm animals.

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