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Increase margin results with clinoptilolite

Jason Swallow and Susan Mahaney for Progressive Cattleman Published on 25 June 2018
Nirtogen and calcium are held in the lattice through CEC

With shrinking margins caused by the influx of dairy cull cows into the beef market and recent increases in the protein markets, feeders are forced once again to find low-cost alternatives to their feeding program.

One such product that possesses multiple applications in the water treatment and soil amendment industries has proven to show various benefits when fed to livestock, especially ruminants.

Clinoptilolite, pronounced clinō-tē-ō-lite, is a natural zeolite found to contain over 40 trace minerals contained in the lattice of this hydrated calcium aluminosilicate. What makes clinoptilolite so unique is its ability to exchange one cation for another, known as “cation exchange capacity” or “CEC.”

Cation exchange capacity is a measure of the number of cations per unit weight available for exchange, usually expressed as milliequivalents per 100 grams of material. The lattice structure of clinoptilolite is negatively charged and will hold cations such as calcium, sodium, ammonium and potassium.

As early as the 1970s, the ion exchange capacity of clinoptilolite was hypothesized to influence both microbial and animal metabolism through the attraction and release of cations.

Later, it was discovered that when clinoptilolite is introduced into an acidic environment, it will exchange ions held in the lattice for hydrogen ions, allowing the clinoptilolite to act as a buffering agent. One such study looked at ruminants fed clinoptilolite and nonprotein nitrogen compounds such as urea.

Nonprotein nitrogen is broken down to ammonia in the rumen which, when fed in excess, can have toxic effects. The addition of clinoptilolite to the diet aids in reducing the potential toxic effects by adsorbing the ammonium ion during the post-feeding fermentation period and then later releasing that same ammonium through cation exchange with sodium ions from saliva.

A nonprotein nitrogen compound could potentially be fed at a higher-than-normal rate, affording an economic benefit to the feedlot through reduced diet costs.

Better rumen health

More recently, studies have looked at the potential benefits in regard to feed consumption and efficiency of cattle fed clinoptilolite. In one study, five different finishing diets were formulated to compare the benefits of low levels of ionophores and antibiotics to clinoptilolite.

In all seven of the replicated trials, feedlot cattle fed clinoptilolite demonstrated increased average daily gains, increased consumption and reduced feed-to-gain ratios when compared to cattle receiving an ionophore and antibiotic.

Researchers also noted cattle treated with clinoptilolite solely or in conjunction with an ionophore or antibiotic had a much higher rumen pH compared to the cattle in the control group or those not receiving clinoptilolite.

This study also looked at liver abscesses and, although the number of total liver abscesses was not statistically different, the number of A+ liver abscesses was dramatically reduced in cattle receiving clinoptilolite.

Acidosis, ammonia emissions

The inclusion of a specific ionophore is known to decrease the incidence of subclinical acidosis in cattle fed a high-concentrate diet. With the impact clinoptilolite had on rumen pH and liver abscesses, it could easily be concluded clinoptilolite may serve the same function.

What is also notable is: Feeding clinoptilolite increased propionate production in studies on dairy cattle and on Holstein steers fed a corn-based finishing diet. Clinoptilolite supplementation had a positive impact on energy efficiency, similar to ionophores, through a decrease in the acetate-to-propionate ratio.

Recent studies, although controversial and frequently argued, indicate animal agriculture is responsible for 75 percent of the total ammonia emissions and determined to be a potential environmental problem in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Researchers discovered in 2006 clinoptilolite fed to feedlot steers will reduce manure ammonia losses. Both in vivo and in vitro studies found clinoptilolite is capable of holding and later releasing 15 percent of the ammonium ions present in the contents of the rumen.

With the high cation exchange capacity of clinoptilolite, it is not surprising that, in a study specifically looking at nitrogen loss in the manure of feedlot steers, researchers found manure piled for 30 days had a 32.1 percent loss in nitrogen, while those steers fed clinoptilolite only lost 7.8 percent.

When clinoptilolite was added to the manure of the control-fed steers, the nitrogen loss was reduced to 17.3, demonstrating clinoptilolite is beneficial in not only reducing ammonium emission when fed, but benefits exist when applied directly to the manure.

Another interesting study to note was done by adding clinoptilolite to dairy slurry at a rate of 6.25 percent by weight. A remarkable 55 percent reduction in ammonia volatilization was observed over the 96 hours of monitoring. Since ammonia volatilization represents a loss of plant-available nitrogen to the farmer, imagine the potential fertilizer savings and increase in profitability that could be achieved from this application.

Clinoptilolite’s ability to exchange cations has proven to show great benefit to the producer both in increased gains and nitrogen retention – but the unique structure of this mineral, along with its negative charge, is also known to capture and retain both mycotoxins and pathogens on the outside of the lattice and within the channel-ways.

Twenty to 40 percent increases in the reduction of varying types of mycotoxins have been observed in studies using clinoptilolites when compared to bentonites, without the negative effect of binding trace minerals.

This naturally found mineral, both in research and through personal field observations, offers a huge potential for use in various applications to reverse the effects of shrinking margins and to provide increased profitability for both cow-calf and feedlot operations.  end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Corey Lewis with information from Bear River Zeolite BRZ.

Jason Swallow
  • Jason Swallow

  • Nutritionist
  • White Oak Mills
  • Email Jason Swallow
Susan Mahaney
  • Susan Mahaney

  • Research and Development Director
  • Research and Development Director
  • Email Susan Mahaney

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