Kate Jacques is Alltech’s Director of Nutrition. She spoke to beef producers today at Global 500 about the importance of minimizing mineral waste. Trace minerals are unusual in the world of nutrients. They are essential for health and importance but they are only required in very small volumes and in some cases can be detrimental in excessive quantities.
Trace minerals have been added to animal diets since the 1960s. That is pretty recent when you consider the entire history of animal agriculture. Unlike other nutrients, trace minerals were not added in their natural form. In nature, plants pull inorganic minerals from the soil and convert them to organic forms, often in enzymes (proteins). When we feed animals minerals in inorganic forms (oxides, sulfates) we are bypassing the conversion step that plants perform. Animals are evolved to obtain minerals from organic sources, so inorganic sources are not very well absorbed.
What can you do about poor mineral absorption? Well, you can feed more minerals, but when they are excreted you can end up with a serious soil and water contamination issue. When you feed an animal organic minerals they are capable of storing some of that mineral in their tissue. That provides a reserve for the animal but even more importantly those minerals make meat more nutritious and the benefit can move up the food chain instead of into the environment.
As Jacques observed, “Here is an improvement in human nutrition that we have brought about simply by production agriculture doing its best. We buy our animals’ feed based on its nutrient value, when we don’t always do that with our own food.”