Can Animals Detect Mineral Deficiencies?

If you’ve ever seen your animals eating soil, bones, feces or other unusual items, you probably took this as an indication that they may have a mineral imbalance. Yet many animal nutritionists will tell you, based on past studies, that ruminants are incapable of eating minerals in correct amounts to prevent or correct mineral deficiencies. But now we have new information. As our understanding of how animals choose what to eat has grown, we've been able to improve our experiments, adjusting them to take into account how animals learn about the foods they are eating. One important change we made is allowing animals the opportunity to pair the flavor of a mineral with their recovery from a deficit of that mineral. The results of working with how animals learn shows us that yes, animals can detect their own mineral deficiencies and they will choose what to eat to get rid of the deficiency. We have several studies by Utah State University's Juan Villalba to thank for this new information. Juan looked at calcium and phosphorus deficiencies in lambs. In the first study, lambs avoided phosphorus (P) when it was fed in excess, and increased their preference for it when they were deficient in it. In another study, sheep on phosphorus-deficient diet increased intake of a Phosphorus supplement when they had a choice

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