Mineral Deficiencies

Curly & Mow Recovered and Leaving our Farm

The photo above is very remarkable. The fine pigs above didn’t look so fine as grower pigs. After weaning they contracted white muscle disease. What they were specifically missing was selenium. A lack of selenium can cause the curly coat shown in the photo below and other symptoms that can lead to death.

Curly & Mow showing Classic Hair Curl of Mineral Deficiency

Our soils are rich in minerals, including selenium. Soils from the valley lands further down the water shed have had the selenium washed out so they are low in selenium. I didn’t know this and nobody talks about selenium deficiency in pigs since most pigs are raised on commercial feeds. Because our pigs get our soil during the nine warmer months of the year they are fine then.

Once we started farrowing year round we began seeing some mysterious deaths at weaning. The veterinarians had no clue as to what was going on. It was Curly’s curly coat and a lot of research on the internet plus necropsies I did on the dead pigs and the observation of these pigs getting better once they got access to our own home soil that led me to the answer. They were missing selenium. The hay we got from other farms were down valley and low in selenium. Simply shoveling the dirt to the pigs solved the problem.

Fortunately they got into one of my warm frames for gardening in the garden and got some of our good dirt which contains all the minerals they needed.


1) Get your soil tested so you know what it might be lacking.

2) Get your feed, e.g., hay in our case, tested so you know what it might be lacking.

3) Learn to recognize the symptoms of mineral deficiencies.

4) Consider feeding a mineral supplement if your soils don’t have what it takes. Kelp meal is an organic, all natural form that many farmers are using. I find that about three teaspoons per hundred weight of pig per day is plenty – less is probably fine since they’ll get some minerals from other sources. Do not free feed the kelp due to the salt content – too much salt can kill pigs. This is why you should not feed sheep, goat, cattle or horse minerals to pigs. We put it into our whey tanks and you can also spread it over dry feed.

Update: While our soil tests out as complete with minerals I have discovered over the years that I get about one more piglet per litter if I feed a little bit of kelp. It doesn’t take much. About 1/4 oz of kelp per hundred weight of pig per day is sufficient to make the difference. Several times that doesn’t hurt. That’s only about 1¢ per hundred weight of pig per day. It is most important for gestating sows and young pigs. This can be added to their whey, water or feed. If I don’t have kelp human pregnancy vitamins also work. Kelp is cheaper and I prefer that.

What I have done for years is to dig up soil and store it in five gallon pails to feed to the pigs over the winter. Additionally, during the course of the winter, as I move large bales of hay around I grab a shovel full of dirt from under the bales since it isn’t frozen. I toss this to the pigs in their various winter paddocks. They love it. A shovel full a week keeps the mortician away.

It is the weaner and grower pigs who are especially susceptible to this issue. They are growing rapidly and don’t have the reserves. Those born in winter are at the greatest risk. A lack of minerals can cause sudden death at weaning.

Next comes gestating sows as their fetuses need a full complement of minerals and vitamins for proper development. Older pigs fair better up on the snow pack where they can’t get to the soil as they have reserves but they still likely benefit from kelp.

Update 20150713: Speaking of litter size and nutrition I have found in an accidental controlled study (looking back through my records) that sows who are getting a small amount of kelp in their diet are having an average of one more piglet per litter than sows who did not have the kelp in their diet. It was in the second half of gestation that this seemed critical. I have not yet had a chance to fine tune this with a planned controlled study – this is just from reviewing my last year’s worth of data for multiple groups some of which got kelp and others who did not.

Some sows ended up in both data sets and the kelp remained the controlling factor. This is across our genetic lines (Yorkshire, Berkshire, Large Black, Tamworth, Mainline, Blackieline, Redline (not Tamworth and I really should rename them Mahogany line or something as they look nearly black as adults – that would avoid confusion)).

Kelp is cheap. About 1.5 extra piglets a year across our entire set of herds pays for enough kelp to supplement all 400 pigs. We started feeding it because our winter hay comes from a farm low in selenium. We have plenty of selenium and iron as well as other minerals in our farm’s soil but in winter we’re up on deep snow pack and using hay from down valley where their soil has less minerals in it.

If you have no other way of dealing with mineral deficiency consider feeding the animals a human vitamin. In a pinch it may save their lives and it is better than nothing.

Sometimes it is the little things, the trace minerals, that matter.

Outdoors: 58°F/30°F Sunny
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Daily Spark: Predators have an advantage: they only have to win once. Prey must win every time to stay alive. -WillJ

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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22 Responses to Mineral Deficiencies

  1. Karl says:

    we fed kelp to all of our animals. cows, chickens, sheep, pigs, dogs and cats. it is like a tasty chewable multi-vitamin with minerals. The deficiency in the Ozarks is magnesium.


  2. Walter, Thanks for this post. Interesting and fascinating pictures of a disease I’ve only heard about.

  3. Louise says:

    Hi Walter,

    I’m very grateful for all the information you provide. Thank you! We raised our first pigs last year and your webpage was a tremendous help.

    I’m wondering if, in addition to the soil you provide the pigs, do you give them any other vitamins? Or are you able to keep their diet sufficiently balanced with the variety you provide, so additional vitamins / minerals are not needed?

    Thanks so much,


    • I’ve experimented with human vitamins, mineral mixes and kelp. Those can make the difference for a weak animal. For the healthy animals they have offer help. We’re just trying the kelp now as this winter’s experiment. Again, it is mostly for the already weaker ones that it makes the biggest difference. In the summer it isn’t needed at all so I suspect the soil and plants are enough. What I really need to do is setup several groups, including a control, and feed them specific diets. I would want to do a minimum of 100 animals in each group ideally. Right now I don’t have the time to do it this vigorously.

