Animal Nutrition & Health

Nutrition: The Basis for Health

Farmer Feeding Animals Peasant Man At Work In Farm

Good health is a blessing for which we should all be thankful. We should strive for excellent health for ourselves and for the animals under our care. The level of both human and animal health that we experience depends to a large extent on our actions. One of the most important factors that influences the condition of health is nutrition. In order for a flock or herd to reach its full potential for both production and health, it is necessary to provide a balanced diet that is proper for the type of animal being raised. Supplying animals with a nutrient-dense diet containing feeds grown on well-balanced, biologically active soil is the foundation for superior livestock health.

Soil: The Foundation

Clay in Soil

Soil health and balance is the basis for plant and animal health. If we experience disease problems in either crops or livestock, it is important that we take a step back and re-examine the soil fertility program of our operation. Disease and pest problems are most often the result of nutrient deficiencies that ultimately can be traced to issues of soil nutrient imbalance.

Although there are many natural remedies that can be applied to both crops and livestock when disease problems appear, it is important to take a larger view of the picture and find the root causes of these problems. The application of quick fix remedies or Band-Aids will at times have a positive effect on an afflicted individual, crop or group. Unfortunately, if the underlying issues of soil imbalance are not addressed we will find ourselves facing the same problems repeatedly.

Remember to start at the beginning. Construct a strong foundation of healthy soil, then crop and livestock well-being will naturally follow. Investment in soil improvements must be viewed in the larger context of disease prevention for both plants and animals, not just what will be returned as an increase in crop yield for this year. This requires both a look at the bigger picture and taking a holistic view. We need a long-term outlook rather than merely looking for the quick fix. With time and patience, we will see the benefit of building a strong foundation of healthy soil that will be reflected in improved crop and livestock health and production.

This requires both a look at the bigger picture and taking a holistic view. We need a long-term outlook rather than merely looking for the quick fix. With time and patience, we will see the benefit of building a strong foundation of healthy soil that will be reflected in improved crop and livestock health and production.

Feed quality is a direct reflection of soil balance and health. Feeds rich in absorbable minerals and vitamins promote strong immune system function that in turn minimizes health problems. Well-mineralized feeds with high Brix readings indicate that the soil fertility program in place on a farm is working. A refractometer can be used to get Brix readings for both standing and harvested crops. Keeping track of Brix values over time can show how well the farm is making progress in its soil fertility program. High Brix readings are an indication that feed energy and mineral content are being maximized for the animals. High-quality feed ingredients minimize the need for added supplements.

Agriculture, sustainability and food with chicken on farm for organic, poultry and livestock farmin

Overview of Ration Formulation

The art and science of nutrition provides an animal with the proper nutrient balance required for its needs. The goal of matching feeds and supplements to animal requirements is carried out in different ways depending on the approach used by the livestock farmer and his advisors. Computerized rations are only as accurate as the numbers that are used in their calculations. Feed samples represent an estimate of gross nutrient content but do not tell us how digestible or absorbable the nutrients are. Standard values of nutrient requirements for animals represent average needs for the type of animal under consideration; they do not make adjustments for individual animal differences.

Man feeding hens from hand in the farm.

The well-defined science of animal nutrition becomes more of an art when we look closely at the assumptions that are used to calculate the ration numbers. This is not to say that computerized ration sheets do not have a place, only that it is important to keep the numbers in perspective. Lancaster Ag does use a computerized ration program to calculate the feeding needs for herds that prefer this service but we try to find a happy medium between the science of ration balancing and the art of good animal husbandry.

We must always remember to pay close attention to what the cows or other animals are telling us. If our sheet gives the batch size for 50 cows and all the feed is gone in two hours, the cows are obviously telling us that they will eat more than the computer says they will. Good herdsmen will perceive small changes, both positive and negative, in performance and contentment of the herd before production numbers confirm their suspicions. This is the art of stockmanship – listening to what the animals are telling us.

A basic concept of animal nutrition that is too often forgotten is to supply animals with a diet that is appropriate for their makeup. Cattle are ruminants; they were created to eat forages. This simple fact is ignored in the quest for higher milk production. Forage should make up 60-80%+ of the diet fed to cows. We have seen dairy cow rations containing 60-70% grain or seeds, being fed with the idea of increasing production by boosting nutrient density in the diet. The high-grain diets fed to dairy cattle in much of the USA have led to many of today’s common health problems. Rumen acidosis, laminitis, liver abscesses, immune suppression and other chronic health conditions of dairy cattle are the direct result of feeding an unnatural ration that is too high in grain.

Farmer milking a cow in stable

Dairymen are misled by short-term increases in milk production when feeding a high-grain diet and do not consider the long-term costs associated with this practice. The long-term costs of feeding a high-concentrate diet include more lameness, decreased immune function resulting in more infections and decreased productive life or earlier culling for the cows. Common sense tells us that the cow is a ruminant and thus should be fed a high- forage diet. Good animal husbandry tells us that feeding a high-grain diet has a negative effect on herd health. Too often this fact is overlooked as dairymen pursue a higher bulk tank average. We must remember to listen to what the cows are telling us. Increased disease problems and high cull rates are cries for help and are not to be ignored as a normal consequence of high production.

Forage Quality & Balance

One of the key factors that determines the success of a dairy farm is the quality of forage that it produces. High-quality forage provides good nutrient balance when feeding cattle a diet that is high in roughage. This is true either when grazing or feeding stored feeds. The need for grain is minimized if cows have access to large amounts of high-quality forage. If on the other hand, we must use low-quality forage in the diet, the task of supplementing the ration becomes much more difficult. It is not completely possible to make up for low-quality forage by adding supplements and feeding grain. The amount of indigestible fiber in low-quality forage takes up too much space in the ration and rumen to allow enough room for the amount of additional supplement needed to balance the ration.

We also must keep in mind that we want to maximize forage and minimize grain feeding to keep cows healthy. Ultimately,s we return to our starting point the soil. In order to produce the high-quality forage necessary to feed a high-forage diet we must grow our crops on well-balanced, fertile soil.

Feed Evaluation

Feed Samples

Taking a feed sample establishes the feed quality of a feedstuff. It is our road map for our present situation. Feed samples need to be taken in a way that ensures a representative feedstuff sample, because the recommendation for the complete diet will be based on this sample. If the sample is not a good representation of the feedstuff, there is the risk that the suggested diet will be considerably off-target.

Feed Analysis Reports

A feed analysis report gives us the nutrient value of the sampled feedstuff. This report is like a road map in guiding us to our end destination. The number of the relative feed quality (RFQ) expresses the complete nutrient value of a feedstuff. This value gives a complete expression of nutrient value in order to compare one forage to another. The one with the higher RFQ is generally the better forage.

Woman feeding two brown cows on a farm.
  1. The first important component of the forage is the energy content. For lactating dairy cows, this is measured by evaluating the fiber content of the feedstuff. The energy content of the forage determines how productive the cow can be, if this is the only feed she were fed. If a higher-energy diet is desired, grains are usually added to the diet.
  2. The second major component of feed is the protein. The crude protein is a measurement of the total amount of protein that is in the feedstuff. The crude protein content is analyzed by measuring the nitrogen content of the feedstuff and multiplying the result by 6.25. There are also some measurements that show us the protein fractions, which make up the total protein. This is one way that the quality of the protein is expressed. Some of the fractions are an expression of how quickly the protein is available for absorption by the animal. Other fractions show us how much has been damaged by the storage process. There are also fractions that tell us how much is available to be used by the animal.
  3. The third major component of feed is the mineral content. The ratio of minerals gives us another indication of the quality of the protein, as well as the overall quality. These ratios also affect the digestibility of the fiber, thus improving the energy of the feedstuff. These ratios vary depending on the kind of feedstuff that we are analyzing.


