3 steps to optimising trace element values of grass and silage

Want to cross check and optimise your grass for trace elements this grazing season? Here’s some take-homes for making the most of forage.
UK and Ireland are renowned for their prolific grass-growing climates. Grass, as we know, is one of the mainstays of nearly all beef, dairy and sheep systems. So, making the most of this natural resource is top on everyone’s agenda, whether it be maximising stocking rates or forage yields.
Compared to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, trace elements are not critical for grass to grow. What is more important, is the trace element content of grassland for the animals grazing it. However, grass commonly presents a deficiency in one or more available trace elements essential to digestion, immunity, reproduction, and growth.
This blog covers maximising trace element content of grasses, as well as how to effectively supplement any deficiencies.

Understand your soil type and trace element status

Soil type is the one of most important influential factors on trace element content. Soil type is formed based on factors including geology (parent material), climate (rainfall, temperature, humidity), organisms (organic matter for example), farm management (ploughing, liming, fertilisers, animal factors), geography (rivers, flood plains, tree types), and time.

The trace element status of individual farms, and even within individual fields, is therefore – to a degree – something that we cannot radically change when we consider all factors influencing soil type.

The impact of seasonality and weather is also something we can’t change. In simple terms, rapid growth usually means lower trace element levels due to dilution within the forage. The same would apply to the use of fertilisers and liming as these encourage growth. But for every example, there may be a counter.

That said, there are things we can do to influence the trace element status of grass. But before doing anything, it is vital that you understand your trace element status through soil, forage and even blood analysis.

Influence the trace element status of your grass

Research undertaken by SIP in association with Bangor University, showed that although pasture improvements improved grass yield, they lowered the trace element status of the pasture. Combating trace element deficiency is more than just supplementation. Effective supplementation goes together with grassland management. Here’s 3 important influencers of trace element levels in grassland:

1. Soil pH

Soil pH directly impacts on overall nutrient availability, and the optimum availability of most plant nutrients occurs over a small range of soil pH values. Lime acts as a ‘soil conditioner’ that, when applied correctly, will increase soil pH and in-turn amend any soil acidity. In this instance, liming can increase the availability of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and can therefore encourage grass growth and even make grass more palatable to grazing animals. However, increased forage growth can also indirectly dilute trace elements, and over-liming can reduce the uptake of cobalt, copper, selenium, and manganese.

2. Sward type

Grasses that incorporate clovers along with certain broad-leaved plants and heathers are almost always richer in nitrogen and protein. Depending on soil type, some pastures containing white and red clover can also offer higher cobalt concentrations than predominantly ryegrass swards. Some swards are selected for higher yields; however, these are gradually depleting trace element reserves in the soil. A constant withdrawal of trace elements will upset the balance.

3. Fertilising strategies

Nitrogen fertiliser will boost yields but will then effectively ‘dilute’ trace element levels due to greater dry matter production. It’s important to add manure back into the soil, as it contains trace elements. Correct manure sourcing, storage, and application is vital.

Supplement to counteract trace element deficiencies

Once you understand your trace element status and have done what you can to positively influence those levels through your grassland management, it’s time to consider supplementation to counteract deficiencies. It is tempting to look for the trace element solution that offers the most in terms of value for money. However, when it comes to supplementation, target sufficiency to avoid costly deficiencies and toxicity risks. At ANIMAX, we refer to this principle as ‘enough’ – not too much and not too little.

Trace elements can be directly applied to soils or grass. However, this comes with a risk of deficiency and toxicity. For example:
• Cobalt salts increases cobalt content to adequate levels but in the shorter term, and the data to support cobalt salt application is poor.
• Copper salts applied to soil doesn’t increase copper content adequately. There is also the concern of run off and pollution.
• Similarly to copper, selenium top-dressing may be toxic to begin with and then rapidly declines. Deaths are reported with selenium fertilisers.
Direct application can be inefficient, expensive, and harmful to the environment.
Nutritional supplementation is available in five forms: animal feeds, mineral premixes, buckets and blocks, drenches, and boluses. There is a place for every one of these solutions, which we’ve analysed here:


Choosing to bolus?

The major benefit of bolusing is feeling assured and confident that each animal has enough trace elements every day over a sustained period. It’s a mode of supplementation you can truly count on. And in today’s world of farming, every animal counts. When you put boluses into your flock or herd, you know they have continuous supply day after day for up to 6 months. If your animals are turned out and bolusing is not an option right now, think ahead to when they may next be brought in and/or handled, say:
  • Pre-breeding or pre-calving
  • Pre-tupping or pre-lambing
  • When worming or carrying out other management activities.
Finally, carefully consider your bolus choice, as not all boluses are the same. Play close attention to trace element levels, trace element forms, and mode of action. When shopping for your bolus, ask the questions:
  • Do they supply enough of the trace elements you are deficient in?
  • Do they offer trace elements that can be absorbed in the animal?
  • Will they retain size and mass to stay in the animal’s rumen?
  • Will they offer at the right levels throughout the supplementation period?
  • Are they easy to apply?
ANIMAX Tracesure® trace element boluses feature diffusion technology® for a controlled release of enough utilisable cobalt, copper (optional), iodine and selenium. Bolused in just 1 application and lasting for up to 6 months, it’s one less variable to worry about. And…all of our non-copper boluses are approved for use on organic systems (they can be used in conjunction with our medicinal copper capsules under derogation). 

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