How to get beef supplementation ‘on point’ this turnout

As spring eventually looks to be arriving, now is the perfect time prepare for optimising cattle performance off grass. Matty Gray puts the lens on beef cattle supplementation strategies ready for spring turnout.

The backbone of beef nutrition is providing sufficient water, energy, and protein – all of which are generally available in well-managed spring grass. However, this spring grass isn’t always sufficient in trace elements, and if cattle are deficient in key trace elements, then performance will be compromised.

Trace element status of forages depends on various factors including soil type, drainage, pH, and plant species. This can all vary from farm to farm and even field to field. Therefore, cattle on forage-based diets are most likely to be at risk of trace element deficiency.

According to Meat Promotion Wales, copper, cobalt, selenium, and iodine are the most important trace elements for cattle and sheep in England and Wales, and this is likely the case for UK and Ireland.

So, let us look at the roles of these trace elements known to be essential to cattle growth and fertility.

The role of copper in beef cattle

Copper is required by many enzymes, which explains why many different deficiency symptoms are seen. Copper is also required in larger amounts than cobalt, iodine, and selenium.

A deficiency in copper will show itself in various ways, depending on which enzymes are depleted first. The most reported symptoms are poor growth in the youngstock and poor fertility in the cows. Copper is involved in the hair cycle, which is why hair discolouration, hair loss, and white ‘spectacles’ around the eyes can be observed in deficient cattle. Pregnant suckler cows with low copper during pregnancy very rarely give birth to calves with malformed spinal cords, although this is more often reported in sheep due to a copper deficiency when the spinal cord of the foetus is being formed.

Copper deficiency occurs in two forms. Primary copper deficiency is related to the lack of copper in the diet. Secondary is more complicated and relates to the ingestion of antagonistic elements. For example, where grazed grass has been splashed with mud in wetter environments. These antagonists can affect the uptake of copper by binding to copper in the gut and blood, forming compounds which are not absorbable by the animal. Molybdenum, iron, and sulphur can all bind copper either alone or as complexes.

Use of pig and poultry manure on grassland can supply high copper levels in the forage but caution is needed as toxicity can occur if not monitored. Supplementation can also be offered through buffer feeding with brewery by-products or certain feeds containing copper.

The role of selenium in beef cattle

Selenium is involved in the recruitment of white blood cells which have a key immune function, along with Vitamin E. Selenium plays an essential role in the conversion of the thyroid hormone to an active form. In simple terms, selenium is essential for immunity related to cow and calf health.

A selenium deficiency may hamper the productivity of a beef herd significantly. While white muscle disease is perhaps the most widely recognised clinical sign of deficiency, the clinical and subclinical impacts on health, fertility, and growth must be considered. Specifically, low sperm motility, increased incidence of retained placentas, negative effects on embryo fertilisation, and even poor responses to common bacterial infections such as mastitis or diarrhoea. All of which can also bite the purse strings of the farm business.

When establishing supply option due to the narrow margins for supplementation, the risk of selenium toxicity and/or unnecessary wasted inputs – should also be considered.

The role of iodine in beef cattle

Iodine has a significant role in the production of the thyroid hormone, and consequently – all metabolic functions and growth. All body functions from regulation – foetal development, and muscle control, and fertility – rely on this hormone. Thus, sufficient iodine is vital.

Iodine is absorbed in the digestive tract and not through the skin, so it must be available in the diet. Deficiencies occur due to low background levels in the soil and/or antagonism from goitrogens commonly present in certain plants. Stock grazing brassica crops for example can often see iodine deficiency issues arise from goitrogens compounds which bind to iodine in the rumen).

Iodine deficiency symptoms in the beef herd will vary and can present in the same way as an excess supply of iodine. Commonly reported symptoms are failure to thrive in calves and poor vigour in newborn calves and even goitre (enlarged thyroid gland). There can be an impact on fertility and retained placentas after calving.

The role of cobalt in beef cattle

Cobalt has a key role in the ruminant. Primarily, cobalt provides the starting block for the rumen microbes to make vitamin B12. This vitamin is absorbed from the rumen into the blood stream and forms a structural component of key enzymes involved in the rumen energy cycle.

Cobalt deficiency is less common in cattle compared to sheep but can still occur under certain conditions. For example, ruminal acidosis when the rumen flora is disrupted or with parasite burdens and changes in diet and energy source to the ruminant. Cobalt deficiency is less common in adult cattle due to the greater reserves in the body and that rumen disturbances are less common. Poor growth and failure to thrive are commonly reported.

