Pat Coleby was ahead of her time and she did great things for the livestock herds of Australia. She revolutionized natural livestock care in her own country and folks across the world have gained valuable, health building insights as well. I’ve referenced her work in my natural lice protocol and feel like she’s one of the greats in the natural community. With that said, when it comes to Pat Coleby minerals and their implementation in the United States, I have some concerns and want to break them down in this article. My intention is to present solid reasoning, sources and information to help you make the best decision possible for your own herds.
What are Pat Coleby Minerals?
In her book, Natural Goat Care (aff), Pat Coleby details a mineral buffet system that involves feeding free choice minerals in their pure, undiluted states to allow animals to self select what they need. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the mineral buffet concept, placing my trust in my animals to listen to their bodies and consume what they need and on the surface, this system sounds like a cost effective way to do exactly that. To use the Pat Coleby minerals method, you simply source a select number of individual minerals and put them in separate feeders, allowing animals to sample from them as needed.
I’ve been using a different style of mineral buffet for going on two years now and passionately believe that allowing animals to self select individual minerals is the solution to mineral balance. When we step out of the way and let our animals, unadulterated by mainstream “education,” follow their tastes to consume minerals–with no taste enhancers added–they will achieve their own balance. This concept works because minerals they are deficient in taste appealing to them and when they’ve reached satiety, those same minerals no longer taste appealing. You can find a lot of content about that on my blog so I’ll leave it at that for this article, except to say my own experience has convinced me that I will never go back to a blended mineral for my livestock.
List of Pat Coleby Minerals
So what makes Pat Coleby’s mineral system unique? Let’s look at the minerals she recommends in her Standard Stock Lick:
- Copper sulfate
- Fine yellow dusting sulfur (99%)
- Seaweed meal
In addition to these options offered free choice, Pat also recommends these inclusions specifically for dairy goats:
- Rock salt
- Cobalt (if analysis indicates deficiency)
- Zinc (if analysis indicates deficiency)
For dairy goats, she recommends soaking barley and using the soaking water to add copper, cobalt and zinc, feeding this daily.
Assumptions Made for the Mineral Ration
Goats should be run on remineralized paddocks that are as healthy as possible, good mixed feeds with the correct calcium to magnesium ratios and a pH in the region of 5.5-6.0, which is somewhere near ideal.
…In districts where the quality of the pasture is such that bail feeding–even for milkers–is not necessary, the lick can be used on its own.
…Only two extras will be needed; cider vinegar, which will have to be fed on land where the potassium is low, and cod liver oil, which must be fed in dry seasons or when paddock health is poor.
The analysis mentioned is of the soil and where the soil is determined deficient, the addition of cobalt and zinc are warranted.
Many of our modern herds are dry lotted, but you can achieve an analysis of the forage (hay) you’re feeding to get an idea of the specific deficiencies you’re dealing with. If your hay is sourced from a variety of places, this isn’t going to be a particularly practical way of handling it and since they’ll only consume what they need, it won’t hurt to put out zinc and cobalt separately, but Coleby’s method of force supplementation on your farm is risky business. It’s unlikely that your deficiencies are the same as the ones she experienced in Australia. It’s unlikely that your deficiencies are the same as your neighbor’s. Mineral status is highly specific, which is part of why a one size fits all loose mineral blend just doesn’t adequately address every herd’s needs. In fact, it can be deadly.
Let’s Break Down the Pat Coleby Minerals
Now, let’s take a look at each of these minerals in the forms most readily available to us in the United States. If you live in other countries, you may find a different set of products available, but here’s what I can find for us stateside.
Dolomite, or pulverized dolomitic limestone, is a very inexpensive and readily available soil amendment in the United States, with prices as low as around $5.50 for a 50# bag. It is a relatively harmless ingredient according to its MSDS with no environmental hazards, no harm from ingestion and no contraindications. The main health concern from a human standpoint is lung irritation; it contains a small amount of silica that can lead to silicosis in the case of long term exposure.
