A recent article by reporter Debbie James, herself a farmer's daughter, reported on the case of a Carmarthenshire dairy farmer having already lost two milking cows, apparently these were found to have eaten quantities of stones.

The report goes on to say that the heavy winter rains had washed out all nutrients from the top soils, and that this was possibly the cause. It's also likely that the pastures are too compacted so that daily rain cannot penetrate and so most rainwater runs off the surfaces, causing the recent flash floods, which are also a relatively new phenomenon.

During this last month I have also become aware of several such cases all over south and mid Wales. The farmers concerned are rather reluctant to discuss the matter publicly, but I am sure that if this condition is allowed to become pandemic the financial consequences will eventually result in total disaster.

The picture with the article shows a the cows looking very well, their coats are shining and they seem very well fed, perhaps too well. To me personally, they seem very full, which suggests that the animals are overeating.

Usually cows will over eat only when they are desperate and looking for something they know they need urgently, but is not included in their daily ration.

Correct this, and they will very soon eat less, without any drop in production.

A cow will usually tell its owner if she is overeating by grunting rather vigorously while lying down chewing her cud.

Most certainly the problem stems from the soil. To prove this all the farmer needs to do is to offer his cows some virgin soil that has not yet been contaminated by modern farming methods.

Sadly, today he will only find this pure soil deep in the centre of a wide hedge, that has been there since the hedge was erected long ago at the time of the Enclosure Acts.

Seriously, I suggest farmers offer this soil and watch the animals reactions. I would advise to riddle this to remove any stones beforehand.

I know of cases as much as 50 years apart where cows too weak to stand have recovered and gone on to milk again. When you see your cows eating this virgin soil eagerly, they are also telling their owner, in the only way they can, that something is going radically wrong lately in the farming world.

To give you confidence in this idea, I know that leading vets in the horse world offer turves of soil to sickly but extremely expensive racehorses! And they also eat it all.

I also know farmers who offer the same soil daily to young calves.

I will be especially surprised if any farmer can come back and tell me his cows have refused to eat this pure fresh soil.

If farmers will take the trouble to do this, I am sure it will give them confidence to do more investigations like analysing etc.

If the worst comes to the worst, they can crush one of the innocent but offending stones and get it analysed. If so don’t crush it too fine, as this would be over-processing, this action in itself always reduces the initial goodness of all foodstuffs due to natural evaporation.

The most likely cause will be found to be that farmers tend to overdo the feeding of minerals which are macro nutrients. Even these are only needed sparingly.

On the other hand we tend to ignore the micro elements that are known as trace elements only needed in minute quantities.

When these are present in the animals', diet they will then eat rather less food as these keep them satisfied.

I have written about all this and much more in a book titled 'Farming for Better Profitability', this is available in bookshops that deal with the Welsh Books Council, or by telephoning direct to 01994 240059.

W John Davies