The Role of Soil Minerals in the Prevention of Bovine Tuberculosis

For years Field Science Ltd has understood the principle that healthy, properly fed livestock animals are less prone to disease than the average. We have also long understood the vital importance of major and trace elements in both the growing crop and the diet of livestock animals.

Late last year, we discovered that clients’ stock being reared on land that we had previously restored to trace element/mineral balance, had no incidence of Bovine TB. We do not believe in coincidence, indeed we believe that this is the logical outcome of our fundamental approach to mineral nutrition, unencumbered by vested interests who tend to dismiss anything that threatens sales of agrochemicals and synthetic fertilisers.


In the last century and particularly since World War 2, there has been a progressive intensification of agricultural production in the UK to meet the needs of an increasing population and, until recently, to achieve successive governments’ aims of food self-sufficiency. The industry has responded brilliantly, producing yields undreamed of even 50 years ago. As always however, there was a price to pay and in this case it has been paid by our most precious resource, the soil. We have stripped out soil nutrients at a greater rate than Nature can replace them through the natural weathering process. In addition we have unbalanced the medium by applying ferocious amounts of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. This action has created imbalances of mineral nutrients with acute deficiencies of some and excess amounts of others. The other downside has been the collateral destruction of many of the beneficial soil microbes. Ironically, the faster you kill the microbes, the more dependent on chemicals you become. This shows itself starkly when a hitherto intensive, conventional farm goes into organic conversion. Yields collapse because, despite the NPK status, there are insufficient remaining microbes and trace element reserves to support adequate plant growth and disease resistance.

In recent years the decline, particularly in selenium levels, seems to have accelerated in parallel with the increased use of ammonium fertiliser. We have now reached the point where both the animal and human food chains are gravely deficient, not only in selenium, but also cobalt, copper, boron, iodine, zinc and others. This can only be very detrimental to health, as we all need these elements to function properly. Going without them is like trying to run a petrol engine on low-grade fuel – it starts badly, it runs poorly with frequent breakdowns and it has a reduced life expectancy. Minerals and trace minerals are the building blocks of nutrition, but have been largely ignored for generations.

The Process
The Field Science treatment process starts with an in-depth discussion with the client to determine the recent history of the farm, any persistent livestock and/or crop disease and production problems experienced and the intended future direction of the business. Where it is not possible to treat the whole farm in one operation, areas of land are selected and soil is tested for a broad spectrum of mineral levels. Priority in the first instance is given to disease-prone, under-performing fields and areas where livestock do not thrive - i.e. those areas with the most acute problems.
Upon receipt of the laboratory analysis, we produce a detailed report for the client explaining the links between the mineral imbalances and the problems experienced. At the same time a tailored, restorative trace element dressing is formulated and costed. The type of soil and the level of farming intensity are taken into account to provide a fair estimate of the life of the dressing, which nevertheless, averages 3 years. At the same time we advise on the major nutrient status to allow adjustment where necessary.

TB and Trace Elements
Having established the direct link between a deficient supply of basic soil trace elements / mineral nutrients and a raised incidence of disease in both plants and animals, it becomes obvious that these mineral deficiencies depress the immune systems of all organisms dependent upon the affected land. Thus cattle with depressed immune systems share the impoverished land with other susceptible species such as badgers, deer and even, it seems, feral cats. In every case the poor supply of mineral nutrients is directly or indirectly the culprit. To give but one example; if earthworms, insects, snails, and all plants are severely deficient in selenium in a given area, then so is the entire food chain. (It is a matter of record that 85-90% of all UK soils are deficient in selenium.)

Preventive Medicine
It is always very difficult to promote preventive health measures in a free market economy, because the development of drugs to treat an established disease is a much more profitable enterprise than the prevention of its occurrence in the first place. In this case we believe there is no choice, as an effective vaccine for Bovine TB seems as far away as ever and there are no cures – that just leaves us with prevention. For prevention to work we have to remove the reservoirs of infection.

To shoot badgers is crude and ineffective, as it only invites probable re-infection from ‘outsider’ badgers moving in to claim the territory vacated by the culled animals. It may be true that badgers are currently too prolific, but that is another matter for separate consideration.
Accepting this and the fact that TB has always been known to strike hardest at the weak and infirm, transfer of M. bovis between species will therefore continue to be inevitable unless and until impoverished soils are restored to optimum nutritional status. At this point the improved immuno-competence of all affected species will greatly reduce the incidence of infection. In other words, the answer is the holistic approach in which we treat every susceptible animal in the local ecosystem by allowing the soil to deliver quality nutrition to the whole food chain.

Optimum nutrition is easier to achieve in sheep and beef suckler herds than in the case of dairy cattle. For the most part the modern dairy cow has been hybridised to the point where she is a highly stressed udder on (usually) four legs. She needs more than a grass-based diet to function and we recognise that in her case, not only is it imperative to optimise grass/silage quality, but also to apply a scientific approach to the mineral content of all additional rations fed. Infertility, mastitis and high cull rates are always in attendance and it requires great expertise and high input costs to keep them at bay. Because of this the dairy cow is more susceptible to TB than her beef counterpart.

Despite the fact that the Holstein type can be made to perform in the organic sector, we believe that farmers will be better served in the long term by returning to more traditional, longer lasting, low-input breeds. These perform well on grass, produce adequate milk, good replacements, beef crosses and saleable bull calves. Their fertility is also inherently better, they last much longer, and they need far less labour, pharmaceutical and veterinary input.
By virtue of being less stressed, these animals are, with our help, more likely to develop immune systems capable of fending off not only Bovine TB, but many of the other diseases and conditions currently affecting UK livestock.

Throughout the UK, feeding grass alone, we have been able to greatly improve lambing percentages, reduce mortality rates and finishing times, at the same time as reducing incidence of disease and lameness. Beef cattle gain weight faster on grass, dairy cows produce more milk, crop yields improve markedly and, in the case of conventional farmers, far less artificial fertiliser and fewer sprays are needed. The benefits of this technology far outweigh any gains from GMOs and, crucially, are free of any of the risks.

We believe that the appeal of organic produce can be much improved by demonstrating to the public that not only does organic food not suffer from chemical contamination, but also has the optimum mineral content to achieve better human health and immunity from the chronic diseases that bedevil us. Cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes are rare in areas where human nutrition is of the highest quality, not quantity. The public are better informed and more discerning these days and increasingly prepared to pay more for quality, but only when convinced of the benefits.


In conclusion, we believe that improved natural immunity to Bovine TB is but one of the many benefits to be derived from tailored mineral dressings as the basis for the principle of preventive medicine. When this technology becomes mainstream and the already proven benefits to crops and livestock are, in due course, passed on to the human population, it will give a huge boost to the economy. British agriculture will also gain a valuable quality edge over imports, improving both the rural economy and the balance of payments deficit.

If taxes also fall as a consequence of greater economic activity and diminishing demands on the NHS, then that will be a miracle indeed! .