There has been a plethora of blogs and articles in both magazines and scientific journals that detail the important role of trace mineral supplementation for proper health, reproduction and growth performance in beef cattle. While producers may understand the importance of trace mineral supplementation in their herds, many do not understand the differences between inorganic and organic trace minerals.
The primary difference between inorganic and organic sources is the form of the mineral. Inorganic minerals are bound to an inorganic salt — typically, sulfates or oxides — while organic trace minerals are bound to organic molecules like amino acids or proteins. The organic form is similar to the form in which minerals are stored by both plants and animals. Since organics are most like the form of those found in nature, they are readily absorbed and utilized by the animal.
The degree to which an ingested mineral is absorbed and utilized by the animal is referred to as its bioavailability. Variations in bioavailability are driven by differences in form, as mentioned above. Organic trace minerals have a higher bioavailability than inorganic sources. Some of the advantages provided by organic trace mineral supplementation are driven by their superior bioavailability compared to inorganic minerals.
- Less is more
When comparing mineral tags at the feed store, we are often prone to thinking that a higher level of supplementation must be better. However, this is a misconception, as the levels of supplementation with inorganic options are only higher to compensate for the lower bioavailability of inorganic trace minerals. Historically, inorganics were used as the primary source of mineral supplementation, as they are cheaper. Slowly, however, supplementation has evolved from being solely comprised of inorganic options to more often being comprised of mixed inclusion levels of both inorganic and organic sources (e.g., 70% inorganic and 30% organic).
The higher bioavailability of organic trace minerals allows those minerals to be supplemented at lower levels. The industry standard for trace mineral supplementation is typically to provide two times what the animal actually requires, or sometimes even more. This practice is the result of inorganics being used as the base mineral source; their lower bioavailability required formulations to over-supplement trace minerals in order to avoid mineral deficiencies. Supplementation with organic trace minerals, on the other hand, allows for a reduction in the level of trace minerals supplied without jeopardizing the animal’s health or performance.
- Fewer antagonisms
Providing inorganic trace minerals in high levels can also result in antagonisms. Mineral antagonisms occur when an excess of one mineral affects the absorption or utilization of another mineral. For example, high levels of zinc will reduce the absorption of both copper and manganese. As such, high levels of inorganic zinc supplementation result in the need for higher copper and manganese supplementation as well to prevent a deficiency.
Mineral stability also affects the integrity of other nutrients included in trace mineral supplements. As products are stored, nutrients can start to lose their integrity and degrade. Inorganic minerals are less stable during storage and can oxidize before the product is ever fed. This oxidization leads to the degradation of other nutrients — specifically vitamins. The use of organic trace mineral supplements has been shown to protect the integrity of vitamins by 10–30%, depending on the vitamin type and the length of storage time, compared to the use of inorganic trace minerals.
- Fewer environmental concerns
Lower bioavailability means that fewer minerals are being absorbed and utilized by the animal. If the minerals consumed are not absorbed by the animal, they are excreted into the environment. The higher mineral formulation required when supplementing with inorganic trace minerals leads to more minerals being excreted into the environment. This creates concerns about soils or water sources being contaminated by those minerals.
- Improved performance
Organic trace mineral supplementation has been shown to improve pregnancy rates and to support herd health, and it is also correlated with heavier calf weaning weights. These are all factors that result in greater economic returns for the producer. Does the additional cost of switching to all-organic trace minerals pay for itself? The short answer is yes! Commercial beef producers have seen an average ROI of 3:1 with organic trace mineral programs.
Now that you know the difference between the two trace mineral sources, the next question is, “How do I know which type of trace minerals my mineral supplement contains?” Simply check your feed tag.
Inorganic trace minerals will be listed as sulfates, oxides, chlorides or hydroxys on the ingredient list (e.g., zinc sulfate). Organic trace minerals will appear as chelates or proteinates on the ingredient list (e.g., zinc proteinate).
Many commercial mineral supplements contain both types of trace minerals. However, the percentage of inorganic vs. organic minerals in each product is often a mystery to the consumer. With the Crystalyx Blueprint® line of low-moisture blocks, the answer to that question is simple: Blueprint products use 100% Bioplex® organic trace minerals. The greater bioavailability of Bioplex® minerals means that Crystalyx Blueprint products are formulated with lower levels of trace minerals. Research has shown that Crystalyx Blueprint programs can improve a producer’s bottom line by producing more calves that are also heavier and healthier.