Concerns about Dolomite as a Goat Mineral
Dolomite is made up of equal parts calcium and magnesium, which means that an animal deficient in one or the other is not able to consume what it needs and must take both. This is a major barrier to achieving balance, because while the body stores calcium fairly readily, it utilizes magnesium rather than storing it. The inability to choose the specific mineral it needs serves to exacerbate imbalance. Take a look at this article to see how magnesium can play a role in preventing milk fever, or this on the interesting balance between potassium (K), sodium (NA) and magnesium (Mg). Simply put, animals need to be free to access as much magnesium as they need without onboarding calcium at the same ratio.
Let’s get to the big mama-jama of this topic: the ever beautiful, crystalline blue, potentially fatal substance known as copper sulfate. There are a number of producers espousing the benefits of feeding undiluted copper sulfate, many of them probably getting the idea from Pat Coleby’s work. Let me lead with this, the precautionary statement from one of the suppliers of feed grade copper sulfate:
Copper Sulfate is acidic and causes severe eye irritation. It may be irritating to the skin and may cause sensitization reactions in certain individuals. Avoid breathing the dust as it may be irritating to the upper respiratory tract. Contact with eyes and skin should be avoided through the use of safety goggles and rubber gloves. In case of eye contact, immediately flush eyes with plenty of water for 15 minutes and call a physician. If Copper Sulfate is ingested, give large amounts of milk or water. Call a physician. Contaminated clothing should be thoroughly washed before reuse.
I was talking minerals with a friend of mine recently and she shared this story with me about copper sulfate:
Once upon a time, my husband got some splashed into his eye when some dairy cows that were walking through it close to his eye level accidentally splashed through it. He ended up in the hospital overnight while they flushed it like crazy. Fortunately, he didn’t get enough in his eye to blind him, so it ended up just being a painful experience that included an overnight hospital stay.
It was being used to prevent hoof rot in the cows. You can imagine anything killing enough bacteria to kill hoof rot is pretty serious stuff.
This producer friend switched to Free Choice Enterprises after having issues with deficiencies using the Pat Coleby system.
Let’s get back to copper sulfate and look at its chemical makeup. According to Wikipedia, “Anhydrous copper sulfate is 39.81 percent copper and 60.19 percent sulfate by mass,” which takes us back to the same issue as with dolomite: animals must consume both minerals when trying to correct a deficiency in one or the other. This means either the animal will become toxic in one to get the other or will not consume enough to achieve balance at all. Between the anecdotal reports I’ve read on Facebook about the need for copper/cobalt bolus and my friend’s experience with deficiencies, I suspect animals are choosing the latter, to not consume enough to get the copper they need.
So to summarize copper sulfate, we have a chemical compound that is highly acidic and damaging to some body tissues, comprised of a mineral (copper) that has the potential to be fatal in long term, subacute doses, tied inextricably to another mineral that itself can cause issues, including polio, and in giving this as the sole mineral option for copper, we are really not giving the animal a chance to self correct deficiencies.
Based on a conversation I had with Mark from Free Choice Enterprises, minerals such as copper need to be diluted by salt and/or rice hull (that’s how FCE approaches it, anyway) because even a single lick of a trace mineral can be more than an animal needs.
Another issue with this system as it relates specifically to copper is the need for copper’s antagonist, molybdenum, to be available. The article in the above paragraph talks about molybdenum’s ability to help release copper stores from the liver. This is vital for total balance and part of why other buffet systems include this mineral.
Fine Yellow Dusting Sulfur
Fine yellow dusting sulfur is readily available in the United States, even certified organic, hooray! I use this organic version (aff) for my topical skin care and goat care lines. Free Choice dilutes their sulfur slightly with rice hulls which helps with caking, but it is otherwise primarily the same thing. Based on my own success using Pat Coleby’s statement that lice are attracted to sulfur deficiency, I agree that this is a necessary mineral to have available at all times. Be aware that sulfur can inhibit copper and zinc absorption though, so taking into account the above concern that the animals cannot get enough of individual copper in this system, pure sulfur out without a pure copper option is likely increasing copper deficiency rather than helping.
