Teagasc estimates that milk somatic cell count (SCC) levels above 100,000 mean you are losing money. On average mastitis costs farmers €60/cow/year.

Cows are especially vulnerable to health disorders like this during the transition period and approximately 75% of disease incidence (mastitis, metritis, ketosis, abomasal displacement, etc.) occurs in the first month of lactation – in particular, the first 10 days after calving, coinciding with the most rapid increase in milk yield.

Trace minerals like copper (Cu) and selenium (Se) play an important role in udder health. In particular, reduced zinc (Zn) levels have been linked to increased SCC.

Calving and early lactation is a high demand time that severely depletes trace mineral concentrations in cows, thus pre-calving trace mineral supplementation is essential for herd health and performance benefiting the cow and the unborn calf.

During the transition period, dairy cows undergo physiological stress preparing for calving, dramatically altering their metabolism to supply the mammary gland with nutrients necessary for milk synthesis.

During the dry period the growth rate of the unborn calf is at its highest and all the trace minerals needed come from the dam.

Newborn calves are very dependent for survival on the Cu and Se transferred before birth, so appropriate trace mineral support to pre-calving cows is critical to the body stores of the newborn.

Maternal Cu deficiency has been linked to increased mortality and morbidity in calves, and abnormalities in the offspring.

A typical dry cow eats 50% to 60% less dry matter than a lactating cow which can cause a sharp reduction in the daily mineral intake, meaning cows are not getting the nutrients they need to build up for the coming lactation.

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Oral trace minerals

Pre-calving trace mineral supplementation has been demonstrated to be highly beneficial to dairy cattle. However, oral trace minerals have relatively poor intestinal absorption.

This poor oral absorption is further deteriorated by antagonists such as sulphur (S), molybdenum (Mo), calcium (Ca) and iron (Fe) or binding to undigested feed particles.

Daily oral trace minerals are essential for maintenance in cattle but at critical periods like pre-calving, daily oral trace mineral intake can become very variable or fall in response to stress and during these periods there is a marked increase trace mineral demand.

This means clinical or subclinical deficiency can develop in cattle at these high demand periods beyond what even a well formulated diet can sustain.

MineralOral absorption % (NRC 2001)

Strategic injectable trace mineral supplementation bypasses the harsh rumen environment and antagonists, rapidly raises circulating mineral levels in cattle within eight-to-10 hours and after 24 hours mineral concentrations in the storage organs (like the liver) are at raised concentrations.

Many farmers turn to oral trace mineral supplements like boluses and drenches – these can have varied effects on improving mineral levels in cows.

Cattle entering critical periods in the production cycle may be in subclinical trace mineral deficiency and an injectable trace mineral supplement quickly restores mineral reserves to the required levels and thus could improve herd performance through these periods.

“Before you invest in expensive additional oral trace minerals during this high demand period, ask your veterinary surgeon about combination injectable trace minerals,” said Patrick O’Neill, veterinary surgeon, Warburton Technology Ltd.

Are you getting value for money from oral supplements? Ask your supplier for evidence that the supplement is delivering real health benefits to your herd.

Study shows

In a 2020 US study comparing the effects of a trace mineral injection or the use of oral supplements like boluses or single pulse oral drenches, the study concluded:

“Overall, the oral products assessed in the present study had no effect on plasma or liver trace mineral concentrations of trace mineral–adequate cattle, suggesting oral, single, pulse-dose products providing only daily recommendations for minerals are ineffective.”

Research has shown that injectable trace mineral supplementation has a positive effect on mastitis rate.

In a 2013 study, high yielding dairy cows maintained on a high plain of nutrition received supplementary trace mineral injection and over the course of the lactation there was a significant reduction in mastitis, uterine disease and still births meaning the minerals benefited the cow and the unborn calf.

Strategic trace mineral injection in the pre-calving period helps to raise not only the trace minerals but also the essential enzyme levels in cows rapidly and effectively which could benefit cows during the transition period.

Several studies have researched the benefits of using injectable trace mineral supplementation in cows in the pre-calving period, with improvements in udder and uterine health.

Ask your vet how a pre-calving trace mineral injection top up could help improve performance in your herd.

Further Information

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References available from Virbac on request.