Cows lick salt to keep their bodies functioning properly. As salt plays an important role in supporting and maintaining several vital processes, including water regulation, reproduction, blood flow, growth, fertility, as well as aiding with milk production, cows will crave and seek out salt when they can.
Simply put, if cows don’t get enough salt they won’t perform to their genetic potential and might even die in extreme cases of salt deprivation.
Now you know why cows lick salt, let’s discover how much salt cows need, what the signs of salt deficiency are, how often cows should be given salt, and some more of the most frequently asked questions people have about salt in a cow’s diet.
How Much Salt Do Cows Need?
The amount of salt that cows need depends on their age and their stage of production. According to research carried out by the University of Missouri, the maximum level advisable for dry cows is 0.08% of the dry matter intake and 0.1% for lactating cows.
If you own cattle, a good general rule to follow is that cattle need to consume 0.005% to 0.010% of their body weight as salt on a daily basis. So for a 1,300 lbs cow, this means that she should consume 0.065 to 0.13 lbs of salt per day.
It’s important to be aware of the type of feed that cows are consuming too, as it can affect the appropriate amount of salt they should consume. On a high-forage diet, for example, cows will consume more salt when compared to a high-concentre diet, so it would be better not to add too much additional salt to a cow’s diet because cows can eat too much salt too.
How to Give Salt to Cattle
The best way to give salt to cattle is through the use of salt supplements. Salt supplements come in two forms: loose and block. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, as it depends on your situation and the cows’ needs.
Loose salt is a good choice if you need cattle to quickly get salt into their diet because they don’t need to work as hard to consume it compared to a salt block. Loose salt can be placed on the ground, in a tub, or small feeder.
Salt block is the better choice if you want to have better control over cattle salt consumption. Another benefit of salt block is how it can better withstand less than ideal weather conditions, like the rain, without completely dissolving.
Either way, it’s a good idea to place the loose salt or salt block near a water source, such as near your cattle waterer, because cows will need to drink more water once consumed. Salt toxicity can pose a very real danger to cattle.
It’s usually a good idea to mix salt and mineral together too. This will ensure the consumption of important trace minerals that cattle need in their diet.
How Long Can Cattle Go Without Salt
If cattle are unable to consume salt for a few days, this is unlikely to do irreparable damage, as long as it doesn’t become a common occurrence. The only thing to watch out for is that salt-deprived cattle are then more likely to exceed their average daily salt consumption, which is considered to be 3 to 4 ounces.
If cattle go a long time without any salt consumption, you might think that it would be better to get as much salt into their diet as quickly as possible, but it’s actually better to start them out again with salt block so you can control their intake.
Signs of Salt Deficiency in Cattle
- Pica: A common sign of salt deficiency in cattle is pica, which is when they start to eat things they wouldn’t normally eat. This might be plants they normally wouldn’t consume or even things like manure, urine, and material like wood.
- Polyuria: In one study that examined the effects of salt deficiency in cattle, polyuria, which is frequent urination, was a common effect.
- Polydipsia: The same study showed that polydipsia, which is when cattle consume excessive amounts of water, was another effect.
Other signs of salt deficiency in cattle inlude weight loss and decreased milk production.
Do Cows Need Salt in the Winter?
In the winter, cows eat hay and often supplemental feed too, so you might think that supplemental salt isn’t necessary. However, cows need salt in the winter, just as they do in every other season. It’s therefore recommended to keep a salt block or loose salt out and monitor intake.