The purpose of animal nutrition is to observe which nutrients and which levels of nutrients are most conducive to promoting a healthy animal and a profitable monetary return. The challenge in dairy nutrition is to take part of the forage that cannot be changed when fed to the cow, then add other ingredients to it in an attempt to optimize the diet. The success of this attempt is directly related to the quality of the forage. The ruminant was created to eat forage, which makes forage the basis for all dairy nutrition. The quality of forage can make or break the success of dairy nutrition. The better the nutrient value of the forages used in the diet, the less that needs to be added to bring the ration to the desired nutrient content.

An adult cattle eats hay on a farm. The cow with its head out of the cage feeds on dry straw.

Research and Development

Researchers who are involved in the industry of dairy nutrition continue to improve ways of testing forages relative to the digestion of the rumen. These testing methods help determine which varieties of forages are the most conducive to milk production in dairy cattle. Additionally, the companies involved in supplying the seeds of forage-producing plants continue to develop forage varieties that meet the increasing demands for improved digestibility.

Understanding Fiber – by Jerry Brunetti, founder of Agri-Dynamics and speaker on soil fertility, animal nutrition, and livestock health.

Fiber is forage plant cell walls. The mineral element calcium is critical for building healthy, normal and digestible cell walls. The components of the fiber in forages are the following complex carbohydrates:


Rapidly digested by microbes. It is in the form of a water-soluble gel like the ingredient Grandma uses to make jams and jellies. It is nearly a sugar and is highly digestible. The great benefits are that it promotes acetic acid production, acting like other fiber sources, and it generally will not promote acidosis. Legumes have the potential to produce large amounts of this high-energy fiber. To stress the benefits, here is a quote:

Maybe some of the herds that have a very high level of milk without the use of special bypass protein (supplements) really are feeding alfalfa that is very high in pectin, with the result that the total production of bacterial protein is greater.

– Marshall E. McCullough, October 25, 1992 issue of Hoard’s Dairyman


A digestible cell wall component that is more complex and more slowly digested than pectin, but is not quite in the category of cellulose. May be complexed or tied to other fiber fractions, making it more or less digestible. Generally considered a digestible fraction.


The chief substance making up the cell wall. It is considered relatively digestible, but not as rapidly as pectin. This is what we like to see in the alfalfa stem—a stem full of white pith.


Not considered to be digested by rumen microbes to any great extent. It is the portion that adds strength and stiffness to plants. It is necessary to provide effective fiber to stimulate the cow to ruminate. An excess of lignin can be a problem because it provides relatively no nutrients, and it becomes filler, using up valuable space in the cow’s rumen.

The bottom line on fiber quality is how much of the fiber is actually digestible. One way to estimate the digestibility of your forages is to note the spread between ADF (acid Detergent Fiber) and NDF (Neutral Detergent Fiber) on your forage analysis. An ideal spread for alfalfa will be ADF plus 12 points; for example, 28% ADF and 40% NDF. Grasses will naturally have a wider spread, so take that into consideration. Most importantly, the goal for alfalfa should be a solid-stemmed (not hollow), soft-textured forage plant. The pith that fills the center of the stem is high in digestible fiber. We should keep in mind that although the test for ADF and NDF may be actual laboratory measurements (if done wet chemistry vs. NIR), they do not always predict true digestibility and performance.

Midwest Bio-ag farm experience leads us to believe that a proper mineral balance may also be a meaningful gauge to judge fiber quality. Calcium to potassium ratios in alfalfa should be kept as near 1:1 as possible. An alfalfa that tests over 1.5% calcium, over 0.35% phosphorus, over 0.35% magnesium and is not excessively high in potassium (not much over 2%), with a 10:1 nitrogen to sulfur ratio, will normally perform very well, regardless of the ADF/RFQ. I have seen forage with 35% ADF or more perform like prime forage when it is balanced in minerals.

Do not overlook the trace element boron in your soil program if you hope to promote the uptake of calcium. Fertilizing according to the balance of the major cations (calcium, magnesium and potassium) is a must. Soluble calcium and sulfate sulfur will need to be a part of your fertility program. It should be the common source of soluble potassium. Potassium chloride muriate of potash, 0-0-60, 0-0-62, with its high solubility and excess addition of chloride will have to stay off your hay fields.

Grazing Introduction

sheeps grazing

Grass Grows Green: Proper grazing will keep it growing.

Leaves are food factories. They use sunlight to combine CO2, water and minerals to make plant food. Roots gather water and minerals to be converted by the leaves into plant food. Roots also store food, which is essential for regrowth. Short tops mean short roots. Short roots mean less future grass production.

Please note: overgrazing destroys both the leaves and the roots know when to stop grazing.

Cow grazing in a field

The biggest mistake most graziers make is forcing stock to graze too hard on the third and fourth rotations, leaving forage too short to recover quickly. Here is a guideline: “If you can see a golf ball out there in your pasture in June, you are not going to have good grazing for the rest of the summer.”

Leaving 2-3 inches of residual is fine in spring when cool season forages are growing fast. To keep pastures from getting ahead and to help clovers compete with grasses, graze cows close. However, as the temperatures rise, forage growth slows. Decrease stocking rates or move cows to new grass sooner, leaving 4-8 inches of residual so that forages can recover faster.

A grazing management system is actually management of the plant growth cycle. Use permanent and/or temporary fence to allow forage growth and quick grazing. Remove the animals, allow the plants to grow, then graze the forage again. Essentially, intensive grazing in grassland farming substitutes fencing and grazing management for cropping equipment, fuel and associated labor and expenses.

Tips for Good Pasture Management

  • 90-95% of plant food is from the leaves.
  • Plants have these goals in life: to grow up, set seed, and reproduce themselves.
  • The goal of intensive rotational grazing is to keep plants in the leafy growing stage, which is the most productive stage and very highly nutritious.
  • Plants should never be grazed twice during the same time period because it depletes the root reserves.
  • This grazing time period should be short: one day is best, six days maximum.
  • Rest periods need to be the proper length. They may be short during spring and in warm and moist weather, long during mid- to late-summer and in hot, dry weather.
          Short rests 10-20 days
          Long rests 30-45 days (may go as high as 60 days)
          Drought 60-150 days
  • To begin grazing, heights should be approximately 6” for cattle and a little shorter for sheep. This is a general statement. Grass heights will vary, but should be pre-boot to boot state.
  • Percent grass and/or legume in sward, i.e. percent protein, can be changed by regulating the grazing heights.
  • Height should be 1”-1½” when animals go off pasture.
  • When the rest periods are too short, yields are cut.
  • When the rest periods are too long, feed value is lower and regrowth reduced.
  • To provide the necessary rest periods a minimum of 8-10 paddocks are required and 20-40 are much better.
  • Square paddocks are best—they use less fencing and provide better distribution of grazing effects.
  • Most pasture sites will not require renovation or reseeding.

