Boosting the Immune System to Fight Stress

Research continues to draw the connection between mineral status and immune-system response to keep feeder calves healthy and growing. Three trials on over 1,000 calves demonstrate that connection in the field.

The studies showed that both pull rate and death loss can be cut by using a low-moisture block supplement to improve rumen function, increase appetite and provide organic forms of trace minerals.

Brigade®, a CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplement formulated specifically to help fight stress in cattle, was placed in the backgrounding program of CPC Livestock, in Fountain Run, Ky. CPC, owned by Marshall and Brian Celsor and Ivan Pedigo, buys four-weight sale-barn calves from six nearby states, backgrounds them, and ships them to feedlots at about 700 pounds.

When CPC began using Brigade® supplement, which is continuously available to deliver additional protein, electroyles, vitamins and minerals, including organic forms of copper, zinc and manganese, the supplement showed immediate results.

A drop in pulls was seen, as well as fewer chronics and reduced death loss. Similar results were recorded on follow-up trials.

“All trials showed calves on the supplement were eating more,” says Pedigo. “After seeing the results of the trials, we’re convinced that the supplement is a tool we can use to reduce pulls, lower death loss and increase feed consumption.”


Supplemental zinc, copper and selenium have all been shown to strengthen immune function and reduce levels of bovine respiratory disease in feedlot field studies. However, researchers from West Texas A&M and New Mexico State note in a recent Journal of Animal Science article, feeders should be cautious about supplying minerals beyond the amount needed to compensate for decreased feed intake and known deficiencies.

Galyean, L. J. Perino, and G. C. Duff, 1999. Interaction of Cattle Health/Immunity and Nutrition. J. Anim. Sci. 77:1120-1134


  • To reduce risk from the start, buy cattle from a known, reliable source.
  • If you don’t know the calves’ trace-mineral status coming off the truck, assume they’re deficient. Supplement accordingly.
  • Formulate receiving diets to compensate for the relatively lower feed intake of stressed new arrivals.
  • Although the typical inorganic forms of copper and zinc usually suffice under normal conditions, the complex—or organic—forms have been shown to increase absorption. They are a good investment when supplementing stressed new arrivals.
  • Potassium is a common mineral in the body, but scouring or excessive shrink can quickly deplete it. Effective potassium supplementation—particularly starting rations—helps get calves rehydrated and recovering.
  • Manage to reduce stress: Provide plenty of clean fresh water, access to high-quality grass hay, short rest before initial processing, vaccination program based on known history.