Mineral Deficiency in Cattle
If you run a livestock operation, you know the importance of giving your cattle the nutrition they need for good health. Part of a good nutrition program involves providing the necessary minerals like calcium, phosphorus and potassium, among many others. Growing cattle and pregnant or lactating cows have a particularly high need for minerals, and all cattle require minerals for essential bodily functions and immune support.
Mineral deficiencies in cattle can cause serious health conditions and lead to mortality in some cases. This means cattle will need supplementation if they cannot get the minerals from their pasture or feed.
Where Do Cattle Get Their Minerals?
Let’s take a closer look at some common sources of the minerals cattle need to thrive:
- Pasture: The grasses in a pasture often contain many of the minerals cattle require for health. The plants that cattle graze and forage are high in nutrients like calcium and phosphorus that the rumen can break down and absorb. A typical orchard grass-and-alfalfa pasture in Pennsylvania, for instance, contains about 0.57% calcium and 0.32% phosphorus, more than enough to supply even the higher mineral requirements for pregnant and young, growing cattle. On the flip side of that coin, grass tetany is a common problem in areas that experience rapid grass growth, especially with increased rainfall during the spring and fall seasons.
- Salt licks and loose salt: Some essential minerals are not found in great abundance in plants and soils. Cattle typically need a higher sodium intake than they can gain from their environment. Salt licks and loose salt are frequent solutions, though they often provide limited amounts of critical minerals other than sodium.
- Mineral supplements: Mineral supplements are useful for supplying minerals cattle cannot get from the environment. They contain an extensive range of nutrients in addition to salt, so they offer a more balanced solution. Pro Earth Animal Health’s lick tubs with CattlActive®, for instance, contain minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese and copper. Injections, capsules, pellets and drenches can also supply cattle with necessary minerals.
What Minerals Do Cattle Need to Thrive?
What minerals for cattle are most advantageous? Below are a few types of essential minerals and their health benefits for cattle:
Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the bodies of cattle. As in humans, calcium is essential for bone and nerve tissue development and maintenance. In many regions pastures will have sufficient calcium for cows’ needs — alfalfa, for instance, can contain up to 1% calcium. Weathered forage and grain feed contain much lower percentages of calcium.
It’s also important to manage cattle’s calcium-to-phosphorus ratio. The ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus ranges from about 1.5:1 to 2:1. No matter the specific proportion, the amount of ingested calcium should exceed the amount of ingested potassium. If cattle consume more potassium than calcium, they become less able to absorb calcium through their digestive tract. Instead, they will metabolize it from their skeletons, leaving their bones brittle and underdeveloped. They may also develop “water belly” — urinary calculi — or kidney stones.
Cattle need sodium for normal nerve and muscle function. This mineral also helps maintain the balance of fluids in the body. Almost all cattle require sodium supplements, often in the form of salt licks or loose salt, unless the sodium chloride content in their water is exceptionally high or the plants the cattle consume have grown in salty soils. Cattle generally crave sodium and ingest it willingly.
Phosphorus travels to many parts of a cow’s body and plays a vital role in energy transfer. It is also essential for robust reproductive health. Fortunately, for beef cattle especially, dietary phosphorus requirements are relatively modest, and good pasture will likely meet them, though older pasture, drought and winter conditions can all reduce its levels. Fortunately, phosphorus, like sodium, is a mineral cattle tend to crave, so pellets or licks that contain phosphorus will likely be palatable to most cows.
Phosphorus presents a particular challenge in nutrient management because cattle excrete phosphorus directly in their fecal matter. Overfeeding of supplements can lead to exceptionally high phosphorus concentrations in cattle excrement. Excessive phosphorus in the environment can lead to nutrient pollution, especially if agricultural runoff carries the phosphorus into nearby water sources like lakes and rivers. There, it can promote eutrophication, algal overgrowth, oxygen starvation in aquatic ecosystems and the loss of fish and other organisms. For this reason, producers will want to ensure they provide their cattle the correct amount of phosphorus without oversupplying it and harming the environment.
