By Kindra Gordon
“Over half of the cattle I test are copper deficient,” shared Jeff Hall, professor of veterinary sciences and toxicology at Utah State University as he addressed those attending a Cattlemen’s College session on Jan. 31 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Hall noted copper is the number one mineral deficiency in cattle nationwide, but also shared that selenium, zinc, Vitamins A and E, and manganese are frequently deficient. He explained deficiencies can decrease growth rates, drag down immune systems, and contribute to other health risks. Thus, Hall stressed the importance of testing cows and calves to asses – and correct – mineral deficiencies, and ultimately add performance and profit to cattle.
In posing the question “Why do we see more mineral deficiencies today than 30 years ago?”, Hall offered several reasons. Foremost he notes, people didn’t measure deficiencies then. “It’s always been there but there is more testing today,” he explained.
As well, Hall noted that production has intensified today, with larger cattle and shorter production windows. “We are asking more of our cows than we did in the past…Forty-five years ago, a cow was producing two calves every three years,” he explained. “We couldn’t survive with that today. Now, we ask her to produce a calf every year.”
Additionally, Hall expressed that animal’s mineral requirements may be higher because calving dates are not in synch with nature. “Today a calf is 30 to 60 days old before anything is green…but in nature animals evolved with birthing 30 to 60 days after spring green up.” Because of this, there can be an increased need for mineral supplements for livestock.
Hall says other factors that contribute to mineral deficiencies include drought or feeding cheaper feedstuffs or supplements. The lower quality forages or feeds may result in a deficiency for the animal.
Hall suggested minerals are especially important for pregnant females because cows move minerals to the fetus during gestation.
To producers interested in testing mineral levels of their cowherd, Hall expressed preference for liver biopsies. He shared that blood tests are not widely reliable for all minerals, particularly copper. While liver biopsies can be expensive, Hall says they are not as invasive as one may think, and they provide more accurate results.
Hall then advises working with an Extension specialist or nutritionist to address mineral needs for the cowherd.