Overall health and productivity in beef and dairy herds: Blueprint total replacement program

Nov 23, 2020

If Mother Nature can get it right – so can we. The Blueprint concept is a total replacement of inorganic trace minerals with organic trace minerals, which are better absorbed and utilized by livestock. Listen to Sam Strahan talk about the research behind the Blueprint program and the results producers are seeing in their operations.


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Tom:    I'm Tom Martin, here today with Sam Strahan, nutritionist with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, to talk about the CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® program. Welcome, Sam.

Sam:    Thank you, Tom.

Tom:    Sam, over the past year or so, we've talked with others on the Block Talk podcast about the benefits of the Blueprint program. Can you briefly remind our listeners what Blueprint is?

Sam:    Absolutely, Tom. Thank you for that. The Blueprint concept of trace mineral nutrition was introduced, now, close to about three years ago, I guess. So, we've had a number of producers, during that time, give it a try and provide some feedback to us. What it involves is a total replacement of inorganic trace minerals — and here, we’re talking about copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt and selenium in the organic form. The organic form of minerals is how these are found in the plants (that) livestock consume. So, I like to say, “If we trust Mother Nature to get it right, we would expect these to be better absorbed than the inorganics,” and research has proven this to be the case.

            So, one thing I want to be very clear about with Blueprint is the fact that trace minerals are 100% in the organic form here. For many years, organic forms have been used in livestock diets, but always in a combination with the inorganics. So, Blueprint’s the first total-replacement approach. And we have gotten really excited about sharing what this total replacement is doing for animals and their overall health and productivity.

Tom:    Okay. Just to back up a bit, you mentioned organic and inorganic trace minerals. Can you explain what those terms mean?

Sam:    Sure. These terms are basically from chemistry. So, “organic” simply refers to the fact that (the) carbon molecule is part of the chemical structure, while “inorganic” means there's no carbon attached. Now, perhaps it's a little easier to understand in that the organic form is the way we would find it in plants. So, when cattle, goats or horses are eating grass, they’re consuming the copper, zinc and so on in this organic form.

            Now, in our products, we try to duplicate this natural form. So, on a feed label, we’ll have these listed as proteinates, since they’re bound to amino acids, which are small components of protein. Conversely, the inorganic forms of trace minerals are mined from rock that's found in the ground and further manufactured, then, for inclusion in animal diets or other industrial uses. Now, these will be found on feed labels shown as sulfates, oxides, chlorides, that type of thing, with examples being copper sulfate, zinc oxide or, in the case of selenium, sodium selenite.

Tom:    It sounds like these products are well-researched. So, can you explain more about what Blueprint does for livestock?

Sam:    Oh, for sure. Yes. Our parent company, Alltech, has done a huge amount of research on the organic forms for decades now, and they've been given the name Bioplex®. And there's a large body of research on how they perform in multiple species. For instance, if they have chickens, we can show (them that) our Blueprint program will improve egg quality or reduce the excretion (of minerals) in manure. And if you happen to have some growing puppies, we have evidence of higher bone density (after) a few months on this type of program compared to inorganics and so on.

            But in CRYSTALYX, we focus primarily on the rumen. So, I'll discuss some of that research here. When Blueprint was first introduced, many of us trained as nutritionists looked at this whole concept with a little bit of skepticism, and part of the reason for that is that those doing the research suggested lowering the trace mineral levels well below what industry standards were — and even below what the National Research Council, or NRC, suggested as minimum levels to avoid a deficiency. However, we had our eyes really opened in a groundbreaking trial that was done by the University of Florida when the research showed that even when copper, zinc and manganese were lowered by anywhere from 30% to almost 50% in the Blueprint mineral compared to what was already considered a good-quality inorganic-based mineral, we saw higher levels of these trace minerals in the colostrum of cows, and we also saw higher levels of immunoglobulins. And these helped the calf with early immune protection.

