When kept alone, animals can easily turn to eating tree barks and wood as a pass time

Jambo Dr Othieno. My cows have been eating cypress tree barks from last year. All my trees have been stripped of the barks. How can I know which minerals they are missing? I give them salts and mineral lick blocks but there is no change. Even the little calves are also eating tree barks. (naambiwa zimerogwa). I need a lasting solution to stop this habit. Thank you. [Elizabeth Koskei]

Thanks for reading the Smart Harvest. Yes, eating tree barks is a sign of a problem. There are three reasons that will push cattle to gnaw on tree barks. Witchcraft is not one of them though.

Boredom and loneliness

Cattle are herd animals; they are happy when in company of others. When kept alone, they can easily turn to eating tree barks and wood as a pass time. Boredom can come in when cattle are kept within small confinements that deny them space to jump around and when the said trees are in their vicinity. If your animals are in conferment consider letting them walk freely if you have enough space on your farm.

Mineral deficiency

Animals like human beings crave when they lack. Lack of enough calcium or phosphorus in the diet will result in eating tree barks or wooden posts. The other reason that has been documented is sudden change in feeds. Mineral deficiency may be suspected in your case because it seems the observation is in a number of animals within your herd. I guess they are feeding from the same pot.

What to do

Consider changing the mineral licks you are giving and see if there will be any change. Cattle that eat tree barks out of mineral deficiency will also eat wood. This can be dangerous though; especially when the wood has been preserved through chemical treatment or paint.

If the above measures do not work; go defensive. Do this by fencing the trees out of reach by the cattle. You can also smear cattle manure around the culprit trees. Placing mineral lick blocks near the culprit trees will act as a distraction.

Note that certain cypress barks are poisonous and may cause abortion although most species are harmless.

[The writer was the Vet of the Year Award winner and works in the Division of Communication and Vet Advisory Services within the Directorate of Veterinary Services]