Farmer asks us to help cure his herd

The Herd

This was several years ago when I first started working for my company.  The (former) owner, my boss and mentor, had received a very peculiar request and question from a local farmer – his herd had apparently gotten into some fertilizer/feedstock that contained a high amount of Copper, and as such, they were suffering from Copper Toxicity.

“Why had he contacted us in particular?” you may ask yourself.

I work for a company that produces various Molybdenum compounds and the farmer had heard through word-of-mouth that molybdenum is used to treat copper poisoning.

Conveniently enough, he had contacted exactly the man to speak to.

First of all, what is Molybdenum?

This part is brief, I promise you.  The periodic table knows it as Element 42 – Molybdenum.  It is among the densest metals and has one of the highest melting points.  It is also a micronutrient for plants (aids with nitrogen sequestration, in case you wanted to know) and also a micronutrient for mammals (aids with something… I’m not sure what).

We call it Moly for short (not to be confused with the other, more attractive, Molly).

How does it help the farmer?

Although not in immediate peril, the sheep are suffering from copper toxicity.  One of the easiest ways to dispel copper from the body is to use a form of molybdenum known as thiomolybdate.  The thiomolybdate essentially gives the roaming copper in your body a very tight, unlet-goable hug (chelation); at least ,that’s the same picture I described to my wife when I pretended to be the thiomolybdate and she the copper ion.

There’s just one problem with thiomolybdate: it is expensive to manufacture, you need a prescription from a pharmacy, and it comes in capsules, otherwise it will slowly decompose in the presence of oxygen.

What I learned about ruminant animals that day

We did some research.  Sheep are ruminant animals (that includes cows, goats, giraffes) and therefore they have a multi-chambered stomach.  Apparently, by the time the cud gets into the lower chambers of the stomach, it is pretty much an anaerobic environment.

If we could feed the sheep the right ingredients, it’s possible that the chemical reaction that forms the thiomolybdate would occur on its own!

Saved the day

You’re here to read about a successful mission and hear about everything that went right for us.  Sure enough, I pulled the chemicals we would need, they were all non-toxic, and mixed them in the right ratios.  We sent the material to the farmer, told him to mix it in with their regular feed, and wait.

We later received a hand-written letter from the farmer himself.  Within a day the sheep were better and back to normal.