How to Fix Cattle Diet Deficiencies

Vitamins, Minerals Play Important Role in Beef Cattle Immunity, Health and Performance

Jennifer Carrico
By  Jennifer Carrico , Senior Livestock Editor
Cattle need to have proper vitamins and minerals in their diet, no matter what the source, to remain healthy. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Becky Mills)

ORLANDO, Fla. (DTN) -- A good mineral program for one group of cattle will likely look different for another group of cattle even at the same farm or ranch, but knowing what your cattle need is what's important, according to Amelia Woolums, veterinarian and professor at Mississippi State University.

Woolums said vitamins and minerals help protect the body and organs and help cattle stay healthy.

"Vitamins and minerals are involved in everything from the skin to the hooves to bones and muscles," she said. "There's really no system that vitamins and minerals don't have a part in to make them work correctly. They even protect the mammary glands and help the calf develop properly."


Minerals are expressed on a feed bag in percentages needed in the diet. It's important to know the amount needed and not to feed them in excess, thus causing the potential for toxicity. Minerals are divided into macro-minerals and micro-minerals. Macro-minerals are needed in larger amounts in a cow's diet. These include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium chloride and sulfur. Micro-minerals are needed in smaller amounts, with the most important being copper, selenium and zinc.

Nutrient requirements of certain vitamins and minerals will depend on the animal's weight, age and gestation status. Woolums said there can also be differences in needs based on the animal's breed and if they are going through any stress. This is why it's important to know all the factors involved with each group of cattle you have in your operation and work with a nutritionist and/or your veterinarian to find the proper levels.

"Nutrient deficiency can affect immunity and how animals fight off parasites and viruses or anything else that tries to infect them," said Woolums. "Protein and energy are important in immunity, with minerals zinc, copper and selenium and vitamins A, E and D at the proper levels."

Many studies have been done relating zinc and immunity levels, as it has been found to be important in disease prevention by helping build white blood cells to fight off infection. Animals with a zinc deficiency often have a disruption in immune response and have poorer health. Zinc supplementation can often help increase immunity in these animals.

"Producers have asked if injectable minerals will help, and when we look at those studies, we find some studies show those animals who have been given injectable minerals with proper vaccinations can see less respiratory infection," she said.


Woolums suggests sampling all the forages and feeds used on your farm to know if they have the proper amounts of minerals. If a deficiency is found, then knowing how to supplement those animals is important. It could mean free-choice minerals or injectable minerals. Knowing how one mineral can affect the absorption or interruption of another is very important as well. Testing soil and water where cows run on pastures can explain deficiencies or health problems as well.

"It's not easy to give fact-based recommendations on if supplementing vitamins and minerals will improve immunity, health and performance in a certain group of calves unless you know what you are dealing with," she said. "There's been so much research done on vitamins and minerals. Based on all this, supplementation should be considered to improve health and immunity."

If you are having health problems due to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, talk to your veterinarian and decide what route would be beneficial to your animals.

Jennifer Carrico can be reached at

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Jennifer Carrico