This is a remarkable time to be in the livestock industry. The overwhelming amount of research and technology has elevated livestock production to a level of proficiency unimaginable by our predecessors. From artificial insemination technology to invaluable pharmaceuticals, sometimes it seems like we may have everything figured out. However, the complexities of an industry that involves range land ecosystems, weather patterns and animal biology are far from being completely understood.
Despite one’s best efforts to apply sound research and modern technology, some problems can still arise. Although most cattlemen today provide a mineral supplement containing many macro and trace minerals, it is possible to have inadequate mineral absorption by livestock. Common reason denotes that if the recommended amount of mineral is supplied in the diet, the cattle will have what they need. This is not always the case and mineral antagonism can be the culprit.
One example of mineral antagonism occurs with copper. Copper plays an important role in bone density, immune function, growth and fertility. Copper varies considerably depending on the forage source and geographically, and is often deficient in grazing cattle diets. A rancher that is supplying the recommended amount of copper (10 mg/kg of diet, NRC 2000) for his cattle may still have cattle with a copper deficiency. Molybdenum, Iron and Sulfur all can interact with copper, making it unavailable to the animal. We call this an antagonism, which can cause a deficiency just the same as the absence of copper from the diet.
Figure owned by Chris Shelley
Many cattle producers are skilled at diagnosing the visual cues and production decreases caused by disease or malnutrition. If something does not seem right, err on the side of caution and investigate further. Although one can directly sample the cattle’s copper status from the liver and blood, the easiest and recommended method is to sample the diet. A quick sample of the forage being consumed, along with a water sample, will indicate what level of minerals the cattle are consuming and how to best balance them to avoid an antagonism.
Sample collection in and of itself is a straightforward process and many labs have instructions and tips on the correct procedure. The more daunting task is interpreting the results received and how to proceed forward. This process involves calculating mineral levels in the feeds, verifying animal requirements and a basic understanding of scientific units and conversions.
There are several resources to help with this task. Your local CSU Extension offices are happy to help as well as mineral dealers who are trained in that field. The most important thing to remember is a balanced nutritional plan can save on feed costs and improve animal performance.