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Where does the future of trace mineral research lie?

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

Where does the future of trace mineral research lie?

Related tags: Milk

It is said that industry has only just scratched the surface regarding the benefits of adding trace minerals to animal feed and a leading Zinpro expert says there is some truth to that.

FeedNavigator recently talked to Terry Ward, global director, research & nutritional services, at organic trace mineral supplier, Zinpro Corporation, about where the future of trace mineral research lies.

“We definitely need to learn more about the benefits of trace elements, about the inclusion levels and about the ratio between the different minerals,”​ he said.

NRC data

A tool to aid future trace mineral R&D work, he said, would be a redefinition of the essential mineral levels necessary to optimize animal health and performance. “Current requirements, relying on out-of-date NRC data in the main, are based on the minimum level required to overcome a deficiency symptom and not necessarily to promote productivity,” ​said Ward.

The existing data, often harping back to research carried out in the 1970s, is irrelevant to today’s industry in terms of the genetic enhancements that have taken place, and “even from a current environmental perspective,​” he added.

He also said the use of trace minerals in aquaculture is somewhat unexplored territory with more supporting research required to outline the benefits of mineral nutrition for the multiple species in different regions.

“The NRC aquaculture related data, published in 2011, only reflects the mineral requirements for a few species, and when you think of Asia alone, there must be a myriad of different fish types not accounted for,”​ said Ward.

And, he said, with the current growth trends in aquaculture, there are significant opportunities for trace mineral supply.

Lower trace mineral MPLs

Ward is slightly concerned also about the potential impact the lowering of maximum permitted levels (MPLs) for trace elements could have on animal productivity by regulators in certain markets trying to reduce excess nutrients in the soil.

“We need to be careful when decreasing trace mineral MPLs – they ought to be kept high enough to allow a sufficient margin of security to ensure all animals get what they need for growth and well-being,”​ he said.

Ratio definition

Fine-tuning what the optimal zinc-to-copper ratio and other trace mineral quotients should be in current production settings is another one of the company’s priorities.

The zinc-to-copper relation is critical, in particular, because of how closely zinc and copper absorption are tied, said Ward.

“It is possibly more important to define such ratios for ruminants that for other species,”​ he added.

Studies have shown that high levels of dietary zinc can inhibit copper absorption in cattle (Masters DG, Judson GJ, White CL, Lee J, Grace ND).

Disease challenges

Working with a global livestock industry faced with many disease challenges, along with a migration away from antibiotics, Ward said the company is also looking at the preventative role trace minerals can play in disease mitigation strategies.

And he said further research is being carried out by Zinpro in the area of trace mineral impact on chick quality and on digestive tract integrity of broilers. “We need to get down to the cellular level and look at what more we need to do to further improve the performance of the bird,”​ he added.

The company has also been focused on lameness both in sows and cattle.

Zinpro has carried out research into digital dermatitis (DD) in cattle, which Ward said is a challenge for global dairy operations, with the resulting hoof lesions often leading to lameness, which decreases milk production and the reproductive performance of the cows.

It launched its Availa-Plus product on the European market in July – a mineral nutrition product said to help prevent DD in dairy cattle by building stronger skin integrity and a more empowered immune system.

The producer also started a training program near Düsseldorf, Germany, to promote increased understanding about DD in Europe, particularly in young stock. 

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