We had to buy hay again this year, and due to its low quality, it is more important than usual that our livestock have access to high quality palatable mineral — we buy Cargill brand — and free-choice cobalt loose Windsor or Sifto brand salt to maintain their health.
The first step was to figure out how much our animals needed and whether they were consuming enough to meet their needs. We consulted with an animal nutritionist who studied our labels and determined that two ounces a day per animal would be sufficient consumption of the brand we have been using. We then weighed the mineral we were feeding and monitored how long it took for a specific number of cows to eat it. This technique will also work for our goats and sheep. We were pleased that the brand we were using was in fact palatable and we didn’t have to go shopping for a new one.
The next step was to find a feeder that would provide the least amount of waste possible at the least cost. With the ever-increasing prices of the minerals and salts, waste is a problem, but we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on feeders either. We have tried many feeders over the years and have settled on these simple ones for our cattle, sheep and goats.
We have seen many ready-made styles of cow mineral/salt feeders advertised for sale at the livestock supply stores, but they are always expensive. The best feeder to date for our cattle is the simple box style ones that sit on the ground. In summer we use them for salt blocks, so we drill holes in the bottom for water to run out. We found the trick to keeping the cows from flipping the box was to make the sides out of heavy pieces of scrap lumber to give them weight. It is also important to not make the box too wide. If the cows cannot reach from one side to the other it encourages them to try and walk onto the feeder. We also don’t put out more mineral and salt than the cows will clean up in a couple of days. Our cows won’t eat mineral and salt that has gotten wet and cakes in the boxes.
The best part of making this style of feeder is that they are virtually free and they save us money on mineral and salt losses.
For the sheep and goats sometimes simply putting mineral in a three-gallon plastic bucket works for a small number of them. If that is acceptable, then we drill holes in the bucket, thread a baling twine through, then tie it to a fence post. Again we don’t keep more than a few days mineral or salt out at a time to try and save on waste. If we need to supply a bigger number — more than 10 — we prefer to use a wooden feeder that can be mounted.
We found plans for our favourite one, which is in need of a few repairs, in Sara Emonds Meat Goats book. To order a copy, go to and click on Store. These feeders work equally well for goats or sheep. We have found though that the goats tend to get their feet into the mineral more if they are mounted at nose level whereas the sheep just lick the minerals. For the goats we mount them higher with a length of 4X4 as a step for them to stand on and access the trough area. Then they don’t climb on the feeders.
Another salt and mineral feeder that is very popular in meat goatherds in the United States and very simple to make is a PVC pipe one. (See the diagram.) They can easily be attached to a barn wall or fence post with plumbers strapping or baling twine. In order to eat the minerals out of the feeder, the goats have to stick their muzzle in the open end of the “Y” to get to the minerals. The breeders that we know that are using them have had no more problems with urine or feces in their minerals or salt and since it isn’t rained on, it lasts a lot longer.
The height of the pipe “C” can be changed to suit the area that the feeder will be used in. Build the feeder according to the diagram, using three-inch PVC pipe. Cement a 12-inch piece of pipe to the “Y.” Caps are not glued on so you can remove them for filling and cleaning. To make the caps removable yet held in place, first place the caps in position then drill a 1/8-inch hole through each cap and continue on through the pipe underneath. Then place a cotter pin in the hole. It’s best to do this in an inconspicuous place (way around the side or at the back). Goats are very curious and will pull the pin out It costs about $20 to make this PVC mineral feeder for goats and sheep.