On the Blog

Blueprint: Improving health and productivity in beef and dairy herds

Now that election day is behind us, this seems like a great time to change focus and look at what we can do together to improve the health and productivity of our livestock. I enjoy reading books on history and am amazed at how much dissention there was in the early days of our American history (not dissimilar to where we are today), when political parties were just getting started. However, a book now being shared and enjoyed within our company — “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling — is incredibly enlightening and, I think, an excellent read for those in agriculture, as it dispels many myths about what a large majority of the population around the world consider to be “facts.” The author describes how much in our world has improved over the decades due to small but incremental improvements in human health, education, welfare and many other conditions. This is also fairly true in our agriculture industry in that most improvements, whether with plants or animals, are not huge, radical changes — but if we compare today’s productivity to that of 30 to 40 years ago, it is amazing how much we’ve improved.

One area of incremental improvement in animal agriculture over the past two to three decades is with trace mineral nutrition. Some of these changes have been described in previous blogs (see Jon Albro’s blog “CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® nutrition for breeding and beyond”), and I hope to continue the story of where I, as a nutritionist, feel the future of trace mineral nutrition is headed.

Roughly three years ago, the Blueprint® mineral program was introduced, and we now focus on what it does rather than what it is. Very briefly, the Blueprint program involves total replacement of inorganic trace minerals (copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt and selenium) with organic or chelated sources, branded by Alltech as Bioplex® minerals, and supplementing those minerals at lower levels thanks to their proven higher bioavailability. These organic sources are similar to what is found in nature, which leads us to sharing what these “proteinates” do for the animals. While our focus with CRYSTALYX® is with cattle, sheep, goats and horses, Blueprint research involves a multitude of species.

For example, do you have poultry? Blueprint research shows that:

  • With broilers, reduced dietary levels using organic vs. inorganic minerals resulted in heavier birds but the reduced excretion of zinc, manganese and copper.
  • With layers, egg quality was maintained while reducing the excretion of zinc and manganese.

Do you have dogs?

  • Growing puppies fed 70% of NRC recommendations with organic trace minerals had higher bone density after 18 weeks compared to 100% inorganic sources.

This brings us back to ruminant research. 

  • Dairy heifer research at Penn State (Pino and Heinrichs, 2016) showed:
  • Higher levels of volatile fatty acids (components produced by rumen fermentation and used for energy) for organic vs. inorganic minerals.

Beef cattle research at the University of Florida (Professional An. Sci., Price, et al., 2017) showed that:

  • Compared to inorganic-fed cows, calves born to dams fed organic trace minerals in the last trimester of gestation had higher weaning weight and ADG. Colostrum tended to have higher immunoglobulins, and calves from organic-fed dams had greater absorption of immunoglobulins.

Here are the results of a continuing field study at two large ranches in Florida:

  • Ranch 1
    • 7.7% improvement in pregnancy rate compared to 5-year average.
    • 11-pound weaning weight improvement compared to 5-year average.
    • Reduction in pre-weaning mortality rate, from 6.2% to 4.4% (29% improvement).
  • Ranch 2
    • 14% improvement in pregnancy rate compared to 5-year average.
    • 30-pound weaning weight improvement compared to 5-year average.
    • Reduction in pre-weaning mortality, from 3.6% to 1.2% (66% improvement).

How can we explain many of these production improvements?

While interpreting research to explain certain responses is often a challenge, the Penn State heifer study may give us some of the best clues. In that study, researchers measured increased levels of volatile fatty acids (VFAs), which are the byproduct of rumen fermentation when feed is digested by microbes. They also measured greater numbers of microbes in the rumen population. VFAs are used by ruminants as the primary source of energy to fuel their daily needs for growth, reproduction and digestion, etc. As nutritionists, we always strive to improve energy by improving digestion, so this study offers insight into how the Blueprint program facilitates that process. When increasing the microbial population and allowing for higher levels of diet digestion, we can expect to improve the growth, milk production, pregnancy rate and/or other production responses being measured.

We also know from other research that sulfates in the rumen can reduce microbial fermentation, so again, by eliminating these antagonistic elements from the diet and replacing them with something more bioavailable and more palatable, we can improve the ability of these microbes to digest feed and increase energy for the animal.

Getting more from less. Using lower inputs with bigger profits.

This accumulating body of research, plus testimonial data from producers, gives us great confidence that the Blueprint approach (i.e., the total replacement of inorganic trace minerals) is moving the needle in the right direction for the future mineral supplementation of our livestock. Doing the calculations for getting more calves born from higher fertility, lower death losses before weaning and greater weight gains of this higher population of calves shows an excellent return on investment for the Blueprint program. I talked with a vet in North Carolina recently who relayed his positive experiences with excellent reproduction in his herd, and he mentioned how good the hair coat looks on his cattle fed Blueprint. Sharing some good farmer wisdom, he said, “If the outside looks bad, it can’t look good on the inside.” 

CRYSTALYX offers a variety of Blueprint products to meet your needs, with protein options, Breed-Up® products, straight mineral formulations and Battalion® stress blocks. Our newest hybrid block, CrystalBlox™ (compressed low-moisture blocks) now exclusively feature Blueprint formulations as well. To learn more, visit blueprintbythebarrel.com or visit with your local CRYSTALYX dealer or sales rep.