Seaweed meal, also known as kelp, is an excellent addition to a mineral buffet system and many of my own customers keep it out for their animals in the buffet. I am tracking mineral consumption as part of my research so I do not routinely keep out kelp myself because I want to see what mine consume with no other mineral options. I do use it on rare occasions as the most ideal method of distributing herbal remedies herdwide.
My preferred brand is Thorvin kelp, but you can likely find other versions at your local feed store, in both organic and not certified options. If you are concerned with oceanic radiation levels, seek out kelp harvested from Iceland (Thorvin), or off the Atlantic coast.
Free Choice’s recommendation is plain white salt. The idea behind this salt is that goats need some amount of salt in their diets, but mineralized salts can interfere with mineral balance when on the buffet and/or they may choose not to consume a mineralized salt because they are getting that mineral from the buffet and don’t need more. You can find loose or block salt at any feed store, but aim for the loose salt for ease of consumption when you’re giving this to goats.
Cobalt is another mineral most readily available in sulfate form, so it has all of the same potential issues as copper sulfate, in that it is bound up with sulfur and the animal must consume both to get one. I am able to find cobalt chloride but it appears to be in bulk, industrial purchases only. Here’s an interesting abstract on chlorine in milk goats. Because the dietary need for cobalt is so much lower than copper, it may be possible for sulfate versions to provide enough cobalt to sulfur and, indeed, this study seems to indicate clear bioavailability of cobalt sulfate. Assessment of individual cobalt sulfate brands is beyond the scope of this current article, however.
Zinc is another trace mineral found commonly as a sulfate. ZinPro, which is a frequently recommended option for the zinc portion of the Pat Coleby mineral system, has the following ingredients: Zinc methionine complex, ground corn cobs and calcium carbonate. From a purely natural perspective, I’d want to know what kind of corn those cobs are sourced from. It’s difficult to find a lot of information about zinc methionine, except that it is purported to have “superior bioavailability,” which is a good thing in terms of cost to value assessment. In researching that, I came across this interesting blurb about improved feed conversion and bioavailability of both copper and zinc methionine compared to sulfates, which gives a nod toward Zinpro 40 as a source of zinc.
Where are the Rest of the Minerals?
I briefly mentioned above about the lack of molybdenum, which may not even be a significant issue in the area of Australia where Pat raised animals, but it most certainly is an issue for parts of the United States. In addition to molybdenum, other minerals my own herd consumes regularly that are not included in this system are: boron, manganese, sodium, phosphorus, selenium and silicon. We also go through vitamins A, B, C, D and E regularly. I didn’t include iodine in this list, because kelp is a rich source of that, but we also go through iodine here.
The Concern about Dilution
One of my main concerns with this system is the fact that the minerals are fed with no dilution and, as in the case of copper referenced above, this poses potential issues with chronic over consumption because animals may not be able to limit what they consume without a diluting agent. While I think it’s possible other minerals can be over diluted, there is no natural scenario where animals would be able to consume as much as they get in a single lick of undiluted minerals. I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between the two extremes.
Overall, the concept of a mineral buffet is sound and logical and Pat Coleby’s mineral system has promise, but I believe it needs to have:
- more minerals
- some form of dilution to prevent over consumption
- correct minerals that truly give the animal a single mineral to consume for each requirement
We all want to find the best nutrition for the best value. For each herd, that can mean some trial and error to find the perfect solution, because there is no one size fits all approach. It is primarily for that reason I am so passionate about a complete mineral buffet, because each animal can see to its unique and ever evolving mineral needs and in this, no one knows better than the animal what it needs.