Doc’s Blog

Minerals & Spark Plugs  Team Players

I have often been accused of having a one-track mind with regard to feeding minerals, since I usually recommend feeding cafeteria-style minerals as a vital element in the treatment of most herd health or nutrition problems. 

There are several reasons for this:

  • Feeds are less mineralized today because of soil depletion and the adverse effects of commonly used herbicides. 
  • Confinement of livestock in CAFO’s restricts the exercise of an animal’s inate nutritional wisdom to pick what it needs — if given the choice.
  • It is easy to dump excess minerals into a ration or a TMR, but extremely difficult to attain a suitable balance for each individual animal.

Cafeteria-style mineral feeding adjusts for all three of these situations.

Consider this: trace minerals are an intrinsic part of the  enzymes   that modulate most metabolic processes.   Thus, trace minerals can be likened to spark plugs that modulate the function of gasoline motors.  If some spark plugs are missing or out of time  the engine will not operate efficienty or not run at all.  

Trace minerals, like spark plugs, are team players — they all must be working together to be effective.  

Mineralization of Baby Calves

    I recently viewed a research paper entitled:  “Mineralization in newborn calves contributes to health, improves the antioxidant system and reduces bacterial infections.”  The abstract is available at

    This study evaluated the benefits of an intramuscular mineral supplementation on  the health of dairy calves. Ten calves were divided into two groups — a control group and a test group.    On days 2 and 14 post-birth, the 5 animals in the test group were injected with 3 ml of a solution containing selenium, copper, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.  Blood was collected from all animals on days 2, 10, 20 and 30 of life in order to analyze the antioxidant enzymes that affect the immune system.

   According to the researchers, mineral supplementation presented many beneficial effects including: an increase in the activity of antioxidant enzymes, improvement of immunity, lowered mortality, less incidence of diarrhea and anemia, and less need for the use of antibiotics,

    I thought this was an interesting study,  especially since it confirms what I have seen over the years in calves born to properly mineralized  dams. The study would have been better if it had compared blood levels of calves from highly mineralized dams to those on a less than adequate diet.  I hope no one uses this study to begin marketing trace mineral injection as a treatment for mineral deficiencies.   .

     As Dr. Wm Albrecht pointed out decades ago, it takes healthy soil to grow the healthy plants necessary for healthy animals and humans. It would be accurate to replace the word “healthy” with the words “highly mineralized.”  

     Unfortunately, confinement of animals and soil depletion necessitate some sort of supplementation of minerals.  Thus, feeding “ground up rocks” is a standard practice until soils and plants can become more mineralized.  Some livestock  owners feed a ‘one-bag-fits-all’ mineral mix. The smarter ones provide a variety of minerals so the animals can use their innate nutritional wisdom to balance their indicidual mineral needs.