What are organic trace minerals?



Beef cattle require minerals for maintenance and to support adequate growth, reproduction and health. When considering minerals, it is important to realize that minerals can be classified as either macro or micro (or trace) minerals.  Macro minerals, as their name indicates, are typically needed in larger amounts and include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. Micro, or trace, minerals are needed in much smaller amounts but are still considered essential nutrients, as they are involved in many metabolic and physiological functions, including serving as components of hormones, the endocrine system and certain enzyme factors, playing a role cell replication and differentiation, and being involved in the immune response.  Examples of micro or trace minerals include copper, manganese, zinc, cobalt and selenium.

The amount of minerals in feedstuffs and forages varies greatly. These differences can be regional or seasonal and also vary based on the forage species or feedstuff provided. Certain minerals are often present in levels below what is needed to fulfill the animal’s requirements, which creates the need to supplement them in the animal’s diet.

Trace minerals can be supplemented in either an inorganic or organic form. In essence, the main difference between inorganic and organic trace minerals is that, in the case of organic trace minerals, metal ions are bound to a carbon-containing molecule, whereas that is not true with inorganic trace minerals. Inorganic trace minerals — including sulfates, oxides, chlorides and sodium selenite — are typically byproducts of other industrial processes. While inexpensive, these trace minerals are typically not as bioavailable as their organic counterparts. Due to the low bioavailability of inorganic trace minerals, it is not uncommon to see them being supplemented at levels above the animal’s actual requirements. This is an issue, because not only can these high levels of supplementation lead to mineral-to-mineral antagonisms, but due to poor absorption and utilization, the majority of inorganic trace minerals also get excreted back into the environment, leaving very little to be utilized by the animal. Furthermore, inorganic trace minerals are also very reactive, with strong pro-oxidative qualities that can inhibit vitamin stability and indirectly impact the overall supplement value and, potentially, the animal’s performance.

Organic trace minerals, on the other hand, refers to metal ions (e.g., copper, manganese, cobalt or zinc) that have been bound, chelated or “linked” to a carbon-containing molecule or molecules. These molecules can be amino acids, peptides (the preferred bonding groups used in Bioplex trace minerals), sugars and even organic acids. This makes inorganic and organic minerals structurally very different. In general, organic trace minerals are more similar to the form in which animals would find trace minerals in nature; as such, livestock are better adapted to utilize minerals when they are provided in an organic form.

Most areas within the U.S. are known to have selenium-deficient soils and forages. Selenium, however, cannot be chelated; therefore, it must be supplemented as selenium yeast, such as the organic version that is included in Sel-Plex. The inorganic form of selenium is not only highly toxic but is also poorly absorbed and utilized. For ruminants, organic selenium such as Sel-Plex offers a double advantage, because unlike selenite, organic selenium is both well-absorbed and better-retained by the animal. Rumen microbes rapidly reduce much of the highly oxidized selenite or selenate to unabsorbable forms. In contrast, selenoamino acids and other selenoproteins (including those found in Sel-Plex) are already highly reduced and can be readily used in a formation of microbial protein or can move post-ruminally for absorption. 

In beef cattle, trace mineral deficiencies are typically associated with low intakes of the trace mineral in question. They can also be the result of poor absorption, even when producers are supplementing trace minerals but are using sources (e.g., inorganic trace minerals) that offer lower bioavailability. Mineral deficiencies are often not visible but can contribute to poor or sub-optimal performance and, as a result, can affect beef producers’ profitability. A sub-optimal trace mineral status can affect an animal’s reproductive health and efficiency, metabolism, growth and development, and response to stress and disease challenges, all of which can directly impact the herd’s pregnancy rates, calving percentages, birth and weaning weights, calf mortality numbers and gains.

Organic trace minerals are better absorbed and utilized by beef cattle and contribute to the optimal trace mineral status needed for reproductive efficiency, immunity and growth. With this in mind, trace mineral supplementation as a nutritional strategy is an important economic decision for cow/calf, stocker and feedlot operations. High-quality organic trace minerals such as Bioplex and Sel-Plex are a cornerstone of the Sweetlix brand and are specifically designed to optimize performance and profitability throughout all phases of cattle production.