What’s the difference between inorganic and organic trace minerals?

Dec 31, 2022

Producers know that minerals are important for supplementation for cattle that are grazing grass, but the main difference in mineral types are generally not well-known by the producers. Let’s dive into the differences and why the differences should matter to producers and their cattle.


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RELATED ARTICLE: Why are organic sources of trace minerals important for cattle producers?

ANNOUNCER:             I'm Tom Martin. And with us today is Shelby Roberts, a beef research scientist at Alltech, here to talk with us about minerals, (both) inorganic and organic. Hi, Shelby.


Shelby:                         Hi, Tom. Thanks for having me today.


ANNOUNCER:             So, first of all, what is the main difference in mineral types?


Shelby:                         So, producers know that minerals are important for supplementation for cattle that are grazing grass, but the main difference in mineral types are generally not well-known by the producers. So, when we think about it, there are two forms, (and those) are inorganic and organic. And the main difference is just the way that those minerals are made.


                                     So, inorganic minerals would be those bound to an inorganic salt, like, typically, a sulfate or an oxide, while organic trace minerals are bound to more organic molecules, like an amino acid or protein. And binding these minerals to an amino acid or protein actually makes them more similar to the way that plants and animals actually store these minerals. So, since organic minerals aren't formed, they are more like those that are found in nature; they're actually more readily absorbed and (are) going to be utilized by the animals. So, in short, organic trace minerals are more available minerals to the animal versus an inorganic (option). 


ANNOUNCER:              Well, why is mineral bioavailability important to a producer?


Shelby:                        Bioavailability is essentially the degree to which that mineral can be absorbed and utilized by the animal. So, essentially, you want to make sure that you have a high bioavailability, because when it's high, it means more of that mineral is being absorbed and utilized by the animal. So, for instance, say you're feeding an animal (a mineral) with a lower availability. That means that the animal doesn't uptake all of that mineral, and it gets excreted into the environment — which, one, means that the producer is paying for minerals that aren't getting absorbed and utilized by the animal, but also, you're increasing contamination of minerals into the environment. So, with a more bioavailable mineral, you can improve environmental things, but also, you're going to be able to make sure that what you're paying for is actually being absorbed and utilized by the animal. 


ANNOUNCER:              Inorganics are the current industry standard for trace mineral supplements. How does the superior bioavailability of organic (options) change the way minerals are supplemented?


Shelby:                       Since inorganics are cheaper to make, that's a cheaper option to put into mineral formulations. So, what that means is that — the basis of mineral supplementation has been organic. So, since they know the inorganics are less bioavailable, you have to over-supplement or provide more to the animal than what is actually needed because you have to compensate for the lacking bioavailability (of inorganic options).


                                   So, when we are putting organics into our trace mineral sub-rotations, one, when you look at a tag, organic trace minerals will tend to be formulated at lower levels compared to a traditional mineral supplement. And that is because we know that it's more bioavailable, so you can provide less to that animal. And also, when you over-supplement with inorganic trace minerals, you're also increasing the amount of antagonisms that are present in that mineral. So, what that means is — an antagonism is when excess of one mineral affects the absorption or utilization of another mineral. So, for example, one common one is when you feed high levels of zinc, you're going to reduce the absorption of both copper and manganese. And so, what that means is, when you have a high level of that inorganic zinc supplementation, you're going to have to compensate. So, you have to higher-supplement copper and manganese to prevent any deficiency in that animal in copper or manganese.


                                   So, (providing organic trace minerals) means, one, you can provide lower levels of minerals — which, sometimes, when you look at a tag, it's scary to think of, because generally, as producers, we think “more is more” or “more is better”. But in this case, when you're using organic trace minerals, less is more.

                                    And then, when you are feeding these lower levels, you also have, like we said, less of that environmental concern of that (seen with) inorganics. When you feed higher levels (of inorganic minerals), that means you're also getting higher (amounts of those minerals) excreted into the environment.


ANNOUNCER:               Well, let's carry that on to the economics of this. Does making the change to organic trace minerals pay for itself?


Shelby:                       Yes, it does. We have numerous studies done both in university-type settings and in big commercial herds. And when you use organic trace minerals, we've actually shown that you can improve pregnancy rates. You support (the) overall health of your herd, and also, importantly, you have heavier calf weaning weights.


                                   So, as we know, the cow herd is shrinking mainly because — due to the droughts in parts of the West. We have fewer numbers of cattle. So, that means every pregnancy counts. And we also want to know that prices of calves are really high right now. And so, the more pounds you put on those calves before they're actually shipped, that means you have more money that you're going to get back in return, right? So, as we looked at an average of some of our bigger commercial producers, we actually see an average ROI of 3:1 when you switch to organic trace mineral programs compared to a conventional inorganic program.


ANNOUNCER:             Well, how can a producer determine which form of trace minerals their supplement contains? 


Shelby:                        So, one of the ways that a producer can look and determine what source of trace minerals they have is (by) looking at the feed tag. So, when you look at a feed tag, you want to go look at the ingredient list. And if you see anything listed as, (for) example, zinc sulfate, zinc oxide, chloride or hydroxy, those would be inorganic trace minerals that are being supplemented. If you look at organic trace minerals, they're going to be listed on an ingredient list as either a chelate or a proteinate. So, (for) example, zinc would be (listed as) a zinc proteinate, in this case. And that's one way that you can tell the difference in trace minerals.


                                    The problem is, when you look at mineral tags, a lot of companies actually mix — they'll provide both inorganic and organic trace minerals (in the same product). The only problem is that they don't typically disclose what percentage of each ingredient you have (in their product). So, (for) example, you say — you see both zinc oxide and zinc proteinate listed on the mineral tag. The problem is you don't know if that is, say — is 70% of that zinc oxide or 30% of it proteinate? You don't know the level of mixes. So, are you paying a higher price for more because it's got zinc proteinate listed? But what proportion of that is actually in the mix?


                                    So, one of the things that makes — there's a product called Crystalyx Blueprint. And when you look at this (product’s feed tag), it is actually very clear and straightforward. When you look at a Blueprint product, it actually uses 100% Bioplex organic trace minerals. So, you know, when you look at that feed tag, there's not going to be listed any sulfates (or) oxides. It's all going to be proteinate sources. And so, you're going to get 100% organic trace minerals in that mix.


ANNOUNCER:              All right. That's Alltech beef research scientist Shelby Roberts. Thank you, Shelby.


Shelby:                        Thank you, sir.


ANNOUNCER:              And for Beyond the Barrel, I'm Tom Martin.

Thank you for joining us for the Beyond the Barrel podcast. Learn more about all that CRYSTALYX has to offer by going to www.crystalyx.com. It all adds up to results by the barrel.