Spring mineral use and hoof health for cattle on pasture

May 21, 2020

What are some challenges producers could face during the summer months that a mineral supplement could help with? Jill Peine discusses the importance of trace minerals and the role nutrition plays in hoof health.


Apple Podcast Subscribe Instructions >

Stitcher Subscribe Instructions >

Tom:    This is Tom Martin here with Jill Peine, nutritionist with CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements. We're going talk about spring mineral use and hoof health for cattle on pasture. Welcome back, Jill.

Jill:       Thanks, Tom.

Tom:    So, we're well into spring now with summer months approaching. What should cattle producers be considering, mineral-wise, this time of year?

Jill:       In many parts of the country and into Canada, pastures have really greened up and many are eager to get those cows turned out if they haven't already. Although pastures are looking green and lush – and for the most part early pastures provide enough energy and protein to meet cow requirements – we can't forget about providing the supplemental minerals for a complete nutrition program. These would include the macro minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium along with the micro – or trace minerals – like copper, selenium, and zinc, which cattle still require that aren't in the lush early season grasses. So, by providing a summer mineral, it's important since we only get 1 calf per-cow, per-year. Because of that, while cutting back in your mineral program may sound inviting – especially during these economic uncertain times – it really should give producers more incentive to do things the right way. Giving your cow herd’s spring and summer mineral programs some thought now will help maintain ideal reproductive performance with some earlier breed back rate potentially narrowing the breeding window and at the same maximize calf health and growth performance.

RELATED PODCAST: Spring grasses and grass tetany risk: The role of magnesium

Tom:    Generally, what are some challenges producers could face during the summer months that a mineral supplement could help them with?

Jill:       In the earlier spring months with rapidly growing cool season grasses – or even after a cool stretch of weather in a wet spring – grass tetany issues may be more prevalent. Grass tetany issues are caused by those grasses not having enough magnesium to support a cow’s requirements especially in those high milking, good milking cows within the cowherd because their magnesium requirement is higher than a cow with a lower milk production. Grass tetany may also come up later in the fall months as well, but during the summer grazing period, phosphorous is also critical. Phosphorus has a long history of use in livestock supplements and has a number of important functions within the body. Phosphorus is involved in almost all metabolic reactions, amino acid, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism. There’s enzyme formation – it’s a component in nucleic acids such as RNA and DNA – and it is also required by rumen microorganisms for the cellulose digestion and microbial protein synthesis. Phosphorus is also well-known for its role it plays in reproductive efficiency and there's research out there from USDA which has shown that there is an increase in cows that calve in consecutive years when receiving some supplemental phosphorus. In addition to that, even those cows supplemented with phosphorus had heavier calves at weaning time compared to non-supplemented cows. There are also many studies that have proved that phosphorus deficiency can cause a decrease in conception rates, irregular estrus or heat cycles, anestrus or no heat cycle, a decrease in ovarian activity, more cystic follicles, and really overall results in a decline in fertility. And so, phosphorus supplementation is important especially during the summer months and during the breeding season due to the reproductive impact it has. These phosphorus levels will vary depending on plant maturity, weather conditions, soil and fertilizer use, etc. Phosphorus requirements will also vary within the animal depending on her stage of production. For instance, during the late spring and summer months, all spring calving cows are in peak lactation – and we expect them to be coming back into estrus – it’s important to provide supplemental phosphorus during this time to meet their needs.

Tom:    Jill, you’ve talked about some macro minerals, but what about the micro minerals? How important are they this time of year?

Jill:       Those micro or trace minerals are also an important part of a complete nutrition program as well. Trace minerals are critical when it comes to reproductive performance, which for many operations the summer months also coincide with the breeding season. Now, those trace mineral deficiencies can also reduce growth, milk production and also cause a variety of metabolic diseases. There is a survey that was done across 18 states, which measured trace mineral levels in native grasses. And this study found that a greater percentage of grasses were marginal to deficient in copper, zinc, cobalt, and selenium compared to adequate to meet the needs of beef cattle. In addition to not having the adequate levels of trace minerals in soils or grasses, there oftentimes may be cases of antagonists such as iron or molybdenum that will bind with others, tying them up, and rendering those trace minerals as unavailable which can also lead to some deficiencies. Now today – more than ever – we know more about how much cow nutrition impacts calf development during pregnancy. With that being said, although it may be tempting to reduce the added cost of mineral supplements during those summer months once the cows are bred, it may have detrimental impacts on the calf even during that first trimester. Prenatal trace minerals can help produce healthy calves. When the required level of the dam is receiving copper and selenium, the calf will have enhanced cold tolerance. Additionally, when there are optimal maternal levels of copper, cobalt, selenium, those trace minerals as well as vitamin E, there will be an improvement in antibody transfer of colostrum, which then improves immune function of the calves having positive impacts for those animals.

Tom:    What about hoof health? Cattle may develop hoof problems after a wet spring or during dry summer months. What goes into hoof injuries, lameness, or other foot-related issues?

