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  • Megan Silveira, associate editor

Trace Minerals — the smallest measure to make the biggest difference

Ensuring proper levels of trace minerals to improve herd performance.

Cattle care happens at all levels, and producers know even the smallest action can make the biggest difference. Ensuring livestock receive proper amounts of trace mineral helps ensure a cow is performing at peak level.

Trace minerals were the focus of the Learning Lounge Session, “Building Your Beef Cow Herd: How Trace Minerals Improve Profitability,” hosted by MultiMin during the 2022 Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show in Houston, Texas. Kevin Cain, director of technical services, led the discussion.

Cain listed four trace minerals as major players in terms of reproduction — copper, manganese, selenium and zinc. Each of these alters reproductive performance in a cow, from ovulation to embryo survivability.

The trace mineral needs of a cow vary based on the location and time of year. A female’s requirements change throughout her reproductive cycle, with the time of highest need for supplementation of trace minerals occurring right after calving.

“If a cow is deficient in trace minerals at the time of birth, the calf is going to be born deficient as well,” Cain added.

A fetus is completely dependent upon the cow for trace minerals from conception to birth, he explained, so year-round supplementation is ideal. A constant provision of trace minerals ensures a healthy, productive cow capable of producing a heavy-weaning calf to generate a sturdy profit.

For cattle of all ages, function and performance decreases in a specific hierarchy as the individual animals fail to consume the proper amounts.

“As we start to decrease trace mineral intake, the first thing we’re going to give up is the immune function,” Cain explained.

Next to go is fertility.

“On the cow-calf side of things, when we’re looking at reproduction, we need to get those cows bred,” he said. Without proper intake of trace minerals, cows cannot meet that simple goal for producers.

The third area to suffer is performance and growth. As producers look to sell calves by the pound, it’s natural to want to wean bigger animals, Cain said. Failing to ensure cattle can reach these bigger weights means failing to reach the highest profit level.

The fourth and final level of decreased function in a herd is the first that is visible to the human eye, Cain said. When cattle hit this level, portions of the herd will start to exhibit physical traits that indicate their basic mineral needs are not being met.

For example, when black cattle start to exhibit a reddish tint to their hair on their back and shoulders, Cain said this indicates a copper deficiency.

Though no cattleman aims to reach this fourth level in trace mineral deficiency before supplementing his herd, Cain said it’s never too late to start making management decisions to turn it around and achieve higher levels of performance.

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