Animal Nutrition: Guide On Using Salt In Livestock Feed

Salt as an essential commodity, not only to humans but animals and other living things. In animal nutrition, aside from catering for the 6 classes of nutrients required by livestock using different animal feed ingredients, salt in animal feed is needed to achieve a balanced nutrient profile. 

Animal feed supplements are substances added to animal feed to complement the nutrient composition of the feed. There are different supplements added to animal feed ingredients but the supplement of importance in this context is salt.Today, salt is one of the cheap and ubiquitous natural resources, it plays a remarkable role in nutrition, not only human nutrition as you may presume but also in animal nutrition.

In animal nutrition, the established facts about have been to add not more than 0.5 percent salt in all types of pig and poultry feed. This is apt and has been adopted to date, however, as researches toward animal nutrition progress, certain modifications have been made regarding the use of some ingredients and supplements, with salt inclusive.

Salt is used to balance the animal nutritional requirement for sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl). According to the National Research Council, these requirements vary between 0.10 to 0.25 percent in any diet for most species of poultry and pigs.

For instance, salt contains 39.5 percent of Na and 60.5 percent of Cl, then adding 0.5 percent salt in a diet provides about 0.20 percent Na and 0.30 percent Cl. It is evident, therefore, that the 0.5 percent salt rule of thumb was created to ensure diets contain enough sodium. The extra chlorine is being excreted through urination.

Roles salt plays in Livestock diet

Very briefly, sodium and chlorine are major electrolytes that contribute to the maintenance of cellular membrane electrochemical gradient (known as membrane potential).

They are also involved in the digestion (HCl in the stomach), absorption (Na) and transportation of nutrients from the intestines into the bloodstream. They also contribute to the maintenance of blood volume and pressure, and they participate in the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system.

It is apparent from this impressive list of functions that sodium and chlorine are absolutely vital for the organism and life itself.

Deficiency of salt in Livestock feed

Severe deficiency of sodium and chloride in animal feed leads to cerebral edema, seizures, coma, brain damage and eventually death.

A mild deficiency of sodium and chloride in animal feed is evident in the form of loss of productivity in all classes of animals. Today, a deficiency in salt is possible only when there is an error in the process of mixing the feed or during formulation.

This is not as rare as one might imagine as such errors happen without noticing until it is too late. In most cases, it is a matter of not adding enough salt, which then leads to suboptimal productivity and loss of profit.

Toxicity of salt as Livestock feed ingredients

On the other hand, animals can tolerate quite high concentrations of salt in their diets. Studies have demonstrated that growing pigs can tolerate up to 8 percent salt in their diets (that is 40 times higher than the required level). But to cope with such high levels of salt, and keep growing, they require ample quantities of non-saline water.

Otherwise, with limited water supply or with saline water, pigs cannot tolerate even 1 percent salt in their diets (that is twice their requirement). Salt for chickens feed inclusion must be done with caution; Poultry is not so flexible in their salt tolerance, especially layers as it affects their egg quality.

Effects of Saline water on salt availability

In many regions of the world, the only available water supply for consumption by animals is saline. Coastal water may contain up to 200 mg/L Na, or even more in some extreme cases. In such cases, this fact must be taken into account when formulating diets.

This is done by reducing proportionately the salt in feed and (or) avoiding ingredients rich in salt (for example, fishmeal, whey, blood products, etc.). Otherwise, animals enter into a futile circle of trying to detoxify excess salt by using saline water, only making salt toxicity a chronic, subclinical condition.

In mild cases, mild diarrhea may appear and remain persistent as long as the problem continues due to a disruption of the anion-cation balance. In severe cases, salt poisoning ensues, tantamount to trying to quench your thirst by drinking sea water.

Practical considerations on salt inclusion in the Livestock diet

Newly-born or hatched animals offered diets rich in sodium and chlorine may be at risk of salt toxicity if they do not know how to operate drinkers. To this end, cup drinkers usually offer an advantage over nipple-type drinkers. Otherwise, letting nipples dribble for the first couple of days will ensure animals recognize the source of water.

Assuming a mild salt toxicosis can be avoided (as described above), salt can be a very inexpensive growth-promoting additive in diets for all classes of animals as it improves palatability. Of course, where animals are predisposed to diarrheas, excess salt will contribute to soft stools, which if not of pathological origin should not hamper growth and productivity.

Feeding sufficient salt to breeding animals is important to satisfy the needs of limit-fed gestating sows and enhance the palatability of feed for lactating sows. In contrast, layers should be fed enough salt to cover the Cl needs, and then, an additional source of Na, free of Cl, to meet their Na requirements.

Feed ingredients that rich in salt

Ingredients rich in sodium and chloride are fishmeal, whey and derivatives, and blood products. In fact, the combination of these ingredients in expensive diets usually exceeds requirements for sodium and chlorine.

This makes it essential for young animals (piglets and broilers) to have access to non-saline water when fed diets based on such ingredients. In fact, when saline water is the only source of water available, such ingredients should be avoided completely.

The plasma may contain up to 5 percent Na and 2 percent Cl, whereas fishmeal contains no more than 1 percent of each nutrient. Similarly, meat meal contains about the same concentration of salt as fish meal, and this should be taken into consideration where this ingredient is allowed in animal diets.

On the other hand, another commonly used ingredient (nowadays even in early broiler super starter feeds), whey contains about 1 percent Na and 1.5 percent Cl. Delactosed whey (mainly a protein source) and other whey products (mainly lactose) contain even higher levels depending on the degree of protein and ash concentration achieved during the removal of components.


Salt remains a very significant ingredient because sodium and chlorine are vital for life and productivity. Salt is the cheapest available source for these two nutrients. For areas suffering from lack of non-saline water, the issue of salt in animal diets is an important one. A correct balance of salt intake through water and feed can enhance productivity and reduce diarrheas.

Culled from: Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ph.D., is an animal nutrition industry consultant. To contact Mavromichalis, email [email protected].

2 thoughts on “Animal Nutrition: Guide On Using Salt In Livestock Feed”

  1. Animal feeds are specialized foods that keep domesticated animals healthy and improve the quality of their products. Each type of animal has its own animal feed category, which contains all of the needed nutrients for its health. Thanks!

  2. You got my attention when you said that sodium and chlorine are vital for life and productivity, so salt remains a very significant ingredient. My father is planning to care for sheep, cattle, and other livestock. He said that maybe it is time for him to utilize the farm that his late father gave to him. I will ask him to consider shopping for salt blocks as he needs to feed his livestock properly.


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