Jill:       Hoof health can be tied back to one or a combination of a few factors. And these can include genetics, environmental factors, disease, and nutrition. So, if we break these four categories down – first looking at genetics by keeping records of the sire and dams – the animals that have hoof problems may be one way to sort out genetic contributions to lameness. Those animals with hoof issues as well as their sire and dam, if it is determined to be genetic should be called to help reduce further problems that may be passed down genetically. It's recommended to select those replacement heifers and bulls that are structurally sound at the ground to help alleviate any confirmation issues or hoof angle issues that maybe leading to lameness down the road.

            As far as environment goes – although weather is not as controllable – managing grazing conditions may be. By keeping the cow herd away from pastures that tend to be more swampy during the wet season and maintaining good drainage in and around those watering and feeding areas, it may also help reduce lameness issues. The hooves of animals that have to stand in wet muddy conditions eventually soften, making injury more likely. And also – opposite of that – animals that are maintained on very hard surfaces are also prone to hoof injury. Also, properly managing the ground of the areas you may work cattle to help avoid potential hoof injuries may have those advantages as well. All in all, keeping animals on soft dry ground is the most ideal and can help alleviate these types of hoof problems.

            The third category I mentioned is disease. If the hoof was injured, punctured, or there are open wounds, infection may set into that hoof. The primary disease affecting hoofs is foot rot. Foot rot is first detected normally by signs of lameness in animals. Animals with hoof issues like foot root really should be separated from the rest of the herd as they will shed the bacteria and any other animal that injures itself may be more prone to that infection. But keep in mind though, lameness doesn't always automatically mean foot rot. There are other common causes of lameness, which could include hairy heel warts, corns, or the hooves cracking.

            And then the final category is nutrition. Nutrition plays a big role in hoof health as well. Since hooves are metabolically active, the quality of the overall diet cattle receives is often evident in the hoof appearance. The hoof is primarily made up of protein – specifically keratin – and fats and waxes to make up the outer portion, which will help seal the moisture in the hoof. There is proper nutrition that is necessary or there is too much nutrition that can work against you. For example, if we feed too much grain or have a starch overload in those animals it can lead to acidosis and cause those animals to founder – also known as laminitis – and that can in turn lead to lameness if not managed correctly. But all in all, a balanced nutrition program with the optimal protein, fatty acids, vitamin, and mineral levels will help improve overall hoof quality and hoof integrity.

Tom:    Hoof treatment such as antibiotics can add up quickly, be quite expensive when treating hoof issues. Let's talk more about the nutritional aspect of hoof health. What minerals should producers look towards to help prevent poor hoof conditions?

Jill:       Trace minerals and vitamins are important when it comes to hoof health. And really those trace minerals and vitamins are key dietary components to promote healthy hooves. While copper, manganese, and zinc are all important, zinc has been found to have the greatest influence on hoof health. Zinc is a critical component in maintaining hoof tissues through the process of keratinization – which makes up the hard, outer surface of the hoof – in addition to improved wound healing and cellular integrity. Copper is also required for those strong keratin bonds within the hoof where studies have shown that copper deficiency can decrease the strength of hoof tissues. Additionally, in areas within the U.S. that have endophyte-infected fescue, the total amount of copper present in those plants is reduced and also negatively impacts the bioavailability of that copper to the animal. Hoof problems we see in those areas battling with fescue toxicosis due to the ergot toxin may be linked to copper deficiency as well. And so, proper supplementation may be able to help alleviate some of those fescue toxicity symptoms. Manganese is the other trace minerals that could be listed, but it has a less direct role. Manganese mainly helps reduce hoof problems by maintaining proper leg formation. Here again, structural soundness – how the animal moves and hits the ground first landing on its heel and transferring her weight towards her toe – may be at a genetic factor influenced by nutrition.

Tom:    Jill, what CRYSTALYX products would you recommend during the summer months as a mineral program or for hoof care?

Jill:       In many areas, zinc and copper levels in forage is inadequate to meet the animal’s needs. And while manganese concentrations may be sufficient in most grasses, it may not always be in the form that is available for those animals to use. CRYSTALYX offers many mineral options that all contain organic trace minerals. These trace mineral proteinates in the organic form improve its bioavailability to that animal. So, not only is that trace mineral more easily absorbed and metabolized by the animal, but it can also help eliminate potential issues associated with those trace mineral antagonists. So, for added phosphorus over the summer months, there is the Crystal-Phos® 4 or Crystal-Phos® 8 option or the Blueprint® 6% Phos option as well. In the fescue belt with fescue toxicosis issues, they should look towards the products with “fescue” in the name such as the Fescue-Phos® or Blueprint® Fescue Mag. And as I mentioned earlier, since the summer months also overlap with the breeding season, check out those Breed-Up® or Blueprint® Breed-Up® Max, which is fortified at 200% of the NRC requirements for beef cattle and it's ideal for those animals which may benefit from higher levels of supplementation. And over the summer months, we don't want to forget about the added fly control that is available in these minerals. There’s added ClariFly® options available in the Blueprint® Mineral lineup in addition to IGR Max™ with Altosid® and Rolyx® Max with Rabon®. Now, each of these options are available on our website. That’s Crystalyx.com where you can find more information on those products that fit your needs and also to find your local CRYSTALYX dealer.

Tom:    Jill Peine, nutritionist with CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements. Thanks for joining us, Jill.

Jill:       Thank you, Tom.

Tom:    I'm Tom Martin and thank you for listening.