Appropriate Methods of Diagnosing Mineral Deficiencies in Cattle

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Proceedings of the Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference

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Many minerals have been proven in research studies to be essential for optimal growth, physiologic function, and productivity in ruminants. Historically, testing for these minerals has been performed on diets and/or dietary components to ensure “adequate” concentrations of specific minerals in the diet. However, general mineral analysis does not identify the chemical forms of these minerals, which can dramatically alter their bioavailability and utilization.

Although not possible for some of the minerals, the most specific means of diagnosing a mineral deficiency is by testing animals for unique functional deficits or deficiencies of specific mineral containing proteins or enzymes. This type of testing is often impractical from a field perspective due to individual test costs or rigorous sample handling requirements. But, when possible, this type of testing eliminates the need to know the specific molecular characteristics of a dietary mineral and the potential for competitive interactions of antagonistic minerals for absorption/utilization. For minerals that do not have identified physiologic indices for which testing can be performed, direct quantification from animal tissues or serum may provide a reliable indication of the overall mineral status of the animal or herd.

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