            Now, the calves born from these cows had higher weaning weights than average daily gains, averaging about 25 pounds more in their adjusted 205-day body weight over the two years. Higher immunoglobulin levels that were measured in the calves after birth would also lead us to believe that these calves are better prepared to fight off the disease challenge at an early age, at the time when they're going to be most susceptible.

            Now, these results got us using the phrase “more from less.” Better production is what we saw from lower levels of supplementation. And here, they also track just the heifer calves from cows that were fed these same two treatments for the next two years, and (they) saw that, in year one, these heifers reached puberty about nine days earlier in the Blueprint group, while calves born the second year reached puberty about 41 days earlier. And that happened because the mama cows have been on Blueprint for a longer period than those in the first year. Now, this translated into the heifers being confirmed pregnant about nine days earlier in year one and 18 days earlier in year two. Now, we've done some additional studies here and kind of confirmed these improvements to both weight gain, infertility, and also, in another study, (we) looked at calf death loss.

            So, there is a study going on right now, and we have gotten some information back over the last year or so on two commercial ranches at Florida. And here, they saw, in Ranch 1, an improvement of about 8% in the pregnancy rate, and then, (on) the other ranch, about a 14% improvement in pregnancy rate. Measuring the weaning weight of the calves, Ranch 1 saw an 11-pound improvement, while the second ranch saw about a 30-pound improvement. And when they measured the mortality rate, we saw a reduction of about a third in the first herd and almost 50% in the second herd.

            So, if you really start adding up the numbers here — where you're getting more calves born due to higher fertility, you've got more calves due to the lower death loss before weaning, and then you improve their weight gains in this population — then you can really start to see the excellent return on investment that Blueprint provides.

            Now, just one more example in the research was a trial that was done in Arizona on a ranch there where they compared CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® 6% Phos block to the typical dry mineral they have been using there for some time. Now, the liver is the organ which stores trace minerals. So, to measure this, biopsies were done on the livers of a few cows prior to the start of this study, when they had only been on the loose mineral, and then a little less than six months later, after they had been given the CRYSTALYX Blueprint block. What we found here is that about half the cows had low levels of copper, zinc and selenium at the start of the study, but after 149 days on the Blueprint program, all had higher liver levels, despite these levels being lower in the block compared to the dry mineral. So, again, this is evidence of improved absorption. And the farm manager told us that he had excellent breeding success following this Blueprint supplementation.

            So, these are just some research examples, but we've also had some really good anecdotal feedback from producers who have tried the Blueprint program.

Tom:    Well, tell us a little bit more about that anecdotal feedback — what has been seen from producers on the farm?

Sam:    Since some things are hard to measure, it's always nice to hear these customers reporting back to us when they've tried different products under a range of circumstances. So, one thing we heard from one customer is (that) he said he had the healthiest calves ever. And there was kind of a rather humorous side note here, because he said his vet had called him to ask if they were now working with another clinic because they haven't seen him in a while. Then, on another farm, where they were using some CRYSTALYX with ClariFly® for fly control, they indicated they hadn’t seen any pink eye. And this is another anecdotal kind of report we've been getting from multiple farms across the country.

            Now, I recently talked, just this week, to a vet we work with in North Carolina that I have a lot of respect for. His name's Dr. Richard Kirkman, and he uses the Blueprint® Breed-Up® 28, and he says that, in his herd, the pregnancy rates are always really good. And another thing he noted was that the hair coat is also really good, which is indicative of a healthy animal. He shared that a farmer once told him, “If the outside doesn't look good, then the inside probably doesn't look good either.” So, a good hair coat was a good testimonial there. So, some good farmer wisdom that he provided back to us.

Tom:    How do you explain these improvements that are being seen at the farm?

Sam:    Well, we're still always trying to figure out exactly all the reasons (why) the Blueprint program is working so well in these herds, but I think one of the studies we go back to is the dairy heifer study from Penn State that was published in 2015 that really gives us some good insight. In this study, some 15-month-old heifers were fed a diet either containing the Blueprint-type program, (and they) compared that against a group that was on an inorganic diet. So, the organic-fed group had higher total volatile fatty acid production — we call these VFAs — compared to the inorganic-fed group. And these VFAs are produced when feed is fermented in the rumen by the microbes, and then it's used as a source of energy. What they reported is that there was faster fermentation that went on and, also, higher bioavailability, which allows for a higher number of microorganisms.

