Trace minerals are key to improving livestock performance, but what is it about organic trace minerals that makes them more beneficial and why are we still using inorganic trace minerals in livestock feed? Mark Robbins discusses the Blueprint philosophy and how less can actually be more.
Tom: This is Tom Martin and I'm talking with Mark Robbins, director of research and Nutrition Services for CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements. Thanks for joining us, Mark.
Mark: Glad to be here, Tom.
Tom: Mark, trace minerals are key to improving livestock performance. Can you explain why trace minerals are important in the diet and, more specifically, how ruminant animals utilize these nutrients?
Mark: Trace minerals are important for all species. We're talking primarily about ruminants here, which are a little different than you and I in that they have a functioning rumen — that’s a large fermentation vat full of microbes, protozoa, etc. — that we have to feed first. Now, generally, trace mineral nutrition isn’t lacking in the rumen. You can be short on some vitamins, like cobalt, for instance, but for the most part, the real benefit of improved trace mineral nutrition happens after the rumen down in the small intestine within the animal itself, so we always want to feed the rumen but that's generally with things like energy, protein and nitrogen. When we get to trace minerals, we really want to take care of the animal and get it into the bloodstream, and that requires getting those trace minerals down into the intestine where they can be absorbed.
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Tom: There're seems to be some confusion surrounding the use of inorganic trace minerals versus organic trace minerals in livestock feed. Can you clarify the difference between the two?
Mark: An inorganic trace mineral would typically be in an animal's diet because we supplemented, and we put it there. Trace minerals as the animals would find them in their natural feeds in nature are going to be organic. The ones that we have typically and historically supplemented are inorganic, for example, copper sulfate, zinc sulfate and zinc oxide. Those are all inorganic forms of trace minerals. Organic forms are bound to an organic molecule such as a peptide or an amino acid, maybe a polysaccharide. Organic is a chemical or a substance that contains carbon. So, the important part of organic trace minerals, for the most part, is that they don't contain a charge so they're much more neutral going through the rumen and getting to that small intestine for absorption there.
Tom: And is that the thing that makes organic trace minerals more beneficial?
Mark: Exactly. They are more available than their inorganic counterparts, so you've got availability as one positive. The other positive is that they don't have any negative effects, and we're finding more all the time that inorganic trace minerals can have negative effects as far as the animal where they can foster chronic oxidative stress, that they're basically creating free radicals. Free radicals are kind of what age anybody; they're really kind of destructive. We find that those inorganics actually foster oxidative processes that create stress, whereas organic trace minerals do not create that same situation.
Tom: If organic minerals are clearly more advantageous, why are some still using inorganic trace minerals in their livestock feed?
Mark: A lot of that kind of goes back to cost; inorganics are cheaper. For the most part, they're pretty well-accepted, and for the last 20 years that I've been in the business we've used an awful lot of them. The other thing is you kind of get into this deal where you talk to a producer about why they're doing something or why they haven't tried anything new, why they're still with something old and you get the answer, "Well, that’s the way my dad did it," or "that's the way we've always done it." Organic trace minerals aren’t necessarily new. But what we're looking at with the Blueprint® program is the fact that you use them as a total replacement for all inorganics. That is newer, where you look at removing the inorganics and only using the organics. I think back on some of those cartoons that you see — they look like cartoons today but they were actual advertisements in the '50s and '60s — about doctors that say they recommend Chesterfield or Camel cigarettes, and then today you look at that and you just can't imagine that a doctor would recommend a cigarette with as much as we know today about lung cancer and such. I think there will come a day when we look at inorganic trace minerals similarly. They're not quite as bad as cigarettes, but it's definitely a situation where at the time we thought it was a really good option until something better has come along now with organic trace minerals, and we're starting to now see that there were some drawbacks to the inorganic trace minerals that we really weren’t looking for before, but now today they're becoming more and more obvious.
Tom: It's interesting how things that we take for granted can turn out to be so wrong, isn’t it?
Mark: Right, exactly. It just takes new research, more time, and data on some of the older practices to find out that something new is much more beneficial.
Tom: I've heard the term trace mineral antagonist thrown around. Can you explain what this means?
Mark: As we were talking about, the key is to get our trace minerals absorbed into the body and into the bloodstream, and what you have are these antagonists that compete for absorption, so we want to get things like copper, zinc and manganese absorbed into the bloodstream, but you also have trace minerals in the diet that are going to interfere or compete for those absorption sites, and they’re things like iron and molybdenum. The other things you can have in your water or in feeds are sulfates like copper or zinc sulfate. Those sulfate portions of the molecule actually interfere with the absorption of trace minerals.