If these practices are followed, forage production, forage quality, the grazing season length, sward condition and moisture-holding capacity and water retention will all improve. Most importantly, feed costs will be reduced.

Areas of Concern Affecting Nutrition

There are three areas of concern that can have an impact on the nutrition of animals and their overall wellbeing. Unfortunately these conditions can exist for long periods of time without farmers and livestock producers realizing what is causing the problems that they are experiencing with their herds.

sheep grazing
Stray Current

The primary instigator of stray current is stray electrical voltage, which shocks animals and is an irritation that should not be happening. Stray current has affected many herds across the country. Since it is prevalent on farms, livestock producers need to be vigilant. Either the utility company and/or the property owner can cause stray current.

young milk cows close-up on a modern dairy farm

Some problematic areas that should be tested on dairy farms are milking parlors and tie-stall barns; holding areas; metal pipes and beams; electric or metal fence; and metal or plastic water tanks. Observing the herd is very important. Some visual signs that stray current might be affecting livestock are…

  • Extreme twitching of tails even if few or no flies are present
  • Shifting of feet and lifting feet off of the ground one at a time in the parlor
  • Shuffling back and forth in the stall
  • Jolts or jerks of the head
  • Jumpy at the milk machines
  • Patterns of rhythms and waves in a row of cows as the current moves down the barn
  • Refusal to enter the milking parlor or holding area
  • Looking around before drinking from the water tank
  • Only lapping at the water and not drinking long and deep
  • Refusal to drink at certain water cups
  • Standing too long / not laying down after being milked or fed

Stray current can be harmful to animal health in a number of ways, such as high somatic cell counts, chronic mastitis, incomplete milk letdown, poor breeding efficiency, low conception rates, nutritional stress and even death. There can be a domino effect of low water consumption due to stray current. Reproduction is impacted and the end result is low milk production.

An important note: Stray current can also affect farms that do not rely on electrical power.

If you see multiple signs of the symptoms described above in your herd of cattle, take action. Consult with your Lancaster Ag Service Rep and he will guide you to one of our stray current specialists who can investigate the problem for you.

Hard Water

Farmers and livestock producers need to be concerned about the source, amount and quality of water available on their operations. Paying careful attention to drinking water quality for cattle and other livestock is very important because water influences nutrition and livestock health. Thus, frequent water sampling and testing are highly recommended. Testing will show hardness as well as salinity, nitrate-nitrogen levels, other excess nutrients and the presence of bacteria.

One of the physiochemical properties of water is hardness. Hard water is mainly due to high concentrations of calcium and magnesium, but small traces of iron, manganese, zinc, strontium and aluminum are also present. One visual way to detect problems with hard water is low pressure and restricted water flow caused by the accumulation of mineral deposits from the calcium and magnesium.

Cow drinking water. Rural scene. Farming.

Water is measured in grains of hardness. The degrees of hardness in water are: (gpg = grains per gallon)

0-3.5 gpg = soft

3.5-7.0 gpg = moderate

7.0-10.5gpg = hard

over 10.5 gpg = very hard

On farming operations where the water is extremely hard, there can be effects on the livestock. There can be reduced water intake of cattle resulting in reduced milk production. Declination of the absorption of nutrients in animals can also occur, which can lead to reproduction problems. Producers might also observe an increase in the intake of free-choice minerals.

The harder the water, the more severe the problems. When the water tests at very high levels of grains of hardness, there is an acceleration of the problems and more supplementation of nutrition is needed to maintain optimum health. The following are examples.

10 – 12 gpg

Reports of increased uptake of free-choice minerals in certain seasons. It can be up to a third more mineral intake. If the free-choice minerals are not offered, there have been consistent reports of decline in the health of livestock.

15 -17 gpg

Reports of livestock consuming 50 percent more minerals as well as declining herd health and reproduction problems.

20+ gpg

Reports of ongoing and chronic herd health with 75 percent more consumption of mineral nutrition.

Problems caused by hard water vary greatly from farm to farm. Experience teaches that it depends on the type of free choice minerals, free choice mineral salt, kelp, and other feeds and forages being offered to livestock that account for the difference. It also depends if the farmer is supplementing minerals to his soils. That will result in more minerals in his forage and will lessen the effect of hard water on his herd. Many farmers are able to deal with the detriments of hard water by fixing the water problem or feeding high-quality forage These observations are based on the accumulative experiences of our staff at Lancaster Ag. The late Dr. Dan Skow, who was a veterinarian with 45 years of experience in biological agriculture, also observed them.

Grazing in Wet and Marshy Areas

cows on pasture by river

Stagnant ponds and marshy pastures are historical problems on farming operations. Bacteria thrive in these kinds of dirty and/or stagnant waters. The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other conservation organizations encourage farming communities to install stream bank fencing and enclose old ponds with fencing. Lancaster Ag also strongly recommends fencing off marginal areas in marshy pastures and investing in good water pipes so that fresh, clean water is available to cattle in these areas.

Drinking contaminated water affects the nutrition of cattle because it inhibits the uptake of minerals. That means even if a producer is feeding livestock the optimal mineral amount, a deficiency of minerals can still show up. Dirty drinking water causes somatic cell count issues, mastitis, intestinal organ problems, fatty liver syndrome and liver fluke.

Fatty liver is caused by the incomplete metabolism of body fat resulting in the accumulation of fat within the cow’s liver. The characteristics are reduced milk yield, loss of body weight, loss of appetite and on occasion, nervousness. Poor environmental conditions can cause stress in cattle and lead to fatty liver syndrome.

Liver fluke is caused by a parasite that attaches itself to grass blades and is then ingested by grazing cattle. Wet areas on farms are a high risk, especially with mild temperatures and above average rainfall. Liver fluke wreaks havoc on cattle and results in reductions of the following: weight gain, milk productivity and fertility. It can lead to compromised immune systems, condemned livers and even death if left unchecked.

Slaughterhouses have reported an ongoing problem of up to 25% rejected cattle because of fatty liver and liver fluke as the result of poor drinking water, grazing on wet pastures and overly grain-fed animals. Lancaster Ag recommends providing clean drinking water and feeding free-choice and Thorvin Kelp for 60 days or beyond.

Lancaster Ag uses the one humate in our products that is approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). In addition, we recommend feeding Thorvin Kelp to young stock from birth as prevention for a multitude of problems and for overall good nutritional health.

From many years of serving livestock producers, our staff has learned about the relationship between poor drinking water/grazing in wet areas and fatty liver syndrome and liver fluke. The best prevention is to keep cattle from grazing on areas such as pond borders, riverbanks, stream banks and marshy ground. Pasture rotation should be a part of a strategic grazing management approach. When there are persistent problems, please seek professional veterinarian advice for diagnosis and remedies.

Water Quality is Crucial

by Steve (Howie) Combs

Cows drinking water in farm located in Pieniny Mountains, Poland

An often-ignored major component of milk production evaluation is water quality and the negative effect impurities can have on herd health and performance.

Considering a milking cow’s body composition is between 60–68% water and that milk itself is 81–89%, any factor reducing water consumption will reduce matter intake and consequently making less nutrients available for maintenance, growth and production. Milking dairy cows normally consume 25 to 30 gallons of water per day, a figure that is affected by air temperature, ration composition and mineral content of the available water supply.

