Don’t Forget your Minerals!

Florida’s flat wood soils in the Bone Valley region are known to be rich in phosphorus. Livestock production has been an important contributor to Florida’s agricultural landscape since its colonization. With the constant findings shed by university research, we now understand the important role that supplementing minerals can play in the viability of our livestock operation.

There are some elements that are not so abundant in our soils and forages, thus our need to add these to our livestock rations. It gets more complicated than this, since each livestock species has different nutrient requirements. Also, every animal depending on its weight and metabolic demands will have specific mineral needs that will have to be met. This article will discuss the functions of these elements and will provide you with essential resources that you can utilize in developing a feeding plan for your herd or flock of sheep, goats, or cattle.

Mineral functions can be grouped in four categories

Structural Minerals – forming structural components of tissue in the animals. For example, Zinc contributes to the molecular stability of cell walls.

Minerals with physiological functions – once ingested, end up in bodily fluids and act as electrolytes (salts) that maintain hydration, acidity and interact with cells to exchange fluids and waste.

Catalyzers – the largest group. It refers to the role of minerals in this category acting as metalloenzymes (shaping proteins which have effect on tissues) involved in enzymatic reactions and hormone pathways.

The Essentials

Calcium (Ca) and Phosphorus (P)– are major components for the formation of skeletal tissues. These two elements are stored in skeletal tissue, and deficiencies will cause the mobilization of these as well as further weakening of bones, decrease in weight gain and feed efficiency. For lactating animals, deficiency can cause milk fever and nervous disorders. Optimum Ca:P ratio should be 1.5:1 to 2:1.

Magnesium (Mg) – involved in enzyme and nervous functions and carbohydrate (sugar) breakdown and utilization. Magnesium deficiency is rare and only seen in situations when potassium levels are extremely high, since potassium can inhibit magnesium absorption in forages and animals. Mineral blocks can be used in our area to supplement Mg.

Potassium (K) – heavily involved in the balancing of pH and osmotic pressure in the body. Well fertilized grass contains adequate amounts of potassium in leaf tissues. Supplementation with K is rarely needed in livestock herds in Florida. In stockpiled forages grazed during winter or in weathered hay, K levels may be low.

Sulfur (S) necessary for the fabrication of methionine and cysteine, essential amino acids that make up many proteins. Sulfur deficiency in Florida and in the US is rare. In our region, sulfur levels are in excess, which can interfere with copper, causing issues in copper absorption. Too much sulfur can result in brain lesions known as polioencephalomalacia (PME), a condition that can happen when livestock are fed unbalanced rations based on distiller’s grains.

Trace Minerals

Trace minerals are metal ions present in minimal amounts in biological systems which are required for optimal activity. These minerals, as other minerals are necessary to complete specific bodily functions and need to be provided in livestock rations depending on geographical conditions as well as metabolic demand of your herd.

Copper (Cu) – it serves the body by being involved in animal energy production and immunity. Adequate Cu levels are essential to the production of white blood cells and the development of antibodies. Lower than normal levels of this mineral can impair fetal development, increased incidence of scours, gastrointestinal ulcers after birth and respiratory problems in newborn calves.

Sheep have a lower tolerance to copper. Goats have similar tolerance to cattle, while horses have a greater tolerance to this mineral compared to cattle. This is paramount in selecting the correct mineral supplement for your herd or flock.

Zinc (Zn) and Manganese (Mn) – these two minerals are important to maintain the integrity of the epithelial tissue (skin cells). Zinc is heavily involved in immune functions of white blood cells, antioxidant enzyme production, creation of proteins, and cell interactions with their environment.


Selenium (Se) – selenium is deficient in Florida soils. Deficiency causes white muscle disease (similar to muscular dystrophy) in newborn calves. Inadequate levels of this mineral can also cause weak calves at birth and increase their susceptibility to calfhood diseases. Selenium deficiency can also increase rates of retained placentas and poor reproductive performance.

Cobalt (Co) – cobalt is essential for the synthesis of vitamin B-12 by rumen bacteria. Deficiency of this element can manifest itself as loss of appetite as well as stunting. Forages in Florida usually have adequate levels of this element, but mineral mixes will typically provide 10 ppm of cobalt to ensure no deficiencies. High-grain diets require more cobalt than forage-based diets, and cobalt should always be included in the mineral mix when feeding grain-based diets.

Mineral sources

Sourcing the correct mineral supplement formula for your livestock operation is extremely important. Major sources are limestone (Ca), dicalcium phosphate (Ca and P), monosodium phosphate (Na and P), rock salt (Na, and Cl), magnesium oxide (Mg) and potassium chloride (K). You can obtain Trace minerals in inorganic forms and organic complexes. Organic complexes are minerals bound to proteins, which have shown to have added benefits in stress situation.

Livestock nutrient requirement tables are needed to understand the demands of specific groups of animals depending on their nutritional needs:


Always consult with a veterinarian or an animal nutritionist before formulating your own feed ration. You can also test your ration to ensure that you are meeting the nutritional needs of your herd or flock. There are multiple testing laboratories that provide this service, and you can contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office for more information on this. UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County is here to help answer these or any other agriculture related questions. Please contact us at 863-773-2164 for further assistance.



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Posted: October 1, 2018

Category: Agriculture, Livestock,
Tags: Feed, Forages, Livestock, Mineral, Nutrients, Nutrition, Soils, Supplementation

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