Salt Requirements for Cattle | Bailey’s Bit About Nutrition

Why Cattle Need Salt

Salt, along with other minerals, is necessary to sustain life in cows. Salt is sodium chloride (NaCl). The interesting thing about salt is that cattle have a natural “urge” for it. If they can not find it, then they will try to ingest it from other sources, such as tree bark, dirt, or even urine. Salt is a necessary mineral that needs to be consumed daily by the cow.

This mineral plays many roles in the overall function of the cow. These functions are things like reproduction, aid in proper nerve and muscle functions, blood flow, body pH regulation, water retention, and even sweating. Salt helps cattle maintain normal appetite and body weight, as well as increasing feed consumption and weight gain. Salt also increases thirst; encouraging the cow to drink more water. Cattle on salt mixtures drink 50 to 75% more water than normal or approximately 5 gallons of additional water for each pound of salt. Salt is a very important nutrient as it provides many benefits and is needed for the general functioning of the cow.


Salt Requirements for Cattle

The amount of salt that a cow needs to consume will depend upon their age and their stage of production. For example, a dry mature cow will not need as much salt as a cow that is in the early lactating stage. An appropriate amount of salt consumed each day should be 0.005 to 0.0010% of their body weight. Therefore, a mature cow at 1,200lbs should consume 1-2 ounces daily. The type of feed that cows are consuming can also affect the amount of salt they will eat. Cows tend to eat more salt with a high-forage diet vs a high- concentrate one.

It is important to balance the minerals for your cattle to reach optimal performance. Minerals like potassium can inhibit the absorption of salt. The salt-potassium balance in cattle is related to their absorption of magnesium. Therefore, in the early spring it is possible for your cows to get grass tetany. It is during this time that potassium is high in forages while at the same time salt is low. This is why salt needs to be supplemented.


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