Research has indicated the following criteria can be used as a guideline for water quality.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) measures soluble mineral salts present. Since this is a measure of total solids and not specific contaminants, elevated levels have varying effects on milk production. Levels below 2,000 ppm normally do not affect health or production. Levels between 2,000 and 4,500 have been shown to reduce water consumption. Further testing is recommended for levels over 4,500 to determine and treat this specific contaminant.

Hardness is the measure of positive ion concentration and not a specific contaminant. Levels less than 60 ppm are considered soft, 61 – 120 ppm moderately hard and 120 – 180 ppm is hard water. Unless hardness is primarily due to a single element levels below 135 ppm do not affect water consumption. Excessive levels of any single element can affect the absorption of others, resulting in reduced performance. Excess calcium, for example, reduces the absorption of selenium. Excess iron levels impact copper and zinc absorption, but more importantly, affects water taste with an odor of sulfur. As sulfonated water is heated, as in lengthy exposed pipelines, odors can become obnoxious. Excessive levels of manganese have resulted in nervous and muscular dysfunction. Chlorine, a popular and effective method for reducing biological contaminants in water, can reduce water consumption in excessive levels. Reduced levels over 4 ppm can result in the production of chloroform upon contact with organic material. Higher concentrations can reduce rumen bacteria population which reduces digestion of forages. A residual level of less than 0.5 ppm is considered safe.


Cattle drinking from ponds are subject to surface infiltration or drinking from streams with upstream manure exposure of any kind can contain unsafe levels of nitrates. Dangerously high spikes can occur during periods of excessive rainfall. Nitrates are absorbed in the bloodstream and reduce the oxygen carrying ability of red blood cells. Moderate chronic exposure to nitrates can result in infertility and abortions, with acute levels resulting in death. Nitrate levels less than 50 ppm are considered safe for consumption, with chronic levels over 125 ppm harmful and 250 ppm lethal.


There are many strains of bacteria that can be present in drinking water, either well or surface. Coliform groupings found in intestinal bacteria are used as indicators of further contamination, but can be lethal at elevated levels. They are measured in “colony forming units” with levels over 10 being the base level for performance reduction in adult cattle.

There are many factors physical and chemical that can result in reduced performance in dairy herds. The wrong contamination of any of these can quickly reduce milk production to non-profitable levels. Let’s not allow one of the most basic and often over-looked nutrients, water, to reduce another well managed dairy herd with a balanced feeding program to become less satisfying while operating below its potential.

History of Our Nutri-Min Products

In 2010 Lancaster Ag worked at significantly redeveloping our line of animal mineral blends. At that time the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) was reviewing labels for agriculture products and we were proactive by improving our mineral blends and consequently, updating our labels. Our goal was to comply so that our labels will meet NOP’s standards and will meet their approval for everything listed. This process has brought on a new high-powered lineup of animal mineral products in Lancaster Ag’s Nutri-Min line.

By the summer of 2010 we were ready to replace our custom animal mineral line with a new line called Nutri-Min. Why did we choose the name Nutri-Min? This name describes nutrition through colloidal minerals. Colloidal minerals can be easily absorbed and readily used. We have developed our Nutri-Min products using chelated vitamins and minerals and many colloidal minerals and traces, such as kelp, reed-sedge peat, diatomaceous earth, aragonite, conditioner, probiotics, herbals, botanicals, and similar ingredients that are highly absorbed when passing through an animal’s system.

After reformulating our products with these ingredients, we feel that we now have some of the best minerals on the market today. It is true that in the United States we have lost the feeding qualities in many of our animal feeds, causing problems in animal health and eventually in human health. The good news is that our Nutri-Min Mineral Blends can be your solution to this dilemma.

The main way growers compare minerals is by looking at numbers. For example, if a bag reads 16-8, that means it is 16% calcium and 8% phosphorus. That is known as a 2 to 1 mineral (2:1). A 12-6 is also a 2 to 1 mineral, but with less in the bag than a 16-8 mineral. However, numbers are not everything. It is more about what is absorbed and recognized by the cell wall.

Lancaster Ag has always taken the high road when sourcing calcium, phosphorus and other mineral ingredients. We look beyond the numbers and ask probing questions. What kind of calcium source is used? Is it limestone coarsely ground with poor absorption or is it fine ground? What about aragonite, which is derived from the ocean as deposits of sea animals that are very high in calcium?

Our Nutri-Min labels show that we use aragonite in many of our mineral products. An important fact to know is: anything that once lived is more absorbable than a natural mineral deposit. We also use a combination of calcium sources. This combination allows for both very quick calcium absorption and some to be absorbed slowly, thus giving the animal a more uniform absorption rate.

All of our Nutri-Min products have kelp on the label. Kelp is definitely not filler, but rather, it is a veterinary bill-reducer. Kelp is a trace element cocktail that is in a colloidal state (once lived) so it is very absorbable. For every dollar a grower spends on kelp as a constant feed ingredient, he has the potential to improve heard health. Benefits include improved breeding efficiency, decreased somatic cell counts, foot health and hair coat improvement and fewer lice. Plus, intestinal parasites do not like high iodine levels. Lancaster Ag uses Thorvin Kelp, which has double the iodine than other kelp brands.

Kelp is very high in iodine and manganese. Iodine runs the entire system of metabolism by the thyroid gland. Manganese runs the entire reproductive system. It is in an enzyme for reproduction. Ninety percent of a cow’s manganese (Mn) is in her ovaries and a bull or male stores 90% of his manganese in his testes.

Diatomaceous earth is another product that is included in some formulations. DE, as it is called, is derived from diatoms, an item found in the oceans. Fish and whales feed on diatoms. DE is microscopically shaped and is a great source of minerals and trace elements.

The herbals, botanicals and probiotics are already blended into our minerals and there is no need to feed them separately. They will help to condition the microbes of the intestinal tract, and as a result, will provide a better manure system for your fields. Lancaster Ag builds a mineral package that has a full circle of mineralization in mind, not just production. The full circle is: cows > manure > soils > crops.

These special formulations provide the needs of healthy, growing and highly productive animals. They support all their systems for optimum health.

What is DE diatomaceous earth?

  • Found in the oceans
  • Derived from diatoms
  • Fish and whales feed on diatoms
  • Microscopically shaped
  • Great source of minerals & trace elements.

Terms to know:


the process by which trace elements in an animal’s feed are bonded to amino acids, ensuring their absorption into the animal’s body


proteinate, are a particular type of chelate, in which the mineral is chelated with short-chain peptides and amino acids derived from hydrolysed soy proteins


a substance in which microscopically dispersed insoluble particles are suspended throughout another substance

Heritage Feeds: Going Back to the Future with Heritage Feeds

In Lancaster County we have a rich heritage in the way our forefathers worked the land and fed their livestock. They excelled in farming and their livestock thrived. This was accomplished without the use of GMO grains, antibiotics, hormones and fillers.

Our family stories tell us that our grandparents and great-grandparents took their wholesome produce, meats, butter, eggs and cheese from their Bird-in-Hand farms to the farmers markets in Lancaster City. Our family and other local farmers supplied the urban areas of Lancaster, Coatesville, West Chester and Allentown with fresh, nutritious foods.

