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Unexpected lasting effects of drought

Thankfully, the drought conditions that most of the US was struggling with is turning itself back around, the western US being the exception of course. Forage is starting to come back and quality is improving, water sources are nearly back to normal. However, one thing that I know I’ve never thought about is what are the lingering effects of drought?

That thought came to me while listening to Dr. Jeff Hall, Utah State University Diagnostic Lab, at the recently held AFIA Liquid Feed Symposium. During his presentation on trends from trace mineral status testing in his lab, he mentioned that they see an increase in the severity of zinc deficiencies in the one to two years following a drought.

Why do we see an increase in zinc deficiencies following a drought? The simple answer is there are changes in the pH of the soil, which affects how plants take up nutrients. We already know that drought causes increased nitrates in crops and forages, now we can add concerns over trace minerals to the list. Additionally, drought is stressful on livestock. When cattle are stressed, their requirements for nutrients increase to help deal with the situation. Stressed cattle tend to eat less, therefore taking in fewer nutrients and deficiencies develop. 

Trace mineral deficiencies cause a number of subclinical problems before they ever show outward signs. As noted in the graph below, by the time clinical signs are seen, you’ve already given up immune function, growth and reproductive performance. Focusing on zinc, that includes poor response to vaccines, enzyme function, testicular health and hoof and skin health.

Combating potential deficiencies from forages can be best achieved through a two-fold approach. First, the best way to know what your cattle are getting from pasture is to have forages tested. Your county extension office or local NCRS office can assist you in proper pasture sampling; ask for results including sulfur, nitrates, zinc, copper, iron, manganese and molybdenum, if they aren’t already included. Sulfur, iron and molybdenum can inhibit absorption of zinc, copper and manganese at high levels.

The second approach is to offer a highly palatable, self-fed supplement at all times. When in a trace mineral deficient situation, cattlemen should consider selecting a supplement with a higher level of trace mineral supplementation (100% NRC or higher), in a ratio that doesn’t promote mineral antagonisms in the gut (Cu:Zn:Mn = 1:3:4).

CRYSTALYX® offers a wide variety of complete mineral and protein supplements to fit this situation. Protein supplements in the Balanced (BGF-20™, BGF-30™) and Premium (Breed-Up®) Lines offer 100% NRC or higher trace mineral levels. When protein is not limited, producers should consider Crystal-Phos® and Phos-Lyx®, for higher trace mineral supplementation in addition to phosphorus. Mineral-Lyx® also provides fortified trace mineral levels and is ideal when phosphorus is not limiting.

For more information on the products mentioned above, please contact your local CRYSTALYX® dealer or call 800-727-2502.