A guide to trace elements


Inadequate trace element levels in livestock result in costly issues, so achieving the correct balance of trace elements is vital for maximising performance.


Selenium, cobalt and iodine are the main trace elements required, but copper may also be deficient on some farms.


Trace element availability is influenced by soil type, types of forage, preservation of forage and also by season.


Care should be taken over the decision on whether to include copper in a formulation, because overdosing can have an adverse effect on health in some breeds of animal.


Important note:
Before starting any supplementation program seek advice, as some trace elements, especially copper, are toxic if too much is present in the animal and/or the diet.

Flor Ryan, discussing deficiencies including in soil and forage on Clare FM
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Copper deficiency, which is often difficult to spot as initially animals are able to draw on reserves of copper in their liver, is a problem that can be economically threatening.


Copper deficiency results in depressed immunity and poor reproductive health. If left untreated, it can lead to lameness, anaemia, weight loss, scouring and death.


Cobalt is necessary in ruminants for the synthesis of vitamin B12 which is essential for energy metabolism and the production of red blood cells.


Cobalt deficiency is common in livestock. It is particularly common in sheep but cattle are also susceptible. Low intake leads to depressed appetite and ill-thrift and may also reduce resistance to parasitic and microbial infections.


Iodine regulates metabolism and the rate at which the body converts simple compounds from food into energy and the building blocks for cells.


Iodine deficiency is common and results in reduced fertility, poor weight gain, general ill-thrift, late abortion, weak or stillborn calves, reduced milk yield and an increase in susceptibility to infectious diseases.


Selenium is incorporated into enzymes. Glutathione peroxidase (GSHPx) is just one such enzyme and is involved in protecting cells against damage from free radicals.


Selenium deficiency results in retained afterbirths, poor fertility and increased mastitis. It can also cause white muscle disease in calves.