Discover the vital role minerals play in livestock health

Dr Obakeng Mfikwe, a profitable commercial farmer from Rietfontein in the North West province, loves parading his Simmentaler, Simbra and Black Angus cattle in the showring. He has won several prestigious prizes for his well-bred cows.

Angie Khumalo, presenter of Mzansi Wethu’s new show, African Farming, recently accompanied him on a tour of his five farms, during which time Mfikwe shared some valuable tips with the viewers.

Afterwards, Khumalo talked in studio to Dr Thapelo Makae, Elanco Veterinarian, about the importance of minerals when farming with cattle. 

Minerals and vitamins are easily overlooked in beef cattle’s diets. Although it only accounts for a small proportion of daily dry matter, it should, nonetheless, be part of a herd’s nutritional programme, because it is crucial for proper bone development, immune function, muscle contractions, and nervous system function.

The cattle’s growth and reproductive performance can be greatly compromised if adequate minerals and vitamins are not included in their diet. 

There are at least 14 essential minerals required by ruminants. These essential minerals are divided into two main groups: microminerals or trace elements, and macrominerals. The latter include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium and sulphur. Micro-minerals include cobalt, copper, zinc, selenium, manganese, iodine and iron. It is difficult to determine whether the cattle in your herd receive enough essential minerals through grazing, as the levels of minerals in naturally grown feed depend on a number of factors, such as the soil’s pH and fertility; fertilisation; plant species and maturity; season and climate; irrigated water; and atmospheric inputs. 

Dr Makae specifically highlighted the importance of calcium. He said this macromineral plays a vital role in an animal’s muscle function, as well as its immunity. If a cow’s calcium levels are low, it can develop immunity issues, mastitis and womb infections.  

According to Dr Makae, calcium deficiency complicates the reproduction abilities of an animal. Immediately after calving, calcium levels in the blood drop significantly. The cow’s body responds to this by increasing its uptake of calcium out of the ration and mobilising calcium from the bones. It can lead to milk fever, which might cause the animal’s death if not treated immediately. As older cows have a less active bone metabolism, they are more prone to problems with low blood calcium levels. 

For information: e-mail Dr Makae at

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