I have noticed with concern the conflicting views of giving salt blocks/licks to cattle.
In villages, the farmers mostly put a big block of salt in the cattle kraal and that’s it for the year.
On the other hand, most commercial farmers are against giving salt block to the animals, claiming that licking salt makes the animal’s teeth too sensitive, thus, making it difficult for them to eat any other feed, especially grass.
So, let’s explore the benefit and disadvantages of giving adlib salt to animals. The topic is especially relevant during these times of drought.
I noticed farmers purchasing salt blocks and some picking it up from the Walvis Bay salt mine.
Why do cattle need salt in the first place? Chemically, the common salt contains sodium (Na) and chloride (CL), which is NaCl when is combined.
Salt shortages are more troublesome in cattle, as they always need salt every day for various complicated body functions such as to maintain the body fluid balance, good functioning of the nerves, making sure that the body acid and base balance is maintain and the list goes on.
Whichever way, we just have to understand that an animal body needs salt.
On the other hand, too much of a good thing is also bad for the body and an essential food substance can be harmful when it is not properly used. Salt is no exception and poisoning may occur in livestock from the excessive consumption of NaCl.
Under normal circumstances, animals tend to just crave and lick on salt when their bodies need it.
But sometimes, when the animals are given feed with high salt content but with no access to adlib water; it may also lead to the accumulation of NaCl in the body.
(It is like having a full-spoon of salt, but could be diluted with water and can be distributed in the body faster and wont accumulate).
Some cases of salt poisoning can also occur when the animals are deprived of salt for a long time and then allowed free access to an abundant supply.
The clinical signs of salt poisoning or toxicity in cattle that can be observed are that the animal will be drooling saliva the whole time while thirsty.
This is normally followed by the animal showing signs that it has stomach (abdominal) pains and diarrhoea is also quite common.
When not rectified, the affected animal might be wobbling, dragging a hind limb or knuckling of the fetlock joint, walk in circles, show signs of blindness then get seizures and become partially paralysed.
Sometimes the cattle become aggressive because the brain functions are affected by salt toxicity.
Treatment of salt poisoning usually is not really effective, but sometimes in the early stages the animal will recover if you give a large volume (maybe 5-10 liters) of water.
The ones that are severely affected and can’t drink by themselves, you can give the water through a stomach tube.
This process refers to inserting a pipe, normal horse pipe into the stomach of an animal through the mouth.
The pipe should be at least 1.5 m long and must be inserted slowly and directed with care not to cause some internal damage to the cattle.
When a significant length of the pipe is inserted, like 0.8 m or so, then water can be poured through the pipe.
Afterwards (like in 30 minutes), it is also important to give a large dose (3-4 litre or so) of mineral oil or liquid paraffin, and/or for our village farmers even cooking oil will do the trick through the same mechanism.
Mineral licks are important to the health and performance of all livestock.
Without essential vitamins and minerals, major health problems arise that could’ve been avoided by supplementing animals with loose mineral or a salt block.
For the purpose of this column, there shouldn’t be any argument of whether to give salt blocks or not to your animals; this is basically the choice of individual farmer.
However we emphasize the importance of salt supplements and that those should be of the right quantity and during that specific intervals as required.
These are just to make sure that animals will not succumb to salt poisoning because of a salt overdose. Imagine having constant salt block in the kraal, plus fodder mixed with salt and your borehole already provides salty water. Just imagine!!