That day is here again. The residents of our cities are demanding natural, whole, fresh foods that are untouched by GMO grains or pesticides. Using the farming concepts of the past, we at Lancaster Ag offer both complete certified organic feed and non-GMO feed in our Heritage Feeds line. Heritage Feeds are the perfect choice for farmers and growers looking for feeds with wholesome and nutritious ingredients. We offer the best because we firmly believe that good nutrition results in good animal health.

Heritage Feeds

  • Our organic feeds are PA Certified Organic
  • Our grains exceed USDA minimum test weights
  • Our feeds contain minerals from our own Nutri-Min line
  • Our feed formulas always remain standard
  • We custom mix according to specifications

The Objectives of the Heritage Feeds Program

Since the late 1990s GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in everything have been on the forefront of agriculture. There is a growing demand from consumers in our urban areas for good, healthy, nutritious meats. After much research across the whole country, countless hours and personal funding, it has been found that GMO crops do not have the nutrition that crops had before genetic modification took place. To add to that fact, Roundup itself removes many minerals from our food chain. These are the reasons that the GMO-free market is here.

In 2004 Lancaster Ag invested a significant amount of money to construct a feed mill to keep non-GMO grains separate from conventional grains. At that time, no feed mill could be found that made feed in this way. Out of necessity, we built our own so that we could manufacture a line of feeds without using GMO grains. In 2010 we named this line “Heritage Feeds.”

Since 2004 there has been a growing interest from consumers in meats and eggs produced without the influence of GMO crops. We coupled the values of GMO-free grains with good nutrition, using probiotics, botanicals and herbal products. For example, our feeds give poultry a good immune system with which to fight off disease and illness. Heritage Feeds produce the best quality meat the consumer can buy.

Test Weights of Our Grains

The grains that we use in our feed meet the USDA minimum test weight. However, over the years we have found that the USDA standard is not a good enough measure. We go beyond their recommended test weights to enhance the quality and longevity of life. For example, the USDA minimum test weight for oats is 32 lb. and for corn 56 lb.. We strive to go well above these minimum standards in the grains we use in our Heritage Feeds.

Unfortunately, mainstream feeds do not base their qualities on these standards. Rather they focus on buying their grains in the cheapest form available. Lightweight grain has little or no minerals: the lighter the grain, the less concentration of minerals there will be.

With our Heritage Feeds line we take Dr. Arden Andersen’s quote literally: “Nutrition will bring genetic expression.” The fact is that the heavier the grains, the more nutrient dense the foods will be that are produced by the livestock.

The Standard Formulas of Heritage Feeds

We do not change our Heritage Feeds formulas or concentration of minerals when the prices in the market fluctuate. We feel it is more important to have adequate nutrition than producing feeds based on price. We also believe in the old adage, “You are what you eat.” Therefore, if you want high-quality meat, you need to feed your livestock grains with high-quality and adequate nutrition regardless of the price.

Feeding high-quality minerals and feeds is expensive. On the other hand, hospital stays and chemotherapy treatment are also very expensive.

Most Common Ingredients in Heritage Feeds

Here at Lancaster Ag we have our own top-quality nutritional line called Nutri-Min that we manufacture in-house. These minerals were formulated with input from well-known experts, such as Jim Helfter, Dr. Dan Skow, Dr. Paul Dettloff, Dr. Richard Holliday and Dr. Arden Andersen. By listening to these men, we came to realize that diversity is the key.

As you look over our labels, you will notice that many ingredients in our various feeds are similar, but with varying amounts. We have herbals, botanicals, probiotics, amino acids, nitrates, proteinates and sulfate traces, as well as the major elements such as calcium, phosphorus and sodium. All of these individual ingredients play an important role in the health of the animal and eventually in the health of the consumer. You may call us for a complete listing of ingredients or a copy of our labels.

Grain Rations

Three Stages of Poultry – Grower Program

  1. Poultry Starter 21%
    All Poultry 0-3 weeks of age
    Corn, shelled 1030 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 725 lbs.
    Fish Meal ORG (8-6-0) 100 lbs.
    Kelp, granular 70 lbs.
    Poultry Starter Mineral 75 lbs.
  2. Poultry Grower 19%
    Broiler 4-7 weeks, Turkey 4-16 weeks
    Corn, shelled 980 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 545 lbs.
    Oats 175 lbs.
    Poultry Grower Mineral 100 lbs.
    Fish Meal ORG (8-6-0) 100 lbs.
    Aragonite 50 lbs.
    Flax Seed 50 lbs.
  3. Poultry Finisher 16%
    Broiler 8-10 weeks, Turkey 17-22 weeks
    Corn, shelled 1204 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 510 lbs.
    Oats 125 lbs.
    Poultry Grower Mineral 50 lbs.
    Aragonite 10 lbs.
    Soft Rock Phosphate 50 lbs.
    Salt 1 lbs.
    Flax Seed, whole 50 lbs.
Big beautiful rooster on a poultry farm

Six Stages of Feed for Layers

  1. Poultry Starter with Mineral 21% 0-3 Weeks of age
    Corn, shelled 1030 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 725 lbs.
    Fish Meal ORG (8-6-0) 100 lbs.
    Kelp, granular 70 lbs.
    Chick Mineral 75 1bs.
  2. Pullet Grower 18% 4-8 Weeks of age
    Corn, shelled 1000 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 575 lbs.
    Oats 175 lbs.
    Layer Mineral 100 lbs.
    Fish Meal ORG (8-6-0) 100 lbs.
    Aragonite 50 lbs.
  3. Pre-Layer 16% 9-18 Weeks of age
    Corn, shelled 900 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 500 lbs.
    Oats 450 lbs.
    Layer Mineral 100 lbs.
    Aragonite 50 lbs
  4. Peak Layer 18% 19-34 Weeks of age
    Corn, shelled 1000 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 575 lbs.
    Oats 175 lbs.
    Layer Mineral 100 lbs.
    Fish Meal ORG (8-6-0) 50 lbs.
    Aragonite 100 lbs.
  5. Post Peak Layer 15% 35 plus Weeks of age
    Corn, shelled 900 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 450 lbs.
    Oats 430 lbs.
    Layer Mineral 100 lbs.
    Aragonite 120 lbs.
  6. Molt 12% 21-Day Program
    Corn, shelled 750 lbs.
    Soybeans, roasted 100 lbs.
    Oats 700 lbs.
    Layer Mineral 100 lbs.
    Alfalfa Meal 100 lbs.
    Wheat Midds 200 lbs.
    Aragonite 50 lbs.

Calf Ration

Corn, ground 735 lbs.
Soybeans, roasted 515 lbs.
Oats 500 lbs.
Molasses 150 lbs.
Nutri-Min Calf Mineral 100 lbs.

Dairy Ration

Corn 950 lbs.
Oats 400 lbs.
Soybeans, roasted 400 lbs.
Nutri-Min Dairy Mineral 250 lbs.

newborn calf lying in the field

Sheep/Goat Ration

Old horned bearded white goat looks at the camera
Sheep and Goat Feed 18%

Corn Shelled 1135 lb.
Soybeans, Roasted 550 lb.
Oats 250 lb.
Nutri-Min Sheep & Goat Mineral 65 lb.

Swine Ration

18% Pig Starter

Ground Corn 1000 lb.
Ground Soybeans 500 lb.
Ground Barley or Oats 150 lb.
Fish Meal 100 lb.
Dried Whey 100 lb.
Nutri-Min Pork Power Min. 150 lb.

