Rise in Pica cases in cattle - Nantglas

A discussion group in South Wales raised concerns when they noticed an increase in Pica cases, which is linked to mineral deficiencies (sodium and phosphorus) and/or lack of structural fibre causing cows to ingest stones and soils to increase mineral intake, which can be fatal. Unfortunately, there is minimal research into the condition and treatment.

A number of farming businesses have raised concerns reporting their herds are suffering similar cases which suggests that herds are affected all around the country. 

Rupert Sheppard, a veterinarian at Carmarthen ProStock Vets said, “the very wet weather over the winter looks to have resulted in soils losing nutrients (phosphorus) due to leaching. This was exacerbated by the cold soil temperatures that we had later on, prior to the long dry spell, further reducing phosphorus uptake into the grass - a perfect combination to trigger Pica this year”. 

At Nantglas, one of Farming Connect’s dairy demonstration sites in Carmarthenshire, farmer Iwan has introduced higher phosphorus rates in the concentrate feed and added a phosphorus supplement to the water troughs in an attempt to reduce Pica incidences, but the condition is very tricky to manage and a couple of cattle were operated on to remove stony blockages. In some cases, it is believed that cattle continue to ingest stones even once the deficiency has been adequately supplemented due to cattle forming a habit. However, this is difficult to prove.

Where cows are receiving adequate phosphorus in their diet and adequate phosphorus levels are present in the soil, Pica can also be secondary to low dietary fibre in cow diets following rapid grass growth. Cattle receiving low fibre diets can result in acidosis due to decreased ‘cudding’ and buffering from saliva, which results in a  reduction in overall feed intake and consequently milk production and reduced milk fats due to the change in fatty acid balance. Pica can also be caused by increased sugars in high quality grass. Rebalancing the diet by ensuring cattle have access to long fibre such as straw or stemmy silage may help reduce pica. 

Kate Burnby, an independent veterinarian working on one of our demonstration sites, says that deaths are unusual as early observations of cows licking the side of cow tracks can be an early indication. However, if cows ingest too much foreign material, it can lead to severe gut blockage and death.

If you have any concerns with your herd, contact your vet for advice and in order to possibly take blood samples. You could also contact your herd nutritionist to take grass samples to ensure there is adequate phosphorus in the forage.