On the soap box (again)…

by David

If Thistle Hill has a secret weapon, it may be our mineral program.  It’s certainly not a “top secret”; many natural livestock people do what we do.  But it is not generally used in the commercial industry because of the cost involved.

A cow grazing in the wild doesn’t need mineral supplementation.  She can select from the grasses, herbs and even the soil to keep her system in balance and her immune system strong.  But in a fenced pasture, she is at the mercy of what is before her.  That’s particularly a problem in the East, where the land was “farmed out” long ago.  I’ve seen estimates that it would take more than 100 years of constant, natural fertilization to restore the fertility of eastern pastures.

So cattlemen feed a mineral mix, which is the co-op’s best analysis of what is missing in the area it serves.  The problem is that it is the result of averages; not every pasture and not every cow need everything that’s in the mix.  And some may need more of something that’s in the mix, and to get it they are forced to eat too much of everything else.  Still it’s what most farmers do and it costs them $7-10 a year per cow for the supplement.

What we (and other natural and organic cattlemen) do is supply our herds with all the important minerals….separately, not mixed.  They’re fed each mineral cafeteria-style in separate compartments and the cows select what they need.  It’s an amazing trait but we think probably humans once had the same ability until it was civilized out of us.

So our cows check out the mineral feeder and select from 12 minerals…things like copper, selenium and iodine.  We even feed a buffer because there is so much iron in the local water.  Cows convert grass better with the right acid balance in their rumen.  Sometimes they need more of one mineral than another.  Often months go by with some of the minerals left undisturbed.

This is an expensive program, though, costing four or five times more than traditional minerals from the co-op, but the results are apparent in the results we get here at Thistle Hill.  It is well worth the extra cost.

Now, however, our supplier has told us that one of the minerals—iodine—is about to go up about $10 a bag and when his supply is gone there’ll be no more organic iodine available.  The right iodine balance is important for cattle fertility and for the growth of young animals.

According to our supplier, the Chinese have been buying up all the iodine available on the world market.  And the Japanese, apparently defensively, are putting their hands on all they can get, too.  Iodine, of course, has a number of commercial and industrial applications.

Because we could switch to kelp, which is dried seaweed, as a source of iodine, we were only momentarily disturbed.  But then, the very next day, we read in the Investors Business Daily that China for several years has clamped down on the export of rare earths.  These are minerals that are used in electronics, batteries and, yes, weapons.

China has about 97% of the world’s rare earth production.  Again, Japan and Korea are both buying up whatever they can.  The United States has no strategic stockpile of rare earths.  Or iodine.

So what is China up to?  In our earlier post we mentioned Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations“.   Smith maintained that countries had to control materials that were in their strategic interest.  Of course, he was worried about sail cloth back in 1776.  Is iodine this year’s sail cloth?

I don’t know.  But I do know a little about top soil and iodine, and I sometimes think our politicians are arguing about the wrong things.