15% Pig Grower

Ground Corn 1250 lb.
Ground Soybeans 350 lb.
Ground Barley or Oats 200 lb.
Fish Meal 50 lb.
Nutri-Min Pork Power Min. 150 lb.

Pigs graze on farm in countryside. Pigs graze on a private farm
13% Gestation

Ground Corn 1050 lb.
Ground Soybeans 300 lb.
Ground Barley or Oats 350 lb.
Alfalfa Meal 150 lb.
Nutri-Min Pork Power Min. 150 lb.

14% Gestation

Ground Corn 1250 lb.
Ground Soybeans 325 lb.
Ground Barley or Oats 200 lb.
Fish Meal 50 lb.
Argonite 25 lb.
Nutri-Min Pork Power Min. 150 lb.

14% Gestation

Ground Corn 1450 lb.
Ground Soybeans 300 lb.
Ground Barley or Oats 100 lb.
Nutri-Min Pork Power Min. 150 lb.

Animal Health

Farm animals

Prevention is the Key

Maintaining good livestock health is a key ingredient to successful farming. Working to improve soil fertility and produce nutrient-dense feed, followed by the application of proper nutritional practices will minimize the presence of disease in a herd or flock. Despite our efforts, animal health issues remain a challenge to many livestock producers. We must resist the temptation of searching for remedies that serve as a quick fix and remember to always work on preventing problems. This is not to say that we should not treat sick animals; but rather, we need to go deeper, find the root causes of problems and then work at eliminating them.

It is human nature to address the problem directly whenever we are confronted with a disease challenge. Once an animal or group has recovered (or not) and the illness is gone, our job is not finished. It is then that we must ask ourselves the hard questions, such as what needs to be done to prevent a similar situation from happening again. Soil fertility, nutrition, housing and management are issues we need to examine in order to find any shortcomings that need correction. The old adage An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is appropriate here.

Animal Health Overview

by Jerry Brunetti, founder of Agri-Dynamics and speaker on soil fertility, animal nutrition, and livestock health.

Herd of cows. Cows on the field

Maintaining herd health is too often a case of assuming that animals become ill at random, that medication is an inevitable part of all livestock operations and that there is a uniform response to treatment according to manufacturer’s data and research.

This perspective is a gross simplification and ignores the complexity associated with an animal’s innate potential to remain healthy and heal itself, provided certain interferences are eliminated and specific requirements are provided for optimum physiological and metabolic activity. Herd health is no coincidence, but neither is it a matter of good luck!

Toxins: Unseen and Deadly

Contaminants that affect a variety of organs (i.e. rumen, liver, kidneys, lungs, uterus) and the blood itself are often overlooked. Nitrogen (or ammonia) can create blood urea nitrogen (B.U.N.) levels that can damage the liver and contribute to udder and reproductive infections by nourishing pathogens and suppressing immune activity. Nitrates in feed and water, excess protein (esp. soluble protein) and urea are all examples of what can provide such a source. Mycotoxins (mold poisons) can wreak havoc on rumen function, suppress the immune system (leading to other illness), destroy livers and kidneys and upset reproductive performance. Acidosis in cattle from too many carbohydrates (grain) or even low-pH water will abscess livers and create breeding difficulties. Rumen pH is ideal at a pH of 6.5–6.9. Heavy grain-fed ruminants often have a pH of 5.0–5.5, destroying rumen integrity and leading to poor productivity. Poor digestion, chronic infections, unhealthy feet, low fertility and unthrifty calves may suggest some kind of contamination.

Water: The Universal Solvent

Good water is nearly impossible to find. Water should be thoroughly tested for bacteria, nitrates, iron, sulfates, pH (acidity/alkalinity), pesticides, heavy metals, detergents and volatile chemicals. Even naturally occurring contaminants such as iron, low pH and sulfates can create unthriftiness in livestock.

The most important ingredient for livestock production in quantity and quality is good clean water.

Nutrition: The Pulse Of Productivity

Nutrition is clearly a critical consideration that pertains to any aspect of herd health. It is now recognized that nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, selenium, copper and iodine are necessary to ensure optimum immune function and reproductive performance. Considerations such as digestible fiber and quality protein (amino acids vs. NPN) play an invaluable role in production and health. Rotational grazing provides livestock the essential digestive enzymes and vitamins as well as sunlight, oxygen and exercise.

NOTE: It is not recommended to feed antibiotics to healthy animals. Drug-resistant organisms have become a major threat in the agriculture world.

Poor nutrition for dry cows is usually the culprit for problems like milk fever, ketosis, retained placenta, calf unthriftiness and mastitis following freshening. Work closely with an open-minded, experienced nutritionist who recognizes the need to gather information and learn more.

Soil nutrition is the most important consideration in animal health because properly balanced rations rely on forage and plant tissue analysis. Nutritional content of plant tissue is wholly dependent on soil fertility, which in turn, is dependent upon sound biological management practices. It is expeditious to network with an agronomist who can make appropriate recommendations to balance soils, ultimately providing your animals with grains and forages high in minerals, enzymes, amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids and vitamins, and low in NPN, mycotoxins, pesticides, heavy metals and mineral imbalances.

Our Lancaster Ag staff is able to assist you with your questions about animal and soil nutrition. Check with your Service Representative or call our Call Center at 717-687-9222.

Physical Evaluation of Livestock

Young serious vet clinician with tablet looking at owner of cowfarm

Successful livestock producers and herdsmen are blessed with good powers of observation. They know when their animals are doing well and when they are not. The ability to sense whether a change in feeding or management is having a positive or negative impact on the herd should extend beyond typical measures of production (i.e. daily pounds of milk per cow). A good manager can see when the herd is being stressed even before it shows up in the bulk tank milk weight. Likewise, a positive change can show up as cows being more relaxed or healthy even though milk production remains unchanged. The ability to see beyond production numbers is to some extent intuitive, a God-given ability or gift. Plus different people do better with certain types of animals. However, if we apply ourselves, we can often improve our powers of observation. Here is an outline of things to watch for in cattle, so that you notice whether a change is having a good or bad effect on your herd. A detailed description of how to perform a physical exam on an individual cow will follow.

The attitude is the first thing that one should take note of when observing any animal or group of animals. Are the cows alert, relaxed, depressed or nervous? Does the individual animal carry itself with ease? What is the ear position? Does the cow appear sluggish? An animal’s attitude is an important overall indicator of health and vigor. Be careful to initially observe the animal(s) in question from a distance so as not to influence its behavior. It is best if the animal does not know it is being watched. Calves that are feeling ill will often hang their heads and cough sporadically. If the same calves are approached in a direct or threatening manner they will often perk up, stop coughing and appear normal.

The next detail to evaluate is physical appearance. The eyes and hair coat are good places to start. The eyes should be clear and bright to indicate good health. In contrast, a dull or cloudy eye can be an indication that the animal is not feeling well. Excessive discharge from the eye is abnormal and indicates irritation, infection or both. Look at the eye position in the eye socket to get an idea of the state of hydration or dehydration. Sunken eyes usually indicate dehydration and a need to get fluids into the patient. The severity of the dehydration often correlates well with how badly the eyes are recessed.

