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Developing a better understanding of forage mineral status could help many beef
and sheep producers cut feed supplementation costs.

David Thornton from Rumenco points out that hundreds of farmers submit forage
samples for testing every year, but relatively few interpret reports fully or use the
results to change feeding strategies.

“To really make a difference to the bottom line, it pays to get to know your grass and
other forage mineral levels much better,” he stresses.

Over the summer months Rumenco has been taking a series of herbage samples
from the farms participating in the project. The results will be discussed in detail at
the next series of meetings, but David Thornton says that all the forage samples
showed up particularly low in zinc, cobalt and selenium.

“Many pastures are deficient in these key trace elements and it appears that the
grass on the project farms mirrors the national picture. Zinc is important for hoof
protein and healing; cobalt for thrift in lambs, preventing anaemia and promoting
good appetite; and selenium for improved fertility, good immunity and warding off
hypothermia in lambs. All are vital trace elements, so it is important that forage is well

David Thornton points out that different forages have different mineral analyses but,
in addition, soil type and fertiliser regime can also influence mineral make-up within
forage categories. “For example, copper can often be ‘locked up’ and be rendered
unavailable to the animal. Magnesium, too, can be affected with high potassium or
low salt levels influences the amount available to the animal.

“The message is: know the mineral make-up of what you are feeding and then
choose your supplement accordingly, selecting only mineral products that address
any local deficiency problems.”

David Thornton also explains that grassland improvement, increasing dependence
on forages or the introduction of unusual ration ingredients can often change dietary
mineral balance quite markedly.

“A good example is the introduction of chicory,” he pointed out. “Chicory is becoming
much more popular amongst sheep producers, but its mineral profile is very different
from grass. It is actually very rich in minerals, apart from manganese, so some farms
may be able to reduce their level of supplementary minerals, saving money in the

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