Ask the Vet

Secrets of Old Cattlemen

Ever wonder why dad or grandpa did some of the herd management things he did? (GettyImages)

Question:

I am 92 years old and started feeding cattle in the mid-30s. We would buy about 100 calves and pasture them until we put them on a self-feeder to finish. Every 10 to 14 days, my father would bring five gallons of clay from a hillside, and the calves would lick and eat on it. I am not sure what was in the clay, but we sold a lot of fat cattle.

Answer:

Journalist Tom Brokaw dubbed you and yours "The Greatest Generation." Your handwritten letter at 92 was a reminder of what good penmanship looks like! We owe folks like you a huge debt of gratitude for building this great nation.

To your comment: I suspect this clay was a type of bentonite or montmorillonite, usually formed from weathered volcanic ash and common in the Great Plains. There are various types of bentonite based on the dominant element in the clay.

Legend has it that farmers turned out sick cows who ate the clay and were cured, so they started bringing the miracle clay to feed their livestock. It does contain many minerals that livestock need, and to this day, many believe it has amazing, curative properties. Since it does not naturally occur in my area of the country, I have never had any experience feeding it but have used a type of it to stop leaking farm pond dams.

(VM/CZ)