The hair coat should have a glossy appearance or sheen to it. Dull hair coats and faded colors can indicate nutritional deficiencies and/or parasitism. Patches of missing hair or skin sores point to even more serious health issues. Livestock that consume free-choice kelp usually have very good, shiny hair coats. This may help them to resist infection problems from external parasites such as lice.

The next important area to consider is the appearance of the feet and legs. This is particularly important in the case of dairy cattle since they are often at risk for being fed a diet lacking in forage. The feet and legs should be straight with a small amount of set to the joint angles. There should be no noticeable swellings or sores present. If in doubt as to whether a part of the foot or leg appears normal, use the opposite leg on the same animal as a check or reference point. Try to observe the cow walking as this will reveal much more than when she is standing still. Subtle lameness is much easier to identify in the walking animal.

The last item to consider in the overview of the animal is the manure. Manure quality and quantity tell much about the state of digestion and health of the individual animal. Scant, dry feces indicate a slowing of digestion and/or dehydration. Loose, watery manure or diarrhea can indicate indigestion or bowel irritation. Calves and other young stock will frequently show soiling around the tail area if they are suffering from chronic diarrhea. This can be an indication of internal parasites such as coccidia and worms. The manure condition of a group of cows can also be used as an aid to evaluate the feeding program for the group. Undigested feed particles (grain pieces or long fiber) show that digestion is not as complete or efficient as it should be.

Disclaimer: The information given here is strictly for educational purposes. Lancaster Agriculture Products does not diagnose, prescribe, treat, or recommend for any health condition, and assumes no responsibility. In no way should this information be considered a substitute for competent veterinary care.

Physical Examination of the Dairy Cow

TPR: temperature, pulse, & respiration

The first step to complete a physical examination after visual observation is to measure the body temperature, pulse (heart rate) and respiratory rate. This is known as the TPR (temperature, pulse, respiration) for short. Measure temperature using a digital or mercury-free thermometer placed in the rectum. Mercury thermometers should be avoided as they can cause serious contamination problems if they break. The normal temperature of a cow is about 101.5° F (the range can be from 100° to almost 103°). Temperatures above 104°F indicate a fever and may require action to help bring the body temperature down. The normal heart rate or pulse is about 60 beats per minute for a cow. Respiration (breathing) rate is normally about 30 per minute. Like body temperature, increased heart rate and respiration rate often indicate health problems.

Normal TPR for Cattle

Temperature – 101.5°F (101 to 102.5)
Heart Rate – 60 beats per minute (50 to 70)
Respiration Rate – 30 breaths per minute (24 to 48)

Some increase in heart and respiration rate is normal during certain times. A heifer that becomes excited and is afraid will have an increased heart rate. Cows’ breathing also becomes more rapid and often doubles in hot weather. Take the specific situation into account when making these measurements. A heart rate of 100 or greater generally means serious trouble, especially when combined with other signs, such as sunken eyes or a hard quarter with watery milk.

Rumen Motility: Feel the Wave

Good rumen function is critical for optimum cow health. The rumen is the engine that powers the system of beef and dairy production. The rumen is much more than a large digestion vat that can convert high fiber; generally indigestible feed into energy-rich fuel for the cow. It is an ecosystem that depends on the regular intake of feed, water and other nutrients in the right proportion to attain best performance. Rumen health is directly linked to cow health. Cattle need a strong, healthy rumen to thrive. Observing rumen motility (movement) acts as a window that allows one to see how well the rumen is working. A healthy rumen has a strong wave-like contraction twice per minute.

Approach the cow from the left side to observe rumen motility. The rumen is the largest part of the cow’s digestive system and it occupies most of the left side. The paralumbar fossa (PLF) is the triangle formed behind (above) the last rib, its other two sides are the ends of the short ribs (loin) forming the top and a line from the front end of the hook bone (large hip bone) back to the last rib. (See figure 1.)

Gently place your hand in the PLF and wait to feel a rumen contraction. The movement of the rumen will lift your hand momentarily and then drop it back as the smooth muscle contraction travels past. In a healthy cow this process will repeat itself approximately every 30 seconds. If the contractions are slow or weak the rumen is probably not working properly. A complete absence of contractions is cause for serious concern. If you are unsure whether the rumen motility of a cow is normal, check one or two cows that are eating and feeling well. Repeat this exam on one or two healthy cows to get a feel for what normal rumen motility is.

Auscultation: Listening In

The act of listening to body organs is called auscultation. Veterinarians include auscultation as an important part of the physical examination and generally use a stethoscope for this purpose. Many herdsmen have been trained in this technique and stethoscopes are used more around livestock operations than in the past. Our intention is not to replace veterinary care provided by a licensed professional but rather to empower livestock farmers and their employees with tools to make better decisions about animal care. Knowing when to call for professional assistance is important. If you are unsure of how serious an animal’s condition is or how to help the animal, please call your local veterinarian for assistance.

Rumen, Stomach, and Intestines

Using the stethoscope start by listening in the left PLF for the rumen. This is the same area described above for feeling rumen movement. Rumen contractions can be heard as a rumbling sound that grows louder as the contraction wave moves toward the PLF. Practice listening to rumen contractions on healthy cows to get an idea of the sound. It is easier to detect differences in rumen motility by auscultation than by feel. Slow or weak rumen sounds mean that the rumen is not working properly. In an off-feed cow the rumen often slows down as the amount of feed available for fermentation decreases. A drop in blood calcium (i.e. milk fever) or the presence of toxins (like those from a case of E. coli mastitis) will also slow down and weaken rumen motility. The absence of rumen sounds is a serious finding. It means that either the rumen has stopped moving or something, like a displaced abomasum (DA), has pushed the rumen away from the body wall so that it can no longer be heard. In either case there is a need to take action to correct the situation. The rumen needs to keep working in order for the cow to be alive and productive.

It has been often said that a cow has four stomachs. In reality there are 4 compartments that make up the first part of the bovine digestive system. The rumen is the largest part where mixing and fermentation of feed occurs. In a large cow, it holds 50+ gallons. Much of the energy content in the feed is absorbed through the rumen wall in the form of volatile fatty acids (VFA’s). The reticulum is a pouch on the front of the rumen into which heavier feeds and hardware fall. It is the place where the esophagus (food tube) empties into from the throat. The omasum is the next compartment of the digestive tract. It absorbs extra water and some VFA’s. The abomasum is the fourth compartment and closely resembles the true stomach in other animals. The abomasum secretes acid for digestion and is prone to movement since it is not attached tightly to any other parts of the stomach. The normal position of the abomasum is near the bottom of the abdomen (belly) on the right side.

The rumen normally keeps the abomasum in place by not allowing the abomasum to move because the rumen is filled with a large volume of feed or forage. Any condition that decreases a cow’s appetite results in less rumen fill and this predisposes the cow to a displaced abomasum (DA).

Continuing to auscult the abdomen, you should next listen for pings on the left side. Place the end of the stethoscope 3”- 4” forward from the last rib in line with the center of the PLF. Strike or thump the cow’s side firmly with a finger snap of the thumb. You should hear a dull thud when performing this percussion about 3”- 4” from the stethoscope end. A dull thud or thump is normal. A high-pitched ping or ringing sound indicates a hollow space with an empty gas-filled area under slight pressure. The sound has a resonant quality that sounds like a cold basketball bouncing on concrete. Pings are one of the signs of a DA. Repeat the percussion at different points in a circular pattern around the end of the stethoscope. Move the stethoscope and repeat the percussion until the area has been covered from the PLF forward to the middle of the ribcage and halfway down the side from top to bottom. When only dull thuds are heard using this method, it is considered normal. If pings are heard, it is possible that the cow has a DA.

