Livestock mineral experts have warned that there is an oversupply of micronutrients to farm animals in the UK in some cases and are calling for a framework to help address this.
University of Nottingham researcher Nigel Kendall and nutrition consultant Peter Bone said there is evidence which showed some mineral elements were being supplied to livestock at rates exceeding daily requirements.
In some cases, these were supplied above legal maximums.
What is the issue?
Oversupply of minerals can be as much of a problem as deficiency in livestock, leading to lack of productivity and even death in extreme cases. Mineral intakes should be optimised and not just increased, Dr Kendall pointed out.
The oversupply is in part due to many supplements being given without considering the level already being provided. Minerals occur in the diet naturally and may also be added through other in-feed minerals, he explained.
This is known as background mineral supply and, in some cases, it alone will meet daily requirements without supplements being added to diets or products being administered.
The choice of products should be based on the likely shortfall between requirements and actual supply, rather than higher inclusion rates and/or range of active ingredients than the next product, according to Dr Kendall and Mr Bone.
What a framework would mean
To address the situation, they would like to see the introduction of a framework that could work in a similar way to the Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (Scops) initiative.
The Scops steering group was formed to reduce the risks and impact of resistance to anthelmintic wormers.
The sector-wide approach has helped develop and promote sustainable strategies for parasite control in sheep.
A similar initiative in the mineral provision sector would help farmers, manufacturers, suppliers and veterinary practitioners approach the subject in the same structured way.
The framework would promote the requirement to provide supplements based on a full mineral audit, Dr Kendall said.
This would include analysis of animal status in a flock or herd, leading to informed advice to support sales recommendations.
Addressing this would help livestock producers navigate the bewildering options available to make an informed choice of strategy.
Mr Bone suggested: “Surely, it’s wrong to place the ultimate responsibility on the producer to make the final choice to supplement stock without knowing the animal’s status and its need.”
How the framework could work
If a simple framework was adopted, encompassing farmers, the manufacturing sector, supply industries and veterinary practitioners, it should result in a different use of supplement strategies to the benefit of animals.
Under the framework, livestock managers should also be able to obtain detailed information from suppliers on products that have been evaluated, Mr Bone said.
These should state the chemical properties and duration of effective supplementation by element.
That is necessary because some elements will endure beyond the duration of the product, while others will not.
There is also a need to develop a more flexible product range within the UK livestock supplement market so supplementation strategies can be more easily matched to determine needs.
In particular, these would include single-element products as they are very scarce in the current marketplace, Mr Bone added.
Single-element products are useful because they can be provided to target a specific identified requirement for one element, while not risking oversupply of others.
It is also important that greater consideration is given to the total level of elements supplied from background sources, for example, the grazing platform, water and other supplements that may have been offered historically or are being considered for a future stage in the production cycle.
And both Dr Kendall and Mr Bone identified a requirement for improved training in ruminant mineral nutrition across sectors of the industry that supply supplements in all their varied forms.