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Why You Might be Over/Under Supplementing Trace Minerals in Your Cow Herd

By Dr. Jeff Hill, Product Manager and Ruminant Nutritionist for Ralco

The topic of trace minerals can be daunting to many and is still debated and researched in the academic arena. The fact that trace minerals are needed is well established, however there is still much discussion around the exact levels required and how chemical form can influence these levels. In general, trace minerals are needed in very small amounts in the diet (ppm) which equates to mere milligrams per day. Because the amounts are small, they can easily be overlooked, and in fact, often over supplemented.

There are eight trace minerals required by cattle: Cobalt, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Selenium and Zinc. Requirements for these minerals have been established by the National Research Council (NRC), and have remained fairly constant over the years. Trace minerals are involved in practically every function in the body, from bone and tissue growth to energy and protein metabolism, immunity and reproduction, just to name a few. Because of the relatively small amounts required, special attention must be exercised to ensure both deficiencies and excess do not limit the animal’s production or health, especially during stress events and the use of performance technologies.

Cattle can experience significant stressors throughout their life, including disease challenges and transportation stress. Stress induced by transit or disease can lead to body weight loss, increased acute phase proteins, increased oxidative stress, and increased trace mineral excretion. These stressors result in potential scenarios where additional attention to trace mineral levels and perhaps source is necessary.

Additionally, the effect of growth promoting technologies commonly used in conventional beef production such as ionophores and various implant technologies have not been considered relative to trace mineral requirements. These technologies can result in increased animal performance and possibly increased requirements. It is common for consulting nutritionists to over formulate trace minerals 125% to 300% over NRC levels in certain situations.

The bioavailability of trace minerals in feedstuffs and supplemental trace mineral sources can vary, and interactions with feed components and other minerals within the gastrointestinal tract, including competition for absorption, may alter trace mineral status. The three basic classes of trace minerals are inorganic, organic trace minerals and hydroxy minerals. Common forms of inorganic trace minerals include sulfate, carbonate and oxide forms. Inorganic sources are bonded together via a relatively weak ionic bond. Organic forms are covalently bonded to some carbon-based structure like a protein, amino acid or carbohydrate, and are generally more stable in structure minimizing antagonistic relationships with other minerals in the diet and inherently improving bioavailability to animal. The hydroxy forms are technically inorganic but have the same covalent bond structure giving them the same improved bioavailability properties and perhaps even better rumen bypass capability as some of the organic forms.

The differences in animal response to form (inorganic vs. organic vs. hydroxy) have generally been thought to be due to the reduced antagonistic effects and improved bioavailability to the animal in the small intestine. However, more recent data would suggest that while improved bioavailability is important, additional benefit can be attributed to the metals (particularly Copper and Zinc) not being available in the rumen and having a negative effect on the microbes. In most situations the basal trace mineral level of the diet is sufficient for the rumen microbes and supplementing excessive levels especially in a form that is available in the rumen should be avoided.

Overall, trace mineral nutrition can be confusing. However, the importance of proper mineral supplementation cannot be overlooked as trace minerals impact many biological functions. Implementation of a supplementation strategy is imperative to optimize production systems.

Ralco’s new line of cow/calf mineral, Summit, was specially formulated with all of these considerations front of mind for producers. All trace minerals are carefully sourced in a way that optimizes bioavailability in the animal and the rumen, ensuring optimal rumen function and minimal antimicrobial activity. Furthermore, patented ruminant ingredients in Summit help stimulate native rumen microbes to release enzymes that increase fiber digestibility and release more energy from feed. Research using this patented ingredient shows improved cow/calf performance with increased weaning weights, body condition scores and pregnancy rates.

Ralco’s team of beef nutritionists are available to discuss your specific operational goals and ensure cattle are supplemented with the proper levels and ratios of mineral. Summit delivery options are available right to your farm.

To learn more about Summit, visit

Why You Might be Over/Under Supplementing Trace Minerals in Your Cow Herd

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