Veterinary advice: Minerals: Extremely deficient animals need extra treatment

Maintenance of adequate levels of trace elements and minerals is essential for optimum growth and health in all stages of an animal’s life.

Veterinary advice: Minerals: Extremely deficient animals need extra treatment

This was very apparent this year, in the amount of weak calves that were slow to suck.

When calves are born, they are naturally deficient in the fat soluble vitamins, which are Vitamin A, D, and E.

This generally is rectified quite quickly, as colostrum is jam-packed with these vitamins, and calves will have normal levels within a few days, providing that the cow is not deficient herself.

If there is a deficiency from the cow, then the calf will have problems with its own immunity, and this will affect the calf’s growth rate and leave it more prone to scours and pneumonias.

Selenium and vitamin E

Selenium is generally thought of as a partner to Vitamin E, and deficiencies of this pair can lead to poor growth, reduced fertility and most importantly, poor immunity to diseases.

Selenium concentrations are generally low in grass, grass silage, and hay.

It would be safe to assume in this country that herds where cows are not supplemented with minerals are low in selenium.

Calves will then be born with low selenium and vitamin E.

This is the most frequently identified deficiency in dead calves over three days of age.

Normally, this deficiency is not a problem, if the calves are getting milk replacer, as they contain minerals and vitamins.

Calves fed on milk will be at a slight disadvantage, because they will only get the required levels when they begin eating starter concentrates.

So you have to ask, if the cow had sufficient levels, then would the calf have had better immunity and been able to fight off scour and pneumonia?

One of the most common subjects that comes up in conversation is that, “My cows couldn’t be deficient, as I gave them a bolus”.

Or, “I am supplementing exactly as the instructions said on the product”.

Generally, products are designed to provide a daily maintenance dose, so that if an animal is not deficient then a daily dose will keep them in this category.

However, if an animal is extremely deficient, then a maintenance dose will just leave them in the deficient category, but it will prevent them getting any more deficient.

I would suggest a big chat with your vet to get a clear plan as to what steps should be taken to rectify this.


Every summer I get shown calves that have brown colour in their coats.

This is usually a clinical sign of a copper deficiency.

The daily copper requirements of cattle are strongly dependent on molybdenum and sulphur in their diet.

The copper status of calves varies significantly between farms, and this is associated with the proportion of concentrates that animals were fed.

It has also been seen that where copper levels were high, then iron levels were low, and vice versa.

There appears to be greater copper deficiencies on organic farms.

It is also important to note that too much and too little copper both affect weight gain.

It is important not to just go in with a routine dose of copper, because excess copper can accumulate in the liver and affect daily weight gain and cause toxicity.

Farmers that have noticed calves with this problem should ask their vet for advice regarding additional supplementation.

The brown hair that you see was created 40 days prior, so this is a great indicator of the copper status off your calves 40 days ago.

Imagine if they had not been deficient, and their bodies were not under that stress?

More in this section


Keep up-to-date with all the latest developments in Farming with our weekly newsletter

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up