Home > Beef, Diet, Nutrition, Science > It’s More Than Corn: Minerals and Vitamins

It’s More Than Corn: Minerals and Vitamins



Sample of loose minerals for supplementing rations

Minerals Samples

Part 3

Why are minerals important?

Minerals are used for a multitude of different functions in the body. While they are required in vastly different quantities, the amounts required has nothing to do with the essentiality of function performed. Quantities required range from as much as ~1.0% calcium to as little as .10ppm of selenium, depending on age and use.  

What are macro minerals?

Seven minerals are classified as macro minerals. These seven minerals are typically present in much higher levels than the other micro minerals.

Sodium and chlorine are usually considered together because of their biochemical relationship and are consumed as common salt. They are help form digestive juices, control body fluid concentration, control pH and are important for nerve and muscle activity. Salt can be supplemented as block, loose, as a part of a mineral mix and as a part of the overall ration mix.

Calcium is essential for bone and teeth formation, nerve and muscle function, acid-base balance and milk production. An animal that is deficient in calcium is at risk of rickets, osteomalacia and osteoporosis. High quality roughage will usually contain adequate levels; however, it can be supplemented by using limestone, oyster shell and marble dust.

Phosphorus is utilized to form bones and teeth, a component of protein in the soft tissues, milk production and several metabolic processes. Animals deficient usually show poor appetite, slow gains and lowered milk production. Like calcium, the dietary needs can often be met through high quality roughages. When supplementation is needed, defluorinated phosphates can be used as free choice or included in the ration mix.

Magnesium is necessary for many enzyme systems, carbohydrate metabolism and properly functioning nervous system. Deficiencies can occur during winter and early spring in cattle grazing on certain growing plants and will develop hypomagnesemia and frequently leads to death. This condition is commonly referred to as grass tetany. It is most common in cattle grazing on small grains, rich fescue, and certain other green growing crops, particularly with older lactating animals.

Potassium is required by livestock for a variety of body functions including osmotic relations, acid-base balance, rumen digestion and the primary intracellular cation in neuromuscular activity. Deficiency in potassium is very rare. However, grains are generally lower than are roughages.

Sulfur is a component of the amino acids cystine and methionine and the vitamins biotin and thiamine, the synthesis of sulfur amino acids in the rumen and the formation of various body compounds. Most rations do not need to be supplemented.

What are micro minerals?

Micro minerals are necessary for proper nutrition just as macro minerals, however, the amounts required are very small and are typically expressed in parts per million or milligrams per pound.

Iron is necessary for hemoglobin formation, and formation of certain enzymes related to oxygen transport and utilization.

Iodine is important for the production of thyroxine by the thyroid gland and is typically found in sufficient levels naturally, in feeds and water.

Cobalt functions as a component of the vitamin B12 molecule and in the rumen syntheses of vitamin B12. Deficiency in cobalt is primarily found in the North East and is indicated by poor appetite, decreased fertility, slow growth and decreased milk production.

Copper assists in iron absorption, hemoglobin formation, in the synthesis of keratin and various enzyme systems. Copper deficiencies are seldom experienced outside of Florida and a few specific areas of the southeast. They are very common in Australia.

Fluorine possibly reduces dental caries as it does in humans and is thought to reduce osteoporosis in mature animals. Excess consumption of fluorine is more of a concern than deficiency.

Pelleted Mineral Supplement

Mineral Pellets to Supplement Rations

Manganese plays an important role in the enzyme systems influencing estrus, ovulation, fetal development, udder development, milk production, growth and skeletal development. Supplementing is rarely necessary in cattle.

Molybdenum serves as a component of the enzyme xanthine oxidase and stimulates action of rumen organisms. It has been demonstrated in poultry to be essential and in lambs, in which it improved growth rates.

Selenium is important in vitamin E absorption and utilization, an essential component of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase (which functions to destroy toxic peroxides in the tissues), and works with vitamin E in the maintenance of normal cell functions and membrane health. There are regional areas that are at risk of deficiencies: southeastern coast, states around the Great Lakes, New England states and the Northwest. Deficiency symptoms include White Muscle disease, retained placentas, paralysis, poor growth, low fertility and liver necrosis.

Zinc is a micro mineral whose functions are not completely understood, other than it helps prevent parakeratosis, it promotes growth and wound healing and deficiencies are linked to impairment of testicular growth and function.

Mineral Block

Free Choice Mineral Block

How minerals are be fed?

Minerals are supplemented in several ways. They can be mixed directly into a ration, combined in pellet form, fed loose and provided as components of blocks. Mixed into the ration and fed as pellets in the ration are the best options. If fed loose, it needs to be kept dry and in the form of a block, protection from weather is important and there is the risk that not enough will be consumed.

Free Choice Minerals

Loose, Free Choice Mineral

What about vitamins?

Vitamins are organic substances required by all animals in very small amounts to regulate body processes toward normal health, growth, production and reproduction. Most organic materials are soluble in either water or in fats. Very few are soluble in both water and fat. All of the B vitamins and C are soluble in water. Vitamins A, D, E and K are soluble in fats.

While all of the different vitamins are metabolic essentials, vitamin A is the one vitamin that is given special attention from the standpoint of meeting dietary needs. Under normal circumstances, the B vitamins are synthesized in the rumen, vitamin C is synthesized within body tissues and sufficient levels of vitamin D are met through exposure to sunlight. Most ruminant rations are more than adequate for vitamin E, as long as sufficient selenium is present. Finally, vitamin K is typically adequate in rations as well and K2 is synthesized in the rumen.

With the large amounts of pasture, hay and silage that is included in most ruminant rations, and the large intake of carotene in these feeds, vitamin A needs are usually met. Vitamin A is also stored in the liver and other body tissues during periods of high intake and can be released for use during periods of low intake.

In some regions, with selenium deficiencies, vitamins A, D and E are supplemented at birth in the form of an injection, particularly during winter months.  

Stay tuned for Part 4: Importance of Physiological Phases of Livestock

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