Trace Elements

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Suboptimal trace element levels can have a negative impact on the coming seasons production, incalf rate, growth rate and general health.

  • Timely supplementation of deficient herds will save you money
  • When comparing trace element levels between years the influence that changes in farm practices (feeding more PKE or change in fertiliser) have on trace element levels can be evaluated

The movements towards the use of in-line dispensers, rather than daily drenching for getting trace elements into dairy cows has resulted in an increase in the variability that we find when blood or liver testing.
The use of supplementary feeds such as palm kernel has also resulted in differing requirements of trace element supplementation.

These two factors mean testing is now needed to not only look out for deficiencies, but also for potential toxicity, if large amounts of palm kernel have been fed.  When testing for copper in autumn and winter, liver biopsies are the preferred method, as we are looking into the 'storage tank'.

Selenium levels are very important to get right prior to calving and can play a large role in the level of retained membranes, and subsequent fertility in your herd.
Liver biopsies for trace element testing

Why do I need to test cow copper levels?

Copper is a complicated trace element with the amount available to animals varying over different times of the year and affected not just by the amount available in the feed but by many other interfering factors such as molybdenum and iron. Soil or pasture analysis does not give an accurate idea of how much copper is available to cattle.
Copper deficiency decreases reproductive performance in adult cattle and limits growth rates in young stock.
For herds getting multiple sources of copper such as those being fed palm kernel, receiving copper through the water and being injected with copper, there is a high risk of toxicity. Measuring copper levels can give a warning that there may be cows at risk of toxicity.

I have cow bloods tested for trace elements every year, is this enough?

The liver is the organ where copper is stored within the body, so we must measure how much copper is present within the liver to know how much copper reserves a cow has. There is little correlation between blood (serum) and liver copper levels. Even at low copper levels there is huge variation in the blood copper levels measured. This means that measuring blood copper levels alone does not give an accurate measure of how much copper is present in the liver.  The best way of measuring copper levels is by taking a sample of liver.
Other minerals such as selenium and B12 (cobalt) can also be measured using either liver or blood samples.

Why not test cull cows’ livers?

Livers from cull cows sent to slaughter premises can be tested for trace elements. However, cows selected as culls are often not representative of the herd as a whole and so the results can sometimes be difficult to interpret at a herd level. The samples are not taken directly from the cow once the organs have been removed during the slaughter process and on occasion, there have been instances where the wrong livers have been sampled.

How do the cows tolerate liver biopsies?

The procedure is carried out under local anaesthetic, so the cows feel the initial needle enter to inject the local anaesthetic but this then blocks feeling to the area – similar to us visiting the dentist. Following this a small nick is made in the skin and a biopsy punch is inserted into the liver to remove a small sample. Following sampling, cows can be returned to the herd.
To make the biopsy easier, we ask that cows have a full belly of feed to ensure the liver is pushed up by the rumen into the correct position for sampling.

How long does it take?

With good facilities where we are able to row 5-6 cows up at a time, we can quickly prepare all the cows at once and the whole procedure usually takes less than 60 minutes.

Elements are a new range of oral trace element of supplements for dairy cattle, specifically developed by Franklin Vets for the North Waikato and South Auckland area.


They are extremely cost competitive, and move away from the traditional sulphate mixes, towards chelates, and amino acid blends that we believe have better uptakes.