Adequate magnesium intake is critical for preventing the disease known as grass tetany. Cattle generally ingest magnesium as they graze in pastures, especially if the pastures have received proper liming. They may also obtain it through supplementation as necessary — magnesium oxide and Epsom salts are two common sources. Cattle tend to find these substances unpalatable, so producers should purchase licks that mix these minerals with more appealing substances like dried molasses, ground corn, water, salt and other spices and flavorings.
Potassium is necessary for proper muscle contraction, nerve transmission and fluid balance. Fortunately, potassium needs are relatively easy for cattle to meet through pasture grazing and foraging. Legumes, in particular, contain high potassium levels. Cattle operations should take care not to allow their cows to consume too much potassium — overconsumption can lead to reduced magnesium intake and a higher potential for the development of grass tetany.
Zinc is essential for reproductive health and immune response, and it forms an integral part of many enzyme systems that must function correctly for proper feed consumption and growth to occur. Cattle tend to store zinc poorly in their bodies, so they are often prone to deficiencies if their diet does not consistently contain the proper amounts. Excessive iron in the body can also lead to poor zinc absorption and storage. Zinc supplements can help, and zinc methionine treatments are also often useful for treating conditions like foot rot.
Manganese forms an integral part of many enzyme systems necessary for good reproductive health. Its availability varies widely depending on the soil prevalent on grazing lands. Cattle deficient in manganese may experience poor reproductive performance, and any calves born are likely to suffer from birth abnormalities.
Copper is important for cattle coat health, digestive health and overall growth and immune response. Copper deficiencies are particularly likely in granite soils, sandy, coastal soils and peat swamps. Deficiencies are also common among cattle that eat green feed instead of dry feed, as well as in breeding stock and young, growing cattle.
Cobalt is necessary for the proper synthesis of vitamin B12 in the rumen. Certain soils are incredibly deficient in cobalt, particularly granite soils that receive high rainfall, calcareous sands along the coast, and krasnozem or red loam soils, so supplementation is often necessary, especially for young, growing cattle.
Selenium is essential for muscle health and is implicated in muscular and cardiac ailments like white muscle disease in calves. It also boosts immune response and fertility. In the Northeast, soils are notoriously low in selenium, so many producers give selenium injections to their calves to combat these effects or provide commercial mixes that contain selenium.
What Mineral Deficiency Means in Cattle
Mineral deficiency in cows can have a variety of adverse consequences. Below are some of the signs that cattle are not receiving adequate levels of certain minerals:
1. Reproductive Deficiencies
Cattle that lack required minerals often face challenges with reproduction. These difficulties may range from infertility to stillbirths or congenital abnormalities in calves, or cows may experience silent heats or retain their placentas after giving birth. Deficiencies in minerals like phosphorus, zinc, selenium and manganese can cause these issues. Zinc deficiencies contribute significantly to reproductive problems in males.
Calves that grow more slowly than their peers are said to have ill-thrift. Often, the cause is a mineral deficiency. These calves are typically smaller and weaker than their peers and may exhibit an overall failure to thrive, even becoming emaciated and profoundly weakened. Deficiencies in minerals such as cobalt, selenium, copper and zinc can cause these difficulties.
3. Insufficient Feed Intake
In some cases, mineral deficiency in cows causes them to consume too little feed to meet their metabolic needs. Absorbing insufficient zinc, for instance, can cause cattle to go off their feed. Inadequate nutrient consumption can then lead to a cascade of other health issues, including poor growth and minimal immune resilience.
4. Problems With Bone Growth and Milk Production
Because phosphorus is one of the skeletal system’s primary components, phosphorus deficiencies, in particular, lead to insufficient bone growth and rigidity. Cattle that receive too little phosphorus may have soft bones and become more prone than their peers to fractures. Lactating cows that ingest too little phosphorus may also produce too little milk, especially if they have previously generated copious amounts of milk that depleted their mineral stores.
