OAHN Bovine Network Project: Trace Mineral Monitoring in Beef Cattle Herds

Project Lead: Dr. Cynthia Miltenburg

Collaborators:  Dr. Jessica Retterath, Dr. Jessica Gordon

Project Proposal:

Chondrodystrophy of unknown origin (CCUO), which includes acorn calves, bulldog calves, congenital joint laxity, and dwarfism, is a condition that has been observed in calves in North America.  The exact cause of these deformities is unknown, although genetic, infectious, toxic and nutritional causes have been explored and considered (White and Windsor, 2006).  A predominant school of thought is that inadequate maternal nutrition may be a risk factor in the development of CCUO, with particular emphasis on trace mineral availability and absorption (White and Windsor, 2006; Ribble et al., 1989).  Trace minerals that deserve particular focus include manganese and zinc, because of the role of these minerals in reproduction and fetal development (White and Windsor, 2006).  Calcium and phosphorous deficiency has also been associated with impaired skeletal development of the fetus (White and Windsor, 2006).  Copper deficiency is also a concern for cattle on forage-based diets because copper is more available in concentrate diets than forage-based diets (NRC, 2016).  Copper deficiency can result in decreased growth, depigmentation, cardiac failure, fragile bones, diarrhea, and low reproduction (NRC, 2016).  It is important to note that molybdenum and sulfur are antagonistic to copper and therefore absorption of copper can be affected by these minerals (NRC, 2016).

In a study conducted by Vaage et al. (1998), forages from across different regions of Ontario were analyzed for mineral content.  Copper values varied across the province, but central Ontario had the lowest copper concentrations in tested forages compared to any other regions (Vaage et al., 1998).  Soil maps produced by OMAFRA show that Central Ontario soils tend to be relatively low in copper, compared to other regions of the province, and also relatively low in molybdenum (OMAFRA, 2018).

The OAHN bovine network has received specific concerns from veterinarians in the last 12 months regarding chondrodystrophy and poor performance associated with trace mineral disorders, particularly high molybdenum. These disorders significantly affect herd productivity and viability. Surveillance of beef herds for trace mineral status via blood analysis is sparse in the province. An understanding of test interpretation, opportunity for sampling and cost are limiting factors for its use.