  4. Sara says:

    Walter – Thanks for all the info you share! My husband and I currently raise pigs on a much smaller scale than you do both for ourselves and for sale. We have access to waste produce (which varies daily – from lettuce/other greens, to bananas, to pineapple, to eggplant, etc.) and some outdated milk. Our pigs are on pasture, but it is not great pasture since we are still clearing and making more pastures on our northern NY farm. The pigs get hay in addition to the produce, milk and occasional baked good. We do supplement with purchased pig feed when we don’t have anything but the hay for them. We’ve really enjoyed this process and especially eating the meat that we raise as we find it much more delicious than other pork we have had in the past. We would like to increase our herd somewhat (5-6 sows instead of 2), and want to make sure we have a good feeding plan in place. We want to keep feeding the large variety of foods, however our supply will remain the same while our herd grows, so we have been discussing feeding oat haylage as an option. Do you have any info that you can share about this? Also, is there a good place to look for more ideas (other than your blog?) – we haven’t been able to find a reliable source of whey, and most of the books I have used are more focused on large commercially grain fed operations. Thanks so much!

    • Plant legumes in your fields – e.g., alfalfa and clovers. Simply over seeding works well for us. This increases the protein value of the pasture and the digestibility.

      We also plant kale, rape, beets and turnips out in the fields. The pigs tend to eat the tops during the warm months and then when the fields wane the pigs eat the tubers, leaving enough that they come up again the next year in many cases.

      We also plant pumpkins, sunflowers, squash and cole crops in our winter paddocks. These provide excellent late fall and winter feed.

      See: Kale & Rape.

      For another sources of pasture raising of pigs try this discussion group:


  5. Scott Zuiderveen says:

    Hi Walter,
    We’ve started raising pigs in addition to our cattle and have about 6 acres dedicated to rotating the pigs around in. This latest herd of feeder pigs I’m hoping go to nearly all pasture. I’ve been reading your blogs and posts for months with a lot of good info to support this. We reside in the Smoky Mountains so my pastures are probably where yours were years ago with thin, rocky, steep pastures. I’m going to assume they are not the highest quality and in time I’ll get the alfalfa and clover percentages up. My only problem is I don’t have any good source of protein like dairy products, bread or old veggies so I’m afraid I’m limited to corn and grain to supplement their diet. I’ve read that a pig will eat 4-5% of their body weight daily and 90% of it can be hay and grass. Is feeding 10% of their diet in grain probably better than not feeding any supplemental feed at all? I realize they can be on 100% pasture but with limited pasture quality I’m just not sure I can do that. Plus I don’t want to raise them forever to get them to market.
    Thanks for the great info.

    • You can do pigs purely on pasture if you have decent pasture. They will grow more slowly since pasture is low on lysine and calories. See Pigs for some discussion and follow the links there and also on the Feed link in the tag cloud in the right side bar. There are additional sources of lysine and other important amino-acids such as pumpkins and many things you can plant in the pastures.

      I strongly suggest boosting the legumes, alfalfa and clovers. There are many varieties that thrive in different climates. Look at what other forages you can plant. We grow kale, rape, turnips, beets, sunflowers, squash and pumpkins among other things to add to the raw pasture. Apples, pears and several types of nuts are other things we have. Survey what you already have in the pastures and then what is needed to augment it.

      If you can get dairy, it offers lysine and calories. There may be other things you can find. Other good foods that are discarded that you can recycle and keep from sliding down the chaos slope.

  6. Orrin Murdoch says:

    Hi Walter,
    With Curly and Mow did you simply offer some kelp meal or soil or have to something more intensive?

  7. Linda says:

    Do you think diatomaceous earth would be a good mineral and selenium supplement?

  8. Farmerbob1 says:

    Walter, I’m curious if you ever did a more detailed study of kelp improving sow litter size?

  9. james says:

    do you know where we can but; sodium selenite or sodium selenite?

  10. Heather Stegman says:

    do pigs not self limit when it comes to considering offering free choice kelp? I was just wondering because we have it free choice in every other animal group :)
    thank you

    • No, they won’t self-limit feed soon enough so free fed kelp can kill them. Don’t offer it free fed. Pigs are sensitive to salt. Excess salt in their diet, especially if fresh water becomes temporarily limited, can kill pigs – it’s called salt sickness.

  11. Paul Slomp says:

    Hello Walter,

    Thanks so much for your amazing blog. I have been following it for years and you’ve given me the courage to raise finishing pigs on pasture with a mainly whey diet as well.

    About 5 days ago, I turned a fresh batch of pigs (all about 3 months old) out on pasture. This afternoon I noticed that about half of my pigs were doing a move that I have never seen before, where they would be standing or walking and then suddenly their shoulders would drop and their bellies would touch the ground and their hips would slump (like a wave going through the spine) and then they would stand upright again. I uploaded a video of it here https://youtu.be/1HGwUtudJ8E . All the pigs seem lethargic, and they hardly touched the pasture I gave them today, although they finished their whey and grain.

    Would you have any ideas as to what this might be? Any thoughts would be welcome.

    • Interesting. Almost like hiccups. Could be a similar nervous system error. Reboot. It is likely a recessive gene in that case and I would cull all of them to meat. They may well grow fine to finisher size. If not then cull out at roaster sizes. If this is what it is then the sire and dam both carry a copy and you should consider culling them too. Trace route the genes.

      • Paul Slomp says:

        It turned out to be dippity pig syndrome (although we did not have fluid seeping out of their backs) caused by the stress of being outside for the first time, a change in diet, and exposure to the sun. It went away in a few days.

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