Skip to main content

Formulating with organic trace minerals

September 14, 2017

The mineral program you choose can have a significant impact on the productivity of your herd.


How do you gauge the success of your mineral formulation?

How much do you know about the mineral program on your dairy? What level are minerals used in your rations, and what type are they? The mineral program on your dairy has a big impact on the health and productivity of your herd. Dairy producers are generally aware that part of their feed cost includes the minerals they supplement but have no real way to measure the success of their program.

Forages and concentrates meet some of the mineral needs of dairy cattle. They do not, however, meet the total mineral requirements of healthy productive cattle. Therefore, supplemental trace minerals are required to maintain cow health, production, reproduction and adequate mineral stores in the animal.

The minerals supplemented to dairy cows are classified in two ways: macro and trace minerals. Macro minerals are minerals that are fed in quantities of grams, including calcium, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sodium, chlorine and sulfur. Trace minerals are those fed at milligram quantities, including zinc, copper, iodine, selenium, cobalt and molybdenum. Alltech is an industry leader in organic trace mineral programs, with extensive research and industry-leading technologies such as Bioplex® and Sel-Plex®.

Achieving optimal mineral formulation can be a challenge

Designing an effective mineral program is difficult, especially considering the small inclusion in the diet and variation in mineral content. The National Research Council is generally referenced as a guideline to formulate diets; however, the guidelines are not always up to date and are often ignored. As a result, arbitrary levels are chosen to supplement.

Mineral interactions can cause antagonistic effects. For instance, molybdenum, iron and sulfur are some of the minerals that reduce the absorption of other minerals supplemented. Mineral source also has an impact. Organic minerals have been shown to have greater bioavailability than inorganic minerals. Bioavailability of Bioplex® Zinc, for example, is greater than zinc sulfate (J.L. Pierce, et. al. 2006). Considering all the factors at play, correct levels of supplementation are difficult to accomplish.

A firsthand look at mineral supplementation in Midwest dairy cattle

A survey by the University of Wisconsin-Madison on liver samples from dairy cattle in Wisconsin confirmed the challenges of supplementing trace minerals. Analysis of liver samples indicated that copper was elevated and potentially detrimental (Lyman, 2013). It is important to note, however, that differences in geography and feeding practices within the dairy industry mean that knowing the challenges that are unique to your area are critical when formulating your mineral programs.

This past summer, through the help of a local veterinary clinic and an Alltech summer intern, we set out to measure the success of mineral programs along the Interstate 29 corridor. Ben Sieve, Alltech intern, and Dr. Corale Dorn of Dells Veterinary Clinic collected liver samples from dairies along Interstate 29. Liver biopsies on seven cows from five dairies were collected for a total of 35 cows. Samples were analyzed at Michigan State University. Water and TMR were also collected and analyzed by Dairyland Laboratories. Sampled cows averaged 100 days in milk. Average herd size was around 2,000 cows milking.

What we learned from the dairy cows along Interstate 29

Elevated copper levels in liver samples were not as common along Interstate 29 compared to the data collected in Wisconsin. Using Michigan State University’s laboratory for analysis, six of the 35 cows measured showed elevated copper levels. Average copper concentration in South Dakota was a 132 parts per million (ppm) wet weight, which compared to an average ppm wet weight of 163 in the Wisconsin survey.

Interestingly, we found that zinc deficiency may be more prevalent than we realize. Fifty percent of the sample results were deficient in zinc, according to Michigan State University standards.

Selenium levels in South Dakota are often a concern due to elevated selenium in the soil. Elevated selenium levels were observed with some of the dairies surveyed.

On-farm responses

It is well-documented that organic minerals have higher bioavailability than inorganic ingredients, such as zinc and copper sulfate. Research conducted on Bioplex minerals has identified programs in which 100 percent of the minerals supplemented from organic sources delivered positive performance response. In that trial, cows on 100 percent Bioplex minerals produced 442 kilograms (972 pounds) more milk in a 305-day lactation and had 34 percent lower somatic cell count (SCC) (Kinal, 2007). These programs decrease the excretion of unused minerals, decrease the risk of antagonists and have demonstrated strong production responses in research trials.

One of the dairies involved in the Interstate 29 mineral study implemented these practices into their mineral program. Hilltop Dairy started feeding Bioplex minerals in fall 2016. By using Bioplex, they required lower levels of minerals. The results from the liver survey showed Hilltop Dairy more appropriately in the ranges suggested by Michigan State University.

“After nearly a year, our dairy’s SCC is down 43 percent, and we are up in milk production compared to last year,” said Hilltop Dairy owner, Wilfried Reuvekamp. “Normally in the summer, SCC goes up and production goes down. We have never had a summer like this!”

Click here for more information on Bioplex® and Sel-Plex®.


I want to learn more about nutrition for my dairy.