By Howard Blalock, Ph.D.
Trace minerals are essential nutrients that are required in very small amounts. These minerals have very specific functions that can have significant impacts on cattle performance and health if lacking in the diet. Incoming feedlot cattle are particularly susceptible to deficiency due to the stress of transit and inadequate intake of feeds that may be unfamiliar to them. In addition to these factors, the calf’s prior plane of nutrition may have been subpar, placing them at a further disadvantage to get a good, healthy start in the feedlot.
For incoming feedlot calves, the primary objective is to get the cattle up on feed in a safe and effective manner while providing essential nutrition to allow for an effective immune response to disease challenge, including vaccination. All essential trace minerals are important to this goal but due their direct impact on the immune system, the focus of this article will center around 3 essential nutrients, zinc (Zn), copper (Cu) and selenium (Se).
Zinc and Cu are essential to the function of many important enzymes as well as the development and function of the immune system. Several other minerals such as molybdenum, sulfur, and/or iron may act as antagonists and render these elements unavailable to the animal if present in the diet at high levels, therefore increasing supplementation demand. The significance of these elements to immune function should not be overlooked. Without adequate availability of these elements, a calf’s ability to mount an immune response can be significantly reduced.
Selenium is another important component of the immune system. Selenium is required in the formation of an enzyme responsible for free radical scavenging. This activity is performed in concert with vitamin E, another important nutrient for starting cattle. Free radicals, if left unchecked, will do significant cellular damage to body tissue. Free radicals are formed through normal cellular processes but the generation is greatest when an immune response is generated. Selenium is then important (along with vitamin E) to the body’s ability to “clean up” the cell to maintain its health and integrity.
In order to restore the status of these elements in newly received feedlot cattle, one should consider 2 important aspects: 1) concentration in the diet relative to intake and 2) the form of the elements being supplemented. Due to the relatively low intake of incoming calves, the concentration of these, and other, important elements should be elevated to ensure that adequate nutrient intake is being achieved. The use of these elements in organic form, especially Zn and Cu, should also be considered due to the potential presence of antagonists and due to the increased bioavailability when provided in this form.
Please contact the Quality Liquid Feeds representative in your area with further questions on how QLF can help you achieve a safe and effective start for your calves.