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Minerals are the basic components of all matter, being a component part of enzymes, hormones, all cells, bone, blood and body fluids. They function in all aspects of life, from hormone and energy production, digestion, muscle contraction, regulation of body fluid and pH levels, to digestion and reproduction.

Minerals are also critical to provide all of the production parameters such as milk, fleece and muscle tissue, as well as normal growth, reproduction, and feed conversion efficiencies required in our production animals.

Minerals and trace elements have three broad types of functions;
Structural components of body organs and tissues
Constituents of body fluids and tissues as electrolytes concerned with body fluid balance, acid-base balance, membrane permeability and tissue irritability (including nerve transmission and muscle contraction)
Catalysts in enzyme and hormone systems
Balancing diets for minerals, trace elements and vitamins is therefore as important as ensuring major nutrients such as protein and energy are meeting animal requirements.
Although there are more than 100 mineral elements on earth, only 15 of these are essential for cattle and sheep health and productivity.

These minerals are split into either macro, or major minerals and micro or trace elements. The macro minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and chloride, they are required in relatively large amounts because they are so heavily involved with structure of the body and are therefore often measured in grams or percent. The micro minerals or trace elements are required in almost minute levels (milligrams), but are still essential for maintenance and production. They include cobalt, copper, selenium, iodine, zinc, chromium, iron, manganese and molybdenum.

Mineral levels of feeds and forages can vary considerably depending on the type of feed and growing location, harvesting technique and storage practices.

For example, grasses tend to have low to moderate levels of calcium and phosphorus, whilst legumes are usually high in calcium, cereal grains are low but high in phosphorus. Home grown forages and feeds will make up the majority of diets on farm and given the massive variation that may occur farmers are encouraged to get them analysed for mineral levels. A full audit of all dietary inputs, including water supply and mineral additions, alongside a mineral forage analysis will enable diets to be properly balanced and mineral supplementation to be tailored to the animal’s requirements, taking in to consideration previous health issues. This will help to not only prevent issues with mineral deficiency but also prevent excess mineral feeding which adds unnecessary cost to a diet and increased environmental impact with excretion.

In practice, deficiency or lack of balance of the various essential minerals and trace elements is a frequent cause of poor health, failure to thrive, and actual disease conditions, as well as a more general failure or reduction of production. Inadequate trace mineral nutrition is therefore one obvious, well recognised factor limiting livestock production in the UK.