The concept of mineral buffet is taking the internet by storm. You may have heard it called “cafeteria style” minerals as well. This system works for all major classes of livestock: sheep, goats, horses, cattle, rabbits, swine and so on. I’ve personally used it with sheep, goats, chickens and rabbits. Learn all about mineral buffet on this page and see why I passionately believe it is the solution to virtually every mineral issue affecting today’s goat herds.
What is Mineral Buffet?
Put simply, mineral buffet is a concept that gives our livestock the gift of choice. Each mineral is fed in a separate container instead of blended together so animals can self select what they need at any given time. Based on my own herd’s consumption that I will detail below, their unique needs for each particular mineral vary greatly from season to season and life stage to life stage.
Systems range from 12 to 20 different minerals fed individually. I use and sell the Free Choice Enterprises 20-Choice system that includes:
- Boron B
- Calcium CA
- Vitamin Mix CB
- Alkaline Neutralizer CL
- Cobalt CO
- Copper CU
- Iodine I
- Potassium K
- Magnesium MG
- Manganese MN
- Molybdenum MO
- Sodium NA
- Acid Neutralizer OH
- Phosphorus P
- Sulfur S
- Selenium SE
- Silicon SI
- Vitamin Mix V4 (A, D, E)
- Zinc ZN
- Plain white salt added from the feed store
How Do My Animals Know Which Minerals They Need?
Have you ever had a craving for salty chips, gotten your fill and found the smell or taste of those same chips is suddenly off putting? Another example is consuming human cell salts and that’s the closest parallel I can find to explain how it is with animals. If your body needs a particular cell salt, it will taste sweet and desirable to you. My naturopath instructs her patients to consume a cell salt until it no longer tastes sweet – that’s your body telling you it has enough of that particular cell salt.
It works identically in livestock. When they are deficient in a certain mineral, that mineral will taste good to them. When they’ve had enough, it no longer tastes good. This concept is sound with the Free Choice mineral system because there are no taste enhancers or additional ingredients they might want to consume purely for taste. Again, looking at my own herd’s consumption, you can clearly see that they will consume a particular mineral for a time, then stop for a period before often picking up that same one again in another month. We’re approaching two years on this system with consistent results. There is simply nothing “tasty” to drive over-consumption in this system, though I have heard reports of consumption concerns with other buffet style minerals. My discussion here is based solely on my experience and research into the Free Choice system, which is unique among the buffets. (As a fun aside, I am working on personal mineral deficiencies and the ones I know I’m deficient in are the minerals that smell appealing to me when I’m filling bags.)
Is Mineral Buffet Safe for Sheep and Other Animals?
Mineral buffet is ideal for sheep and is the solution for running mixed species herds/flocks because each animal consumes only what it individually needs and nothing more. Sheep actually need copper, just not as much as goats, for example. That’s what makes this system so perfect, because there is no risk of over-consumption in regular feeding conditions. (Side note: I have heard of copper toxicosis from feeding a mineral buffet style system when the copper feeder became full of water and some young goats drank all the water, but fed as recommended and kept from full saturation, they will consume only as they have need.)
This image shows one of my Katahdin/Dorper ewes, the last in the line of them to arrive at the feeder after I refilled copper.
Because in this system they are never forced to consume any mineral, their taste buds will keep them in balance. Not having to worry about whether or not each animal is getting enough of each mineral is one of the things I love most about this system, because it takes all of the guesswork out of mineral balance, which brings me to the next point: who really does know what they need?
Animals Don’t Know What They Need, Science Does…or So They Say
Animal nutrition science has come a long way, but I would like to suggest it has yet a long way to go still. One of the most formative factors in my own decision to go with mineral buffet came from reading Kathy Winters’ story. She had severe losses from copper toxicosis when feeding goat formulated products. As in, her goats died from copper toxicosis while being fed “goat minerals.” If you search her Facebook page for “toxicosis,” you’ll see many posts that outline her story, one of heartache and loss, by feeding what the “science” said she should. Just consider some of the many variables that impact a goat’s mineral status and ask yourself if it’s possible that a single blended mineral solution can accurately, scientifically provide for every goat’s needs:
- geographic region
- forage mineral status
- goat’s life stage
- seasonal forage changes
- seasonal environment stresses
- grain mineral content
- goat’s health status
These are just a few of the factors that affect the mineral status of each individual goat and as we can see in the consumption section, this changes drastically from month to month. I’m no scientist or nutritionist, but I’ve been raising goats for 15 years and I can see by my own data collection that the system we’ve collectively been using, one of blended, one size fits all minerals, is not possibly adequate to address all of these factors. It is for this reason I am convinced I will not go back to a blended solution for my herd.
How Much Will My Animals Consume on Mineral Buffet?
When I was first looking into this system, it caused me endless frustration that no one could answer one simple question for me: How much will my goats consume on this system? I just wanted a rough ballpark so I could budget somewhat, but I couldn’t even get a ballpark. What?! Still, I’d heard so many positive things about long term gains that I decided to go with it anyway. Now, I understand the difficulty based on my own consumption levels and the widely varying consumption of herds I sell to all across the country. The factors I listed above play a huge role in consumption and since those are so different in every single herd, it’s not possible to even guess at how much each herd will consume of mineral buffet.
With that said, I decided that I could at least track and publish my own consumption and I’ve been doing so since April of 2022. My initial blind guess was that my herd, which consumed about 20 pounds of loose mineral mix per goat per year previously, would consume about half that in buffet and in February of 2023 as I write this, it looks like that estimate will be pretty close, though perhaps a touch low.
To see exact numbers, take a look at:
How Do You Feed 20 Different Minerals?
The logistics of getting started are a bit of an obstacle but there are a lot of options for setting up a feeder in small or large spaces or herds. I have the equivalent of about 40 Nigerians and use these feeders. They are strong enough to withstand a northern winter (and a heaping pile of goats) but small enough to be dragged around the pasture. We put one in the buck pen and one in the doe pen and I store small containers beneath for easier refilling.
Those are overkill for very small herds though, so I worked to design a couple of smaller ones that utilize rabbit cage feeders and work great for a couple goats, rabbits or other small animals/numbers.
I hope this has helped answer some of your questions about mineral buffet for your animals. If not, don’t hesitate to get in touch or, better still, join our goat group where this kind of thing is talked about regularly.