Animal Health

Having worked as a rural veterinarian for over 30 years, Agraforum New Zealand’s founder Allan Piercy had observed a decline in animal health and reproductive performance in particular and the associated increases in costs to the farmer.

Over the course of a decade Allan’s research concluded it was due to a decline in the quality of the animals’ feed intake in terms of total mineral content availability and the imbalance of the protein to carbohydrate ratio in their diet. This, he realised, was directly related to poor soil health.

In summary, the primary cause of soil and plant health issues is insufficient oxygen in the soil, hindering the growth of essential aerobic microbes. This deficiency leads to poor electrical conductivity, impeding plant growth and nutrient uptake. While conventional fertilizers can temporarily address this, they often contribute to soil compaction and anaerobic conditions.

In the absence of calcium and phosphorus, plants compensate by absorbing excess potassium, diluting sugars, and providing inadequate nutrition for animals. Feeding animals a diet low in sugar, low in minerals, high in water content, and relatively high in protein creates an imbalance. Ruminant animals, reliant on microbial activity in their rumen, suffer health issues when fed such imbalanced diets, leading to subclinical rumen acidosis.

The imbalance in protein to carbohydrate ratio prompts inefficient energy conversion, producing ammonia gas and causing pH changes in the rumen. This can result in bacteria entering the bloodstream, causing issues such as acute lameness. Bacteria trapped in blood vessels may lead to long-term lameness, while those in the liver can form abscesses. The ammonia in the rumen affects the animal’s overall health, impacting growth and potentially causing embryonic death due to fluctuating blood pH.

“I have been involved in and helped pioneer the early diagnosis of dairy cow pregnancies at five weeks post mating. During the course of thousands of cows tested over many years being confirmed pregnant I observed large numbers of cows subsequently being diagnosed empty some months later when I knew they had been pregnant earlier. I also observed at the time of the early test that a number of cows had dead embryos still palpable. Over some years of observation, I was able to relate this phenomenon to when I also observed the cows to be very loose in their faeces and I came to relate this to the subclinical rumen acidosis they were currently suffering. Milk production was also seen to suffer. In New Zealand some experts say this doesn’t happen in New Zealand and it is a phenomime only seen overseas and that our cows are different and high MUN levels are not bad, encouraged even. They are in my experience, completely wrong.” Allan Piercy, rural vet.

At Agraforum, we believe the majority of the animal health and production failures we observe are directly related to the unhealthy state of the soil on many of our farms as well as the inappropriate use of some supplementary feeds and the over use of manufactured nitrogen fertiliser.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and by applying the scientific knowledge of how soil should be working and using only products that improve soil health, we can produce better quality feed that is a balanced diet for the rumen microbes that feed our grazing animals.