Next listen to the right side of the cow for intestine sounds in the area of the right PLF. Usually there is little or no sound and this is normal. Sometimes you will hear gas bubbles and gut movements if the cow has indigestion. Repeat the procedure on the right side for pinging the cow as described above. A right side ping can indicate a right DA (RDA). An RDA is a true emergency. The cow will need surgery to correct the condition. Another option is to put down the animal as she will deteriorate quite rapidly if left untreated. Often lower pitched boinks are heard when pinging the cow’s right side. These are not the same as a ping. A ping has a high pitch with a resonant quality. Boinks are heard when loops of bowel located near the right PLF have small pockets of gas in them. Remember to practice listening to healthy cows to get a feel for what is normal.

Heart and Lungs

The next part of the physical exam is to auscult the heart and lungs. The heartbeat is best heard from the left side. Place the stethoscope end near or under the point of the elbow (slightly forward) on the left side and listen for the lub-DUB sound of the heartbeat. The two-part beat should be regular and strong but not pounding. Calculate the heart rate by counting the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four or count beats for 20 seconds and multiply by three. Remember that the normal heart rate is about 60 beats per minute and rates over 100 mean that the cow is seriously ill.

Next move the stethoscope end upwards from the point of the elbow to the middle of the chest and listen for breath sounds. The breathing will be loudest just behind the muscles of the front leg near the middle of the chest. This is above the place where the windpipe enters the chest and divides into smaller and smaller airways much the way a tree trunk branches into many limbs. Listen to a few breaths and move around the ribcage area taking notice of how the breathing sounds. Normal breathing is smooth and fairly quiet. It is hard to hear in cows with large, thick chests. Loud raspy or crackling sounds are not normal and may indicate pneumonia. Wheezes and rubbing noises are also bad signs. Spend some time listening to the breathing and heartbeat of several cows so you will have a better feel for what is normal and what is not. Our goal is not to have you take the place of a veterinarian but with practice, you can get an indication of whether a cow is in serious trouble or not. Please call for veterinary assistance if you are unsure of a cow’s condition or how to best help her.

Udder and Milk

The calf sucks milk from the nipple of the cow's udder.

We will continue the physical exam by checking the cow for udder problems and mastitis. A quick visual exam can reveal enlarged quarters or injuries to the gland or teats. Palpate any quarter that looks swollen or red. Heat is a good indication of inflammation. The degree of hardness of a quarter also indicates how severe the mastitis is. Be careful when checking injuries or swollen quarters as the cow may kick in reaction to pain.

Next check the milk by stripping some from each quarter into a strip cup or area that can be easily cleaned. Look for clots, chunks, blood or a watery secretion. Run a California Mastitis Test (CMT) to see how many quarters are affected and how they compare. Every dairy farm should have a CMT kit and use it on a regular basis. Early detection and treatment of mastitis is critical to achieving a high cure rate. This is especially true when using organic treatment methods.

External Lymph Nodes

The cow has several superficial lymph nodes that are just under the skin and can be seen and/or felt. Enlarged lymph nodes can develop in response to infection in the local area or they can be signs of serious systemic illness. Severely swollen external lymph nodes can be an indication of cancer in cows. The most prominent lymph nodes in the cow are just ahead of the stifle joint on the cow’s side. These nodes are usually 1.5”- 2” long and 0.5”- 0.75” wide and can easily be located and palpated (see diagram). A second pair of lymph nodes is located just ahead of the point of the shoulder where the neck meets the body with one lymph node on each side. A third set occurs above the rear quarters of the udder and can be felt from behind the cow. Enlargement of any of the superficial lymph nodes should be noted and watched over time to see if any lymph nodes are getting larger or smaller.

Rectal Exam

The final part of the physical exam is the rectal exam. This is one of the most valuable parts of the physical exam because it gives much useful information. The amount of manure and consistency tell what a cow has been eating and how well the feed is being digested. A small amount of dry manure indicates that the cow has been off feed for a while. Watery diarrhea with undigested feed indicates serious indigestion.

A number of internal organs can be palpated during a rectal exam. A veterinarian routinely checks the uterus and ovaries during reproductive exams. Dairymen who perform artificial insemination (AI) will be familiar with locating the cervix. Completion of an AI course offered by one of the cattle breeding companies is a good way to learn the basics of finding and manipulating the cervix. We recommend that livestock producers become familiar with the technique of AI before attempting uterine infusions. The size and fullness of the uterus in a fresh cow can indicate if there is an infection present. Palpation of the ovaries to determine stage of the estrus cycle, detection of cysts and pregnancy diagnosis are best left to your regular herd veterinarian. It is important to utilize the help of an experienced professional to diagnose pregnancy and treat reproductive problems.

Other organs that can be evaluated during a rectal exam include the rumen, intestines, bladder and kidney. The rumen lies to the left side and often extends back into the pelvis. Check rumen size and the consistency of the contents (feed) during the rectal exam. A small, shrunken rumen with no obvious fiber mat present is an indication that the cow has not been eating for quite awhile and needs serious help to get the rumen functioning again. A cow with an overfilled rumen may indicate a blockage of the gut or damage to the nerves that make the gut work. Bloat of the rumen will also be obvious during a rectal exam. The intestines are located to the right of the midline and forward from the front of the pelvis. Normally they are not obvious, as they tend to be soft and indistinct. Loops of bowel with gas and/or fluid under pressure can indicate a serious condition like an obstruction. Occasionally you can palpate a DA when doing a rectal exam, most often a right side DA. Remember to palpate a few normal cows for comparison if you are unsure what you are feeling is normal. The pulse can be easily felt by turning the hand over (palm up) and feeling with the fingertips along the backbone at the front of the pelvis. The aorta travels from the heart just below the backbone to the front of the pelvis where it divides into the two main arteries that supply the back legs. The split of the aorta forms a V-shape and the pulse should be strong at this point. A rapid, weak or irregular pulse can indicate serious problems of the heart and circulation. There are also several small lymph nodes located near the V. Normally these are difficult to feel. Enlarged lymph nodes the size of ping-pong balls to softball size in this area can be an indication of cancer in the cow.

The bladder and left kidney can also be palpated during the rectal exam. The bladder is located directly below the reproductive tract. Size of the bladder is directly related to how much urine it contains and can range from baseball to basketball size. The bladder feels like a ball that is very soft and pliable. A cow will sometimes urinate in response to moderate pressure applied to the bladder during a rectal exam. The left kidney is found under the backbone forward of the pelvis. Kidney infection often leads to swelling of this organ.

This completes the basic physical examination of the cow. We do not expect that every dairy farmer will have the desire to learn or master this material. Our intent is to give the animal caretakers or owners the tools they need to make well-informed decisions concerning animal care. Always remember to work with your local veterinarian for disease prevention and treatment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated the statements in this catalogue. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease condition. In the event of any animal health concern, always consult a licensed veterinarian.


The information given here is strictly for educational purposes. Lancaster Agricultural Products does not diagnose, prescribe, treat or recommend for any health condition and assumes no responsibility. In no way should this information be considered a substitute for competent veterinary care.