Ruminant Health, Vitamin, Minerals & Nutrition

Originally Presented by Marty Ulrich, 2015

Ruminants require a number of minerals for optimal growth and reproduction. Selecting the correct mineral supplement is important for maintaining healthy animals, and optimal growth and reproduction. Minerals not provided by feed can easily and inexpensively supplied with a simple mineral supplement. The rumen is the largest compartment on the mature ruminant. The abomasum is the largest on the immature ruminant

The rumen works differently in baby calves. The rumen is smallest in a calf. The cow will give all her minerals to the calf before taking them for herself.

The Rumen

Digestive System in Ruminantia.jpg

Calcium & Phosphorus

• Major mineral components of the skeleton

• Ninety-nine percent of total body calcium and 80% of the total body phosphorus are stored in the skeletal system. The skeletal stores of calcium. Phosphorus is used to meet short-term dietary inadequacies. Long-term deficiency of either can cause bones to weaken and even break.

• Calcium and phosphorus also play important roles in other bodily functions. A decrease can cause a decrease in weight gain and/or a decrease in efficiency of gain. During lactation, low amounts of either will reduce milk production. A superior milking cow requires three times more calcium than a non-lactating cow.

• A phosphorus deficiency can delay puberty in heifers and can delay mature beef cows from returning to heat following parturition.


Sodium & Chlorine

  • These provide for the proper function of the nervous and muscular systems. They help regulate body PH and the amount of water retained in the body.

  • Salt really is the stuff of life for every cell in an animal’s body. Sodium is critical to maintaining osmotic balance and PH in every living cell.

  • Salt is required in relatively large amounts, compared to other minerals.

  • Sodium plays a key role in the mechanism by which cells move nutrients back and forth across their membrane. It’s necessary for transmission of nerve impulses -those signals responsible for contraction of skeletal, heart and digestive tract muscles. Sodium is a major component of saliva, and helps buffer acid during ruminal fermentation.

  • Because salt affects how the body functions at a cellular level the most common and most costly result of salt deficiency is reduced performance. This is seen in milk production, weight gain, and efficiency of feed conservation. Every aspect of performance is affected. Growth, fertility and reproduction, and milk production decline. Cattle simply don’t perform to their genetic potential.



• This is essential for the proper enzyme and nervous system function and for carbohydrate metabolism.

• A magnesium deficiency is uncommon except for cows grazing lush- growth fescue or small grain pastures during the late winter and early spring, which may cause grass tetany. Grass tetany usually occurs following an extended period of cold weather combined with high levels of nitrogen and potassium fertilization. Mature lactating cows are particularly susceptible to grass tetany.



• Essential trace mineral for ruminant animals.
• The main function of cobalt in ruminants is to be a component of

vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin.
• Vitamin B12 is an essential cofactor for the function of two enzymes



  • The most common micromineral deficiency in grazing ruminants is Copper. Copper is an important component of the many enzyme systems essential for normal growth and development.

  • Deficiency signs include reduced fertility, depressed immunity and reduced pigmentation of hair (black hair may turn to red tinted). Dietary deficiencies can occur, but most deficiencies are caused by the consumption of antagonists, which reduces copper absorption.

  • Copper should be supplemented as copper sulfate, tribasic copper chloride or an organic complexed form because copper oxide is very poorly absorbed.


• Iodine is an essential mineral for function of the thyroid hormones that regulate energy metabolism.

• The first sign of iodine deficiency is goiter in newborn calves




• Selenium deficiency causes white muscle disease (similar to muscular dystrophy) in newborn calves. Selenium deficiency can also cause calves to be weak at birth increase susceptibility to calf hood diseases like scours, increased rates of retained placentas, and poor reproductive performance. Selenium is generally added to mineral mixtures in the form of sodium selenite.

• Selenium can be toxic and should be used in a premixed form only.

• The FDA allows selenium to be used at a level not to exceed 0.3 ppm of the dry matter in the total diet.



• Zinc is a component of many enzymes and is important for immunity, male reproduction, and skin and hoof health.

• Calves have a limited ability to store zinc and supplementation is necessary.

• Zinc absorption is closely tied to copper absorption, and the zinc to copper ratio should be kept at approximately 3:1. In addition, high levels of iron can decrease zinc absorption.

• Absorption of zinc decreases once the ratio of iron to zinc exceed 2:1.

Chelated Minerals

• Chelates are organic forms of essential trace minerals such as copper, iron, manganese and zinc.

• Animals absorb, digest and use mineral chelates better than inorganic minerals. This means that lower concentrations of mineral chelates can be used in animal feeds, rather than higher doses of inorganic minerals. In addition, animals fed chelated sources of essential trace minerals excrete lower amounts in their feces. Mineral chelates offer health and welfare benefits in animal nutrition


Vitamin A

• Vitamin A helps skin and mucous membrane health.
• Vitamin A requirements are usually met by grazing fresh, green

growing grass.

• Oxidation deteriorates Vitamin A.

• The only time to supplement Vitamin A is when using only stored feeds opposed to natural feeds.

• The minimum amount of vitamin A should be approximate 120000 per pound of mineral. Vitamin A can also be added to the grain mixture to provide 15000 to 30000 IU per head per day, depending on individual requirements.

Vitamin D

• Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the intestine.

• Sign of vitamin D deficiency are similar to a calcium or phosphorus deficiency. Most calves exposed to direct sunlight synthesize enough vitamin D, but calves in a covered environment may need supplemental vitamin D.

Vitamin E

• Vitamin E is usually present in the diet in sufficient quantities. However, a selenium deficiency could lead to an apparent deficiency of vitamin E.

• Vitamin E can be helpful for short-term periods of stress that may occur when calves are con-mingled and transported at weaning