Calves in sandpit enjoying a natural earth lick.
There is actually a term for eating the earth, geophagia (geo = earth; phagia = eating). So what are the health benefits?
- Clay absorbs toxins
This article from Answers covers more topics than geophagia, scroll down to the section “Eating Dirt” for a little further reading.
Our pastures contain remnants of past glacier activity in this part of Nebraska. As the glaciers receded, sand, gravel and boulders were deposited across our farm. The exposed “sand pit” the calves are visiting in the photo above has very fine sand with clay. We have a few of these open sand areas across the farm where the vegetation is sparse. When the cattle move into these areas they take advantage of the naturally available minerals and clay.
Momma cow cleaning “dirt” off her calf.
As you can imagine, we and the cows, prefer vegetative cover and not bare soil patches in our pastures. Since the majority of our pastures are covered with grass, we can count on the local badger population to create small exposed earth patches all across the farm. When our herd encounters these badger earth piles, they will paw, scratch and lick the earth. During fly season the cattle will use their hooves to throw the “dirt” onto their bellies and backs as fly repellant.
In addition we offer clay as part of our mineral program to allow animals to self medicate when bare earth is not available. A quick search of the internet will give you ideas on how to add clay to your medicine cabinet also.
Please leave a comment if you have experience with the health benefits of clay as part of your diet.
We moved to our current location with access to pasture in 1997. We thought about getting some cows but the idea of raising commodity beef just didn’t seem appealing. Attending the 2002 Nebraska Grazing Conference, I had the chance to hear some outside of the box presentations concerning cattle production. Here were some ideas that did sound appealing, raising livestock in a manner that was beneficial to the land, animals, community and pocket book.
As we investigated cattle production my health took a turn for the worse with acid reflux bouts. Digestive health complications are a huge problem in this country. Researching cattle production and health issues at the same time resulted in some interesting paths crossing. If the plants and meat you consume were raised on healthy soil, you too will be healthy.
A number of things fell into place for us to make a start:
- available underutilized land
- desire to raise cattle
- a new understanding of managing cattle in a sustainable manner
- calling to produce healthy food for ourselves and community
We are on a journey to improve soil and forages that will result in producing healthy animals adapted to this place and our management. Just like a fine wine is specific to a certain vineyard, we are creating gourmet grass-fed beef unique to our farm.
Please share your experiences on starting a new adventure.