In this week’s episode of Microbes, Minerals, and Mindsets, Caterina Platt, of Los Lunas, New Mexico, shares insights gained during 10 years raising and showing sheep and goats. Diet and mineral supplements are important for raising champions. This year, Caterina will be settting up feeding experiments to evaluate the effects of adding mineral rich humates to her feed and forage routine. You can hear the details in her podcast below.
Humates Offer Rich Sources of Bioavailable Minerals
Humates include humic acids, fulvic acids, and humins. These carbon based compounds are commonly found in rich, biologically active organic soils, pond sediments, and humic shale deposits. Humic shale deposits are typically formed from the remains of ancient (as in prehistoric) forests. The chemical structures of humates involve complex, carbon dominated groups of aromatic rings and chains, bound to enough polar side groups to make them attractive binding sites for mineral elements and soil microbes. Thought to be synthesized by soil fungi, these black-to-yellow substances are the keystone of rich, organic soils. They associate with other soil particles in ways that improve soil structure, optimizing the amount of air and water available within the soil.
Because the minerals bound by humates typically originate in plants and microbes, they are usually chelated-meaning the metal ions are embedded in organic molecules that make them simultaneously more bioavailable and less toxic than inorganic mineral nutrients. For this reason, humates are popular in soil conditioners, animal feed, and even human dietary supplements.
Not All Humates are the Same
Because humates bind mineral nutrients, they are common soil, feed, and supplement additives with a long history of use. However, not all humates are the same. Fulvic acids, the smallest molecules within the class, are water soluble, and yellow in color. Humic acids are insoluble, and black in color. If you are adding commercial humates to your soils or feeds, ask for an analysis of the minerals they contain, and ask for details about how they are processed. Avoid brands that offer humates extracted with any chemical solvent that you would not consume directly. Harsh solvents may alter the molecular structure of the humic acids and remove valuable mineral chelates.
Can Humates Contain Toxic Metals?
Quite frankly, Yes. They can. As Caterina Platt noted in her podcast interview, humic acids may contain copper, and copper in high doses is toxic. However, in low doses, copper is essential for life.
What is there that is not poison? All things are poison and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.
This relationship between dose and response is a fundamental principle of toxicology (the science of poisons). Because everything is toxic at some dose, those substances we consider highly toxic, like arsenic, are simply substances that are toxic at very low levels. Substances we consider moderately toxic, like alcoholic beverages, can be consumed in small to moderate doses with no ill effects, and substances like, say, french fries at the fast food restaurant, that we don’t typically label as toxic, can be safely consumed at for a while before toxic symptoms are evident.
Humic acids are known to contain traces of many of earth’s elements, including even highly toxic metals like lead and arsenic! Because these elements occur naturally on earth, they can also be found in soils. Amounts will vary, depending on where the humates (or soils) originated, and what they have been exposed to. Reputable vendors of humic and fulvic acids will test their products regularly to verify the amounts of trace metals and other elements they contain.
How Do I Know I am Purchasing My Humic Acids from a Safe Source?
Fortunately, in most humic acids, toxins that may exist are present in very low doses. Because humates form in healthy ecosystems, high levels of toxic substances are simply rare. And because the metals found in humates generally occur as biologically derived chelates, they have already been enzymatically modified by living plants or microbes in ways that make them less toxic than their inorganic counterparts. The enzymes that chelate the minerals evolved across millenia to ensure that cells exposed to elements in the environment are not damaged by those elements.
Nonetheless, both natural and industrial processes are prone to variations, and never say never is a wise precaution. If you are planning to use humates as a soil amendment, a feed additive, or a human supplement, it is a good idea to ask your distributor how the products are produced and analyzed.
Mineral Analyses Of Humate Sources Help Ensure Quality.
In the above podcast, Caterina Platt expresses concern about copper levels while discussing her plans to use Bloomin Minerals and Plant Derived Minerals available through her Youngevity site. Since sheep are particularly sensitive to copper, she wanted to ensure that copper levels fell below 15 ppm. To address this and other quality concerns, we needed to go to the source, and learn how much copper was present. Like any reputable distributor of humic substances, Youngevity was able to provide the results of laboratory tests that reveal what is in their humates.
By talking to representatives of the company and downloading their trace mineral analysis (see the button below), we were able to verify that the Bloomin Minerals, which is labeled as a soil conditioner, and the Plant Derived Minerals, which is labeled for human consumption, come from a humic shale mine in Utah that is known for a particularly rich blend of biologically derived trace minerals. On the company’s annual mine tour, Richard Renton, from Youngevity’s Scientific Board, explains that the shale is removed from the mine, mechanically ground, and extracted only with water to produce the fulvic mineral solutions sold as Plant Derived Minerals. Unextracted shale is also ground and sold as Bloomin Minerals granules, or ground and suspended in water to provide Bloomin Minerals liquid. The result-products that are chemically and structurally identical to the naturally occuring humates found in rich organic soils.
Because the source company, Youngevity, keeps data regarding the mineral content of their humates, we were able to verify that copper amounts in both products are well below the safe zone, at only 0.11 ppm. By the time you dilute the humates in feed, levels will fall to somewhere between 2-3 parts per billion! You can access a typical analysis of Youngevity’s mineral source from the button below.
What do Humates Contribute to Livestock Feed?
Trace minerals are commonly missing from farmed feed and forage, because growers typically focus on replacing the macronutrients identified by USDA as essential to complete fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Other elements are only added when deficiencies are detected. Furthermore, pesticides and other chemicals used on feed and forage crops can interfere with a plants ability to absorb trace elements from the soil. When feed crops are low in nutrients, animal health may suffer.
Humates in feed can replace missing minerals. They are also thought to improve absorption of feed nutrients, and have even been shown to boost livestock immune systems.
When are Youngevity Minerals a Good Choice for Livestock
No doubt, there are many quality humic and fulvic acids on the market, including products mined or developed here in New Mexico. There are also some very bad products on the market, so finding a company that is transparent enough to share how their products are mined and processed, and what minerals they contain is important. As evident above, Youngevity offers a level of transparency via printed analysis sheets and annual mine tours.
Youngevity’s minerals offer good options for feeding livestock when one or more of the following factors are present:
1-You realize your current forage or feed program is lacking important trace minerals. (Protocols for using Bloomin Minerals or liquid fulvic minerals (Plant Derived Minerals) on forage crops and/or in feed and water are available on request. Send us a message requesting details.
2-Your current feed supplier cannot provide convincing information about the sources of humates and/or trace elements in your feed. If you are not certain that your feed contains adequate levels of Zn, Mn, Mo, Co, Cu, Mo and other trace elements, it is time to consider added minerals.
While hobby farmers and gardeners will likely do well using the products available through the website, large volume containers are available for producers. At the time of this writing, OMRI certification and labeling of these products are being updated. Contact us or talk to any YGY Extension Team member for details.