When you were a kid, would your parents remind you (daily) to take your vitamins? Like they were important to your upbringing, they’re important for your herd, too.
For about 35 years, Chris Cassady, PhD, Technical Sales Field Manager at BioZyme, and his family have raised Angus cattle in Illinois. They sell seedstock, bulls and a lot of show heifers, he said. When asked about the importance of cattle supplements – and his best piece of advice to fellow cattlemen, based on his own operation – he said: “You’ve got to have a goal and match your genetics to your environment, but don't cut corners on your nutritional regimen or supplementation. Doing so will cost you in the long run.”
As we continue on into the winter months, Dr. Cassady shared how winter is especially not the time to cut corners on nutrition.
“When temperatures drop in the winter, their requirements for maintenance are going to go up biologically. Cold weather can clearly stress cattle; that's where supplementation becomes even more important,” Dr. Cassady said.
What is the importance of vitamins and minerals for cattle?
“The importance of cattle supplements is broad and very multifaceted,” Dr. Cassady said. “We know that the nutritional requirements of these animals change pretty drastically during different stages of production, whether they're in lactation, pre-calving or breeding season. If you are at a time where your animal has a biological ‘extra requirement’ for some nutrient – whether that be protein, energy, mineral or vitamin – and they don’t receive it via supplementation, there can be negative impacts such as health, reproductive efficiency or lack of performance. And all of those things combined are going to affect your bottom line. Minerals are key. There are links for zinc and reproductive efficiency. There are links to copper and immune health. There are links to zinc and immune health. I could go on and on.”
Of health concerns relating to nutrient deficiency, there are many, states Tony Hawkins, DVM, Technical Service Veterinarian at Valley Vet Supply.
“If an animal is too thin, they are in a state of cachexia and breaking down their own body to support their bodily functions,” warns Dr. Hawkins. “This situation makes their immune system weak. Many trace minerals are important for immune function. Deficiencies in any one mineral will cause a decrease in immune function. Nutrient deficiencies also can cause weak hooves, cracks, and a decreased ability to fight off any problems that arise.
Regarding reproductive efficiency, I have been involved in a herd workup with a severe copper deficiency. The herdsman noticed decreased reproductive success and severely compromised immune systems, which manifested as cattle that were predisposed to health conditions and unable to fight off minor illnesses.”
How are vitamins and minerals for cattle absorbed?
"They're absorbed in a multitude of different ways,” explained Dr. Cassady. “You can't just provide a mineral in the elemental form. There are organic sources and inorganic sources, and because of that, they all have different bioavailability. And what that means, is if they are able to be utilized by that animal in the blood system or in circulation, then they are bioavailable. They have gone across the intestinal wall and are available to the animal. Because of rumen fermentation, some of those products are delivered and broken down by microbes, so they no longer become available. But mostly, the higher-quality, more bioavailable ones are able to escape that degradation process and are absorbed in the small intestine.”
Do all classes of cattle benefit from supplements?
“Whether your cattle are commercial or show, they're still biologically similar,” shares Dr. Cassady. “A ruminant is a ruminant, and the way the science has designed these products allows us to use them across all different breed types and purposes, whether they're exhibition bound or they're commercial cattle. Whether you're hauling a show heifer to Oklahoma City for the Cattlemen’s Congress or you're weaning a stocker calf, you incite some level of stress. These products help cattle to get eating and drinking again, because that’s really the important part.
When animals get stressed, there's a lot of different blood metabolites that fluctuate, and one of the most common things that they do when they are stressed is to go off feed. They don't eat, they don't drink. And when there's not a constant flux of substrates and constant regulation of rumen fermentation, we start to see some pretty big challenges on gut health. Having that mineral balance is very critical because we don't want those animals to suffer from a performance standpoint.”
Keep these thoughts in mind to help your herd.