Current Progressive Cattle digital edition

Five mineral myths busted

Vaughn Holder for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 September 2018
Dawn Schooley, Alltech territory sales manager (pictured in black), talks about minerals

When it comes to trace mineral supplementation for cattle, there is an abundance of information and research to consider. Here are five minerals myths that have been debunked to distinguish fact from fiction.

1. The higher the trace mineral fortification level, the better the response

“Less is more” is a concept that is not always put into practice when it comes to mineral supplementation, as it can seem counterintuitive to improving performance. Trace nutrients are called “trace” for a reason. Usually, it’s because higher levels of these elements are not helpful and can even be toxic.

As such, it’s important to work with a nutritionist to understand the minerals required for the cattle, as using lower levels of higher-quality trace minerals can provide the animals with what they actually need. The quality of the components inside the bag is what’s important, and as such, you can get away with using much lower levels of quality minerals and actually achieve better results.

In a recent study conducted at the University of Florida with Dr. Matt Hersom, results were favorable for organic trace minerals – even when included at lower rates than their inorganic counterparts – as they outperformed the standard mineral in various production outcomes, including weaning weights, pregnancy rates and colostrum quality.

2. Mineral interactions can be overcome by adding more mineral

Everyone who has taken a mineral nutrition course knows the story: The classic mineral interaction wheel shows that the presence of high levels of certain minerals may cause deficiencies in other minerals in the animal. This happens through a variety of mechanisms, including complexation and competition for absorption.

If more of one mineral is added to a diet, it may result in a deficiency of another mineral. In turn, if more of the newly deficient mineral is added to the diet, a deficiency will result elsewhere – creating a vicious cycle of mineral deficiency that cannot be overcome. Thus, minerals can’t just be added around the wheel to achieve optimal results.

Oversupplementation of minerals not only creates deficiencies, but leads to an increase in mineral excretion, which can have a negative impact on the environment. On top of this, there is also an increased price tag associated with increased mineral supplementation.

3. Trace minerals only interact with other trace minerals in the ration

Typically, it has been thought that trace minerals in the ration only interact with other trace minerals. Recent research from Alltech, however, has uncovered that inorganic trace minerals can interact with other dietary components, like vitamins, antioxidants and in-feed enzymes.

When it comes to in-feed enzymes, these types of technologies are actually damaged by the oxidative presence of inorganic minerals.

Replacing these inorganic minerals with an organic source removes much of the damaging effect of the trace minerals on the other components of the pre-mix. Inorganic minerals may inhibit rumen fermentation directly. Therefore, maintaining the integrity of the pre-mix components while still in the bag is essential for feed efficiency.

It is clear that inorganic minerals and organic trace mineral products with poor stability can inhibit enzyme activity, induce vitamin instability and reduce antioxidant function. These effects can have negative consequences not only on feed quality, but also on animal health and performance.

4. Cattle have a requirement for inorganic trace minerals

This myth stems from the fact that rumen microorganisms need trace minerals to survive – but while that part is indeed true, the trace minerals do not need to be in an inorganic, soluble form to be utilized by the rumen microbial population.

There is plenty of evidence to support that animals fed a diet exclusively containing organic trace minerals do not suffer a deficit in rumen fermentation capacity, suggesting that rumen microorganisms can utilize organic minerals just as effectively. In fact, current knowledge on the subject suggests that inorganic minerals may actually inhibit rumen fermentation to some degree.

When inorganic minerals were replaced with organic minerals in a recent dairy study, volatile fatty acid (energy) production in the rumen tended to increase. These results indicate that inorganic minerals may inhibit rumen fermentation, which is obviously counterproductive when it comes to animal performance.

5. Research is varied on the response to organic trace mineral supplementation

This is less of a myth than a misinterpretation of the currently available body of data. There is a fair bit of variation in response to trace mineral supplementation – because there is variation in trace mineral requirements between animals in different phases of production and because there are differences in the types of mineral sources and in management systems.

Most importantly, there is a lot of variation in the trace mineral content of animal feeds sourced from different areas around the country and the world.

When narrowing that down to organic mineral supplementation, consistent responses have been found in supplementation with these compounds in cow-calf operations through to the feedyard. Part of that consistency stems from the fact that inorganic minerals will exert their negative effects in almost all situations and do not necessarily depend on the bioavailability of the mineral or specific deficiency situation.

Organic trace mineral supplementation has shown remarkably consistent positive effects, from the important cow-calf work conducted at the University of Florida, to its effects on bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Two populations of very different cattle on opposite ends of the planet saw dramatic reductions in BRD morbidity and mortality when inorganic minerals were removed and replaced with organic minerals.

Knowing the truth about mineral supplementation can help producers make more informed decisions about mineral supplementation. When it comes to determining the correct mineral balance for cattle, producers should become familiar with mineral research and work with their nutritionist, making sure to ask questions about quality versus quantity.  end mark

PHOTO: Dawn Schooley, Alltech territory sales manager (pictured in black), talks about minerals at Giem Ranch in Twin Bridges, Montana. Photo courtesy of Alltech.

Vaughn Holder
  • Vaughn Holder

  • Ruminant Research Director
  • Alltech
  • Email Vaughn Holder