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Trace Elements And Salt Licks by Jan Donnison

Horses have a very well defined appetite for sodium chloride only surpassed by the need for water. Because the majority of plants do not provide sufficient sodium for the horses needs and may lack adequate chloride, salt supplementation is a vital part of any animal's nutritional requirement. Since horses have a definite appetite for salt it is possible to use this as a means of supplying other less palatable nutrients. This natural appetite for salt means that other minerals can be introduced to the diet in the form "self feeding" mineralised salt licks. The lick sates the animals craving for salt and also provides them with the other essential trace element that are required for survival.

Trace minerals are now universally recognised as being essential in the horses diet. There are seven trace elements that have shown to be needed to be supplemented. These elements are, Copper, Cobalt, Zinc, Iodine, Iron, Manganese and selenium. These additives are only required in very small amounts, measured in parts per million, thus the name "trace minerals or trace elements."

Deficiencies in trace minerals do in fact occur more frequently than is usually recognised by the majority of horse owners. This sub-clinical deficiency is far more wide spread than acute deficiencies. Sub-clinical deficiency can lead to under performance by the horse, for example, reduced growth rates, loss of feed efficiency and a depressed immune system. This can then result in inefficient performance. There is, therefore, an important role for mineral and trace element supplementation to help to maximise equine health.

Along with the hidden performance losses discussed, animals short of salt and essential elements can show 'pica' or depraved appetite symptoms. These deficiency indicators can include licking wood and stones, eating soil or bark. Horses constantly searching the hedge rows in good grass pasture can often be telling the owners that there is a mineral deficiency in its diet.

There is increasing evidence to show that many minerals and trace mineral nutrients are needed at higher levels to improve the horse's immune system to enable them to cope with infections. Sodium, chloride, zinc, copper, selenium, and magnesium have already been shown to be helpful in this regard.

Horse owners can obtain animal feed grade salt with or without minerals and trace elements. Salt can be provided for horses in various ways. It can be supplied in a loose form or in the pressed salt block form. Loose salt form is generally used for mixing directly into compound feeds. Alternatively, mineralised salt licks enable the owner to supply salt whilst horses are out at grass in a form that will weather. Equally, they can be fed to stabled horses where they are a potential 'toy' as well as a nutrient source.

Because salt is self-limiting, it's inclusion in compound feeds means that horses already well supplemented will take less of the free choice salt, while other horses on a more basic ration will take more salt and so receive the essential minerals and trace elements for their daily needs.

Mineralised salt blocks can be obtained from most agricultural merchants and saddleries and are a valuable insurance against salt and trace mineral deficiencies. The horse won't take them if they do not need them, so you cannot overfeed.

Jan Donnison is a technical adviser with Rockies; she trained as a veterinary nurse and is a keen horse owner. Visit Rockies Website

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