Tom: I understand that CRYSTALYX has developed several products in the new Blueprint line. Can you tell us what Blueprint is specifically?
Mark: So, the Blueprint line is just that; it's a line of feeds. For one thing, it's not a single block or a single feed. It is an entire program of feeds that you can feed year-round. As far as what Blueprint is, a few things come to mind for me. First, it is the use of total replacement of those inorganics with Bioplex® organic trace minerals that are much closer to the trace minerals that you find in nature. The second thing is the removal of oxides. We spent quite a bit of time talking about some of the negative connotations of inorganic trace minerals, oxides and sulfates — the removal of those is the second feature. The third feature is the addition of other Alltech® technologies with Blueprint products, such as additives like Actigen®, Integral® A+, FEB-200™ or Fibrozyme. Things like that will give you another boost with the Blueprint trace mineral program.
Tom: What sets Blueprint products apart from other supplements?
Mark: The one thing that you'll probably notice right off the bat is that there are actually lower levels of trace minerals on the label and in the formula, and I think that is something that producers would notice right away, and it gives us an opportunity to point out why those levels are lower. And they are lower because they're more available, so you don't need to feed as much. With inorganic trace minerals, we know that only a lower percentage of them is actually going to get into the animal, so we end up using much higher levels. With our organic Bioplexes, we know that a much higher percentage of those actually get into the animal, therefore, we don't need to feed as much. So, you can look at it as kind of conserving the amount of trace minerals that we're feeding, or not overfeeding trace minerals that are then excreted into the environment.
Tom: So, is Blueprint just a different trace mineral program?
Mark: That’s a large part of it, but not completely. As I alluded to earlier, the Blueprint program at its core is a change to a total replacement of inorganic trace minerals with organic Bioplexes, but also there are other additional technologies that we put with them such as our Actigen product, Integral A+, FEB-200, Fibrozyme —other Alltech additives that can add to the advantages of a total replacement with organic trace minerals.
Tom: So, in your opinion, Mark, what types of producers would benefit the most from Blueprint products?
Mark: When you look at a new product like this, you probably want to look at early adopters, people that are looking for a competitive edge. A lot of times these may be some seedstock producers in your area. It can also be people that know they have those trace mineral antagonists that hamper the absorption of inorganic trace minerals. They understand that because of those antagonists they need to use an organic trace mineral supplement. Other people that this would appeal to are people that realize that our end customer in the supermarket buying beef is growing more and more concerned about how we're treating our animals, what we’re feeding them and how we are treating the environment. And this is a program that treats the environment very well because we are not over-feeding inorganic trace minerals; we’re feeding a much lower level of a more highly available trace mineral and getting better performance from the animal.
Tom: If producers begin a Blueprint program with their herd, is it seasonal or is it recommended that they stick with it year-round?
Mark: That's a good question in general for supplements. We have a lot of customers that will go on a supplement program maybe in the fall through the winter or through calving with their spring calving herds. Maybe they go off in the summer. Maybe they don't start it right away in the fall; they wait until right ahead of calving. We like to tell producers, "You should stay on a supplementary trace mineral program year-round." That becomes even more critical with the Blueprint program because once you gain the added advantage of removing those inorganics from the animal, you don't want to go back on a supplement that contains inorganics, and you really don't want to go without trace minerals at anytime. So, it can be used like our typical supplements are where they go on and off of them, but we would recommend that you stay on it and that you do not switch between a Blueprint program and then a program that goes back and uses inorganic trace minerals.
Tom: To your knowledge, do other self-fed supplement businesses offer programs like Blueprint?
Mark: You know what? As far as competitors out there, there's not a competitive program like Blueprint. Blueprint is available in our supplement blocks and minerals. It's available through Hubbard Feeds and in creep feeds and other cakes, basically for year-round usage. That's the key to our program as well is that there are over 19 CRYSTALYX products available in the Blueprint line so you can feed protein product in the winter; you can go to a magnesium product, a high mag product in the spring time; you can go to a fly control mineral in the summer, you can go to a mineral without fly control; we've got supplements specifically designed for Fescue forages; and as I mentioned we've got four or five other additives that you can add such as Actigen or Integral A+ if you have issues with gut health, or need some help with some mycotoxins, things like that. So, it's a year-round program with a variety of options to allow you to pick and choose your favorite product for each season of the year.
Tom: Mark Robbins is the director of research and Nutrition Services with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. Thanks for joining us, Mark.
Mark: Thank you.