Keeping on top of trace elements

Keeping on top of trace elements

1 May 2017

Trace elements are a small but vital component of animal nutrition. A lack of essential trace elements can affect production, reproduction, disease resistance and growth.

Addressing trace element issues requires a well-informed approach, which considers the following:

  • The source of the deficiency – Is the trace element simply lacking in pasture or feed or is the supply of another nutrient affecting its uptake?
  • All of the nutrient inputs in your system – Take account of trace elements from all sources including pasture (using information from timely herbage tests), feed and any direct supplements/medications. Remember, too much of a trace element can do just as much damage as too little.

Be wary of general guidelines or rules of thumb with trace elements. Seek advice from your nutrient specialist and your vet to determine the best way forward and check, check and check again.

Key trace elements for animal health

  • Selenium is essential for the animal’s thyroid and immune system function, placental shedding, preventing white muscle disease, guarding against mastitis and supporting the integrity of cell membranes.

    Options: Pasture selenium levels can be boosted with annual applications of Ballance selenium fertiliser. This is a combination of sodium selenate and barium selenate for fast and sustained release over the year. Use mixed pasture herbage tests to monitor pasture levels. For direct-to-animal options, there are oral or injection products as well as molasses blocks and specific nutritional supplements added to water troughs.

  • Cobalt is required for rumen microbes to generate B vitamins to support early vigorous growth. It was around the middle of last century that “Bush Sickness” and the resulting ill thrift/death of stock were linked to a lack of cobalt.

    Options: Ballance granular cobalt should be applied annually with fertiliser based on mixed herbage tests. Oral cobalt sulphate products or strategic use of Vitamin B12 injections for young stock are direct-to-animal options, as are some molasses blocks and other nutritional supplements.

  • Copper is important for the function of animal nervous and immune systems as well as bone growth and reproduction. Copper uptake is compromised by high intakes of molybdenum, sulphur, iron and zinc.

    Options: Applying copper sulphate to pasture is worth considering. However, depending on the farm this could be an expensive approach. Direct-to-animal methods include oral copper sulphate, copper bullets or capsules. Injections are also available but are not recommended for cows during the breeding season. Copper is also included in some molasses blocks and other nutritional supplements.

  • Zinc is vital for growth and reproduction and guards against facial eczema. However, excess zinc intake increases the risk of milk fever and copper deficiency and can also suppress appetite.

    Options: Zinc deficiency is extremely rare in New Zealand pasture, except where over-liming has occurred. Direct-to-animal options usually involve dosing feed, pasture or water with zinc sulphate or zinc oxide. As a facial eczema countermeasure, Zincmax+ is recommended, as it contains organic copper to offset the depletive effects of the zinc and has a highly palatable peppermint flavour. Zincmax+ can be used in water troughs or in-line dispensers.

  • Iodine is required for energy metabolism , to make proteins and is also important for reproduction. Think thyroid gland and goiter.

    Options: Fertiliser is not a viable option. Use of oral supplements, teat sprays or slow-release injections is recommended. Iodine-fortified molasses blocks and water-soluble nutritional additives may also be included in the supplementation programme.

For more advice on trace elements, talk to your local Fonterra Farm Source TSR or Ballance Nutrient Specialist

Article supplied by Ballance Agri-Nutrients