Minerals offer big benefits to your cowherd | TSLN.com

Minerals offer big benefits to your cowherd

Trinity Lewis
for Tri-State Livestock News
As the grass starts to mature, phosphorus, zinc and copper will sometimes decrease below the cows’ requirements. Photo by Carrie Stadheim

As the weather turns colder and feeding is in full swing, producers may need to take time to reflect on the minerals they are offering their cowherd. Is the big blue tub next to the neighbor’s stock tank the way to go? Is a loose mineral more advantageous than a solid tub? Are your cattle getting the proper minerals, the right amount of minerals and the minerals that best compliment your region? Trace minerals continue to grow in popularity as a supplement and as an injectable. Understanding the importance of these trace minerals will help ease producer’s minds this feeding season.

Microminerals vs Macrominerals

Minerals are generally divided into two categories based on the quantity required by the cow. Macro minerals are required as a percent of the diet while micro minerals, or trace minerals, are required in parts per million (ppm) and are usually fed as a loose mineral in tubs or mixed in as a feed additive.

There are ten trace minerals recognized in the beef cattle industry, four of which are often considered the most basic and most important of supplemental trace minerals. Those four include: manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), zinc (ZN) and selenium (Se).


Copper is vital to cattle for the role it plays in bone growth, pigmentation and hair growth as well as white blood cell function for immunity. One of the primary reasons for copper deficiency in cattle are the antagonists sulphur, iron and molybdenum in the rumen. These elements, especially working together, will reduce available copper. Sulphur and iron are often found in water and pasture grasses so testing range and water samples are good habits for the trace mineral-aware producer. A lack of copper can result in reduced weight gains, suppressed immunity and lower reproduction rates. Recognizing copper deficiency is very difficult even with blood samples. Molybdenum, for example, simply attaches to copper deeming it useless but blood results would still signify adequate levels. Some signs do include lightened coat color and weak bones especially in calves.


Manganese boils down mainly to reproduction. The basic function of manganese in cattle is to activate enzymes. Low conception rates are one of the first signs of low manganese in cattle. Along with an increase of open females more discreet symptoms exist like ovarian cysts, silent heat and abnormally slow growing or aborted calves. Manganese also acts as one of the factors in the liver’s ability to metabolize fat and use them for energy. Especially during pregnancy and with a calf at side, it is critically important that cows don’t suffer from low energy or they may not meet their calf’s need for adequate milk production.


Zinc is an activator and component of over 300 enzymes and hormones. It is one of the minerals necessary for proper metabolism, structuring of defense enzymes and reproductive development in bulls. In severe cases skin lesions will appear on zinc deficient animals. A more thorough investigation of zinc availability comes with testing the zinc concentration in the pancreas. Zinc absorption is closely tied to copper absorption and the two are often recommended at a zinc to copper 3:1 ratio. With proper zinc levels often com improved daily gains and feed efficiency.


White Muscle Disease is one of the most well-known associations with low levels of selenium. This trace mineral forms part of a variety of enzymes and proteins making up tissue. Glutathione peroxidase is one of the selenium-based enzymes that destroys naturally occurring peroxides that damage cells. Without glutathione peroxidase, as a result of selenium deficiency, white muscle disease occurs. The muscles in the upper fore and hind legs are usually the most indicative of calves with white muscle disease. They are also likely to walk stiffly or, in advanced cases, simply cannot stand at all. In more mature cattle selenium deficiency is linked to mastitis, early and late embryo death as well as retained fetal membrane.

Ensuring that you have employed the proper mineral protocol for your region is generally a topic best suited for your veterinarian along with a nutritionist who is familiar with your area. Although a standard trace mineral program is almost solely beneficial with very little to no risk at all.

With ever-increasing input costs in the cattle industry adding a mineral program for their herd may cause some producers to balk. However research suggests that trace mineral supplementation allows for a faster breed back, higher and more consistent conception rates as well as high reproductivity and improved gain for calves. This investment certainly worth considering.

Trace minerals can be added to feedstuffs, feed loosely in tubs or injected. The most suitable process depends on the goals of one’s operation. Running cattle through the chute for another shot may work for one scenario and putting out mineral on a regular basis may be a perfect fit for someone else. In general, allowing for a robust panel of trace minerals is a fool-proof plan that will be advantageous this feeding season and throughout the coming year. F

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