5. Immune Deficiencies
When cattle receive insufficient minerals, their immune systems often suffer. They become more susceptible to diseases that healthier animals would shake off. These issues are exacerbated in calves, whose immune systems are still developing, leaving them particularly vulnerable to infection. Deficiencies in minerals like zinc, copper and selenium can cause low immune responses.
6. Sudden Death
In some instances, a lack of minerals can cause cattle to die without warning. Selenium deficiency, which can also cause poor growth and awkward gait, can also lead to sudden death if unaddressed, as can magnesium deficiency.
Pica, a condition in which cattle eat nonfood items like rocks, bones, wood, plastic, soil, clay, rags and even the plaster from barn walls, occurs most commonly with phosphorus deficiencies. Cows with this condition may also try to lick other animals’ urine in an attempt to source phosphorus from the environment.
8. Gastrointestinal Distress
Though they are not the most common consequence of mineral deficiencies, gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea can sometimes occur. Diarrhea sometimes occurs because of a copper deficiency, which can also cause low food intake and stunted growth.
9. Grass Tetany
Grass tetany, also known as hypomagnesemia, is a condition that causes restlessness, an unsteady gait, excitability or aggression, convulsions and death. Grass tetany usually results from a magnesium deficiency, and it often occurs in the spring, when cattle graze on lush, new, fast-growing grasses, like ryegrasses, that contain little magnesium. It also commonly occurs in lactating cows that lose magnesium through their milk.
10. White Muscle Disease
White muscle disease typically occurs in calves. It is a nutritional myopathy — it causes muscle weakness throughout the body because of insufficient nutrition. It can cause stiffness of the entire body, an arched back, stunted growth and lethargy, and sometimes it leads to cardiac degeneration and failure. Selenium deficiency often causes this condition, as can a vitamin deficiency in cattle, most notably a lack of vitamin E.
How the Right Mineral Program Benefits Calf Operations
Mineral availability is crucial for all cattle, and it is indispensable for growing calves, who need to ingest the right balance of nutrients to grow and develop robust immune systems. Below are a few specific ways the right supplemental mineral program can benefit a calf operation:
1. Reproductive Health
Cattle with healthy mineral levels breed better. If your operation intends its calves for breeding, choosing the proper balance of minerals can help with higher conception rates and improved breedback.
2. Calf Performance
Calves that receive an array of essential minerals generally thrive across many growth and performance metrics. Calves whose dams are ingesting sufficient minerals typically gain more daily weight and exhibit superior disease resistance.
3. Immune System Health
Calves that ingest the right minerals usually have more resilient immune systems. They can fight off illness more easily, they respond better to vaccines, and they will be more likely to survive into adulthood.
4. Fly Control
Many mineral supplements contain insect growth regulators, which disrupt flies’ life cycles and prevent these pests from maturing. If producers start their calves and cattle on these supplements before the fly season starts, the cattle will be better able to resist pest infestations.
5. Easier Weaning
Calves with mineral deficiencies may struggle during and after weaning. If they no longer receive antibodies through their dams’ milk, and if their immune systems are not strong enough to protect them, they will have an increased likelihood of succumbing to illness. Providing calves with minerals to lick or consume as pellets also gives them valuable initial experience with solid feed and can smooth the transition to adult feed.
Make Pro Earth Animal Health Your Trusted Source for Cattle Minerals
To provide the best minerals for cows to optimize their growth, immune function and overall health, contact Pro Earth Animal Health. When you work with us, you’ll partner with our caring, knowledgeable teams of experts who can help guide you toward better health for your cattle and improved profitability for your livestock operation.
We offer various lick tubs that contain the essential minerals your cattle need to thrive. You can choose from several formulations to provide different mineral blends, increase or decrease protein consumption, target stress relief or optimize minerals for breeding stock.
Our lick tubs also contain our proprietary prebiotic, CattlActive®. CattlActive® is completely natural, and it neutralizes the pH of the stomach and rumen to reduce acid and help prevent ulcers. It encourages eating and drinking, provides a balanced environment where beneficial microbes can thrive, and promotes more effective digestion, a strong immune system and better overall health.
Contact us today to purchase a lick tub for your cattle or learn more.