Deficiency signs at a glance

Trace element analysis

Once we have calculated the animal’s trace element requirements alongside the trace element supply from the available feedstuffs (in this case, grass), we can work out the trace element gap that needs to be filled.

Soil sampling can give an indication of trace element status and any antagonists and provides a good start to knowing any issues on your land. Forage analysis for both energy, macro minerals and trace elements can be helpful and also give an indication of soil contamination and any antagonists from this route. However, it is important to consult with a specialist when interpreting the results.

Another useful indicator is through tissue samples of fallen stock or blood samples of livestock on farm. This can provide a very accurate snapshot indication of the current status and identify likelihood of deficiencies in a group.

It is important to note that trace element requirements vary with age and production level, furthering the importance of consulting with your Vet or SQP.

Trace element supplementation

Once we understand the supplementation gap, we can select a strategy to supply the right trace elements in the right amounts.

There are many different forms of supplementation to choose from. When shopping around, it’s important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. From group to group, and from farm to farm, there is a place for drenches, buckets, blocks, feeds, and boluses.

That said, it’s important not to chuck everything at your cattle in an ‘insurance-scheme’ type of approach. This can cause unnecessary costs and can even cause toxicity. Put simply, oversupply is as dangerous as undersupply. It’s important to supply enough – not too much and not too little.

On an AHDB trial study across 6 suckler beef and sheep farms in England and Wales, the ideal outcome always pointed to the efficacy of bolus technologies.

  • 1 farm switched to bolusing,
  • 1 farm was considering switching to bolusing, and
  • 4 farms added bolusing to their supplementation strategy plans.
Testament to the fact that bolusing works either on its own or complimentary to other modes of supplementation, depending on each individual situation.
A bolus ensures every animal is turned away with enough of a supply every day. No if’s, but’s or maybe’s.


Developed with decades of science and research, ANIMAX Tracesure® supplies enough cobalt, copper (optional), iodine, and selenium for up to 6 months.


Features diffusion technology® for a precise release of trace elements and low chance of premature passing.


Contains a form of cobalt, copper, iodine, and selenium selected for their effective utilisation properties.


Lasting for up to 6 months and bolused in 1 application, it’s a quick solution and one less variable to worry about.

Non-copper boluses are certified by the Soil Association and the Irish Organic Association for use in organic systems. Where required, medicinal copper can be given through derogation from veterinary supplier or agricultural merchant.
Unlike other products on the market, ANIMAX Tracesure® with copper offers copper in the form of copper oxide needles. This bolus will disperse needles throughout the rumen, and over time the needles will reach the abomasum (the “true stomach”), react with the acid, and become an absorbable form of copper, to be stored in the liver and used as needed to satisfy the cow’s requirements.
ANIMAX Tracesure® comes in three different sizes to ensure the right amounts in 1 single bolus application for up to 6 months.

ANIMAX Tracesure® Calf

For ruminating livestock above 75kg. In practice, suckler calves are usually bolused at around 10+ weeks based on their rumen development.

ANIMAX Tracesure® Cattle

For ruminants of 200kg and over. Generally, this is our go-to bolus for growing cattle, finishing cattle, or breeding stock.

ANIMAX Tracesure® Cattle

For ruminants of 200kg and over. Generally, this is our go-to bolus for growing cattle, finishing cattle, or breeding stock.

All available with or without copper.

5 considerations for optimal turnout

  1. Animal health plan – Consult your health plan and plan with your advisor how you will manage parasite, clostridial disease, and foot health through the grazing season.
  2. Forage – Consider measuring grass to calculate supply and appropriate stocking density to ensure quality and quantity is maintained through the year as grass growth reduces and silage aftermaths become available.
  3. Fertilising – Applying phosphate and nitrogen in the spring to help ensure the grass gets off to the best possible start, while also ensuring soil pH is also ideal to help maximise the availability of nutrients to the grass.
  4. Water – Water is an essential nutrient and reduced water availability, or palatability could result in reduced feed intakes. Make sure your water troughs are working, cleaned out as required, and flow is adequate.
  5. Staggers – Be wary of applying Potash rich fertilisers or FYM in the spring which could result in reduced magnesium availability and can be exacerbated by cold wet weather conditions
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