Trouble Shooting Mineral Deficiencies

     I occasionally get phone calls something like this, “Hey, Doc.  My horses have XYZ , what mineral should I be feeding for that?”   Further conversation usually reveals  they are being fed a bunch of different supplements - some force fed in the ration and some fed free-choice.

     It is not usually possible to prescribe appropriate minerals just on the basis of symptoms, but there are situations  when symptoms or signs do point to a certain mineral deficiency.  For example, if the normally black hair coat of a cow is tinged with red it almost always signifies a copper deficiency.  Hoof and hair problems may be associated  with deficiencies of zinc and copper. Then too, certain environmental conditions influence consumption of certain minerals — some animals take more sulfur in the spring and fall when building new hair.  Cattle on lush spring growth pasture usually need more magnesium.

     When encountering questions similar to the one above—and knowing that an accurate diagnosis is based on good information—I immediately start asking questions. 

Elim-a-Net in use high res
  1. What are you currently feeding?    I am often amazed at the number of supplements some folks give their animals.  I suspect sometime  a bunch of different supplements can cause problems with mineral interference.   What I am looking for here, is any obvious imcompatibilities or gross over feeding, Resulting in metabolic deficiencies even with adequate minerals.
  2. Have you tested the water for livestock suitability and especially for nitrates? 
  3. Do you provide separate sources of calcium and phosphorus?
  4. Do you have a separate source of plain white salt available?
  5. I usually ask the owner or caretaker, “What do you think is the problem?”   Since I am sitting at a desk hundreds of miles away and they are right next to the animals, I believe their observation and impressions should be factored into the decision mix. 

     Answers to the above questions will usually identify some things to be changed or improved.   Many times that involves removing some of the duplicated supplements and I always recommend providing a full-array, free choice mineral feeding program.