            So, bringing this back (to) just the basic nutrition, if we have more microbes, this allows for greater digestion. And as more of the diet is digested, then we get more energy from it. So, since the energy is a fuel that drives all the chemical processes in the body, and we always strive to maximize these energy levels, this leads to better weight gains in the growing animals, and we also get better milk production for the lactating mothers. And we also see, with improved energy status, that we get better conception rates in the breeding herd. So, it just stands to reason (that) a lot of these production improvements seem to be coming from this higher level of energy that is being produced.

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

            I guess the bottom line here is that a Blueprint Program targets animal health and performance and just builds upon the genetic potential at each stage of an animal’s life cycle. So, some of the coolest data here shows how this improvement continues to build in future generations due to what we call fetal programming. So, a farmer or a ranch that continues to keep this high plane of nutrition through multiple generations will continue to measure production improvements.

Tom:    So, what Blueprint options are available for producers in the CRYSTALYX line?

Sam:    Well, we do have quite a few options here, Tom. And appropriate for this time of year, we’re typically looking at protein supplementation. So, we've got three different products with varying levels of protein: the Blueprint® 17 Mag, the 20% All-Natural and the Blueprint® 30, which has some urea added to it. Also, in our Breed-Up lineup, which we've had for years, we've added the Blueprint® Breed-Up® 17, a Breed-Up® 20 and a Breed-Up® 28, as well as having the higher fat option, the Blueprint® Omega.

            Now, for years, we’ve had a stress block called Brigade®, but added now in our Blueprint (program) is our newest-generation stress block for calves, primarily, and that’s called Blueprint® Battalion®. And it’s got a couple other additives in there that the Brigade doesn’t have. So, a little enhanced version there, along with the trace mineral fortification. And then if you're looking just for, say, a mineral-type product, I mentioned the Blueprint 6% Phos product that we used in that Arizona study. That’s available. And then for sheep, we've got a Blueprint® Sheep Mineral, so (that’s) a really good product, and I think you may have talked to Jon Albro earlier at another time about how this product has worked in some farm trials we’ve done.

            So, we’ve also got a couple of products for fescue for those in the fescue belt, a Blueprint® Fescue Mag and a Blueprint® Fescue-Phos® mineral block. So, those both have FEB-200™, an element that helps alleviate some of the fescue issues that we have. Now, our latest form is a hybrid form called CrystalBlox™, and that’s a combination of a compressed block with low-moisture block. And we’ve now dedicated these to being strictly a Blueprint formulation. So, we've got the CrystalBlox™ Blueprint® 20% All-Natural and the 30% protein with some urea added to it. And lastly, we do have some Blueprint loose minerals that can be found through our Hubbard dealers, so some options there in a loose mineral form.

Tom:    So, Sam where can producers who are listening to us — where can they go to find more information on CRYSTALYX Blueprint products?

Sam:    Well, we always invite any CRYSTALYX dealer to provide information to anyone looking for information. But if you want to look online, we've got two sites you can go to: one being Blueprint by the Barrel, all one word, dotcom, so blueprintbythebarrel.com, and then just crystalyx.com, our primary website, would have information there.

Tom:    Sam Strahan, nutritionist with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. Thank you, Sam.

Sam:    Thank you, Tom. I appreciate the time.


Literature cited:

Comparison of trace mineral source on cow trace mineral status, reproduction, and calf weaning weight on two commercial ranches. M. Hersom, J. Yelich, and M. Irsik., Univ. of Florida Beef Rep. 2018

Effect of trace minerals and starch on digestibility and rumen fermentation in diets for dairy heifers. F. Pino and A.J. Heinrichs. J. Dairy Science 99:2797-2810