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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Graham

What do they actually do?- Mineral Functions and Concerns.

It has been a while since I actually got the chance to sit down and write. With breeding season in full swing for most producers, I would like to explain the vitamins and minerals and the functions they have in the body. Most people know that cattle need them but do not understand which mineral is responsible for what function. I will try not to nerd out too hard and keep this simple. If you have more questions or would like more information, I can provide some links or can discuss it with you. Let's get started with one of the most important minerals in all animals but especially in beef cattle.

Calcium (Ca)


- Bone growth- hardness and structural strength

- Milk production

- Blood clotting

- Insulin release

Calcium Deficiency

- Increased blood clotting time

- Reduced insulin release (could lead to ketosis)

- Tetany or milk fever

Calcium Toxicity

- Excess mineralization in bone (osteopetrosis)- causes bones to become more dense and this causes the bones to become brittle. In developing calves, this can cause malformed bones as well.

- Reduction in feed intake may occur.

Phosphorus (P)


- Energy metabolism

- Dietary cation-anion balance (DCAB)

- Direct relationship with Ca absorption in rumen

Phosphorus deficiency

- Reduced fertility

- Reduced feed intake or pica (abnormal feeding behaviour- eating wood, fertilizer, urine, etc.)

Phosphorus toxicity

- Laxative

- Bone resorption

- Kidney stones

Magnesium (Mg)


- Component of bones and teeth

- Catalyst of enzymes

- Direct effect on Ca mobiliation from bones

- Absorption rate affected by Potassium concentration

Mg Deficiency

- Hypomagnesemia- low Mg levels in the blood

- Anorexia

- Grass tetany

- Vasodilation

- Malformation of teeth

Mg Toxicity

- Rare to have a problem

- Reduction in feed intake

Potassium (K)


- Large role in the sodium-potassium ATPase pump and the DCAB in cells

- K is high in forages but low in grains

- Osmotic pressure maintenance

- Muscle contraction

- Carbon dioxide and oxygen transport

- Nerve impulse transmission

K Deficiency

- Elevated blood pressure

- Muscle weakness/stiffness

- Respiratory depression and arrest

- Nervous disorders

- Intracellular acidosis

K Toxicity

- Cardiac arrhythmia and death (lethal when overfed)

- Excess salivation

- Muscular tremors of legs

- Excitability

Sodium (Na)


- Transporting nutrients throughout body and removing waste from cells

- Nerve impulse transmission

- Muscle function

- Na concentration is low in plants and supplementation is required year round.

Na Deficiency

- Lethargy

- Loss of appetite, therefore reduced growth

- Muscle weakness

- Respiratory depression and arrest

Na Toxicity

- Dehydration

- Seizure

- Coma

Sulfur (S)


- Required for S amino acid synthesis in the rumen

- Required for thiamine and biotin vitamins

Sulphur Deficiency

- Decreased microbial populations

- Microbial protein synthesis

- Lactate utilization

Sulphur Toxicity

- Decoppering effect- will pull copper out of liver and excrete in urine (copper deficiency)

- Interference with ruminal thiamine synthesis (thiamine deficiency could lead to polio)

Iron (Fe)


- Component of hemoglobin which is responsible for oxygen transport in blood.

Fe Deficiency

- Anemia- reduced cell size and hemoglobin and reduction in red blood cell production

- Lethargy

- Shortness of breath

- Paleness

Fe Toxicity

- Metabolic acidosis

- Anorexia

- Diarrhea

- Death

Iodine (I)


- Used in thyroid gland to produce hormones (T3 and T4) that regulate metabolic rates

I Deficiency

- Goiter- increased thyroid gland size (grows to increase trapping)

- Low basil metabolic rate- increased fat

- Reduced fertility

- High mortality at birth (fetus with goiter)

- Myxedema

- Alopecia (hair loss)

I Toxicity

- Increased salivation and lacrimation

- Reduced fertility

- Reduced productivity

- Immuno-suppression

Manganese (Mn)


- Enzyme function

- Cartilage formation

- Steroid synthesis from cholesterol (reproductive hormones)

Mn Deficiency

- Newborns are weak or stillborn (twisted or knuckled over)

- Short bowed legs and lameness

- Delayed or silent estrus

- Reduced conception rates because progesterone and estrogen production is affected

- Reduced libido

-Reduced spermatogenesis

Mn Toxicity

- Reduced appetite and weight gain

- Reduced hemoglobin values

- Interferes with iron metabolism- can result in anemia

Zinc (Zn)


- Component of enzymes including RNA and DNA polymerases (building block of DNA)

- Drives appetite of animal

- Involved in protein synthesis

- Involved in epithelial (skin) formation and repair

- Involved in sperm production and mobilization of testosterone in males

Zn Deficiency

- Reduced growth due to anorexia

- Infertility in males

- Impaired wound healing- zinc is required to rebuild connective tissue of the skin

Zn Toxicity

- Weight loss

- Diarrhea

- Decreased milk production

- Polyuria with secondary dehydration

Cobalt (Co)


- Trace mineral

- Constituent of vitamin B12, which is responsible for energy metabolism and production of red blood cells

Co Deficiency

- Causes Vit B12 deficiency results in large, immature red blood cells

- Wasting disease- animal refuses to eat, even when feed is provided. Will starve to death

Co Toxicity

- Inhibition of iron absorption causing anemia

- Difficult or laboured breathing

- Muscle incoordination

Copper (Cu)


- Very important in prairies

- Bone and wool growth

- Pigmentation

- White blood cell function

- Cu requirements increase significantly when molybdenum is present

Cu Deficiency

- Anemia- iron transport due to indirect iron deficiency

- Depigmentation- Angus animals look grey

- Rear leg weakness or paralysis in calves

- Scouring or diarrhea

- Defective keratinization

Cu Toxicity

- Weak and dull

- Depressed

- Recumbancy before death

- Liver damage and jaundice

Selenium (Se)


- Trace mineral required for normal growth and fertility

- Increases prevention of mastitis and scours

- Incorporated into proteins that are important antioxidant enzymes (selenoproteins)

- Protects unsaturated FA

- Closely associated with Vit E

Se Deficiency

- Nutritional muscular dystrophy- white muscle disease

- Oxidation damage in liver

- Infertility and retained placenta in cattle

- Young animals- stiff, lame, weak, lay down with chin on the ground

- Chronic poor doers

Se Toxicity

- Blind staggers/alkali disease

- Reduced Fertility

- Loss of long hair

- Liver cirrhosis

- Lameness

- Hoof malformations

Boom! Information dump!

This is a lot of information and there is so much more that can be learned about minerals in the body, mineral interactions, sources of minerals in western Canada, and requirements. If you are interested in more information, please reach out and I can pass on some resources.

Below is a complicated interactions map that I attached to simply show how much everything is connected in the body. Supplementing just one mineral may not make a difference if another mineral is in excess and tieing up the supply.


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