Beef Cattle

Preventing disease via nutrition is more important than ever

A common trend around the world is a decreasing reliance on antibiotic use in food animals. Rules and regulations have been set to control the use of antibiotics, which makes a sound nutrition program more important now than ever to help prevent and combat potential risks and disease.

While overall nutrition is important to maintaining health, there are several key trace minerals that are typically deficient in the diet that play critical roles in the development and maintenance of the immune system of calves. These key minerals are copper, zinc and selenium.


Copper is needed for the proper development of antibodies and white blood cells, in addition to antioxidant enzyme production. Copper-deficient cattle are more susceptible to infections and do not respond as well to vaccinations. In addition, they tend to be less resistant to parasitic challenges. Studies have shown that cattle receiving proper copper nutrition tend to be less susceptible to infections and have less severe infections when disease does occur.


Zinc plays an important role in the maintenance of skin, the gastro-intestinal lining and the lining of the respiratory system. These are the body’s first defenses against bacterial, viral and parasitic invaders. Additionally, zinc is crucial for non-specific immunity from neutrophils and phagocytic cells and antioxidant activity. Zinc is also necessary for the development of antibodies needed for specific immunity.


Selenium works in conjunction with vitamin E in the removal of free radicals via antioxidant activity and is critical for phagocytic cell function in non-specific immunity. Research has shown that selenium-deficient cells are less able to kill pathogens. Selenium-deficient animals are less able to respond to specific invaders and have lowered antibody titers.

Since much of a calf’s body stores of trace minerals are obtained in utero, especially during the last trimester, the nutrition of the dam is crucial for the calf’s immunity. The dam’s nutritional status affects the calf in two ways. First, it affects the quality of the colostrum she is able to offer for passive immunity, and second, it provides the necessary building blocks for when the calf’s body develops its own immunity.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that stress has a direct negative effect on immune function. For example, it has been shown that phagocytes do not respond normally to infection in the presence of cortisol (the “stress” hormone). Prolonged stress has actually been shown to increase an animal’s mineral requirements. The stress brought on by this harsh winter has taxed the levels that dams have to give, thus making supplementation of the cow herd with high-quality mineral sources critical this winter and spring. It’s important to keep high-quality supplements in front of the cows, even after calving, as the cows need to replenish their body stores to prepare for breeding. Calves also need access to supplements since some minerals, such as copper, are not transferred in milk in appreciable quantities. High-quality supplements will give them the building blocks they need for a strong immune system.

In summary, maximizing immune function via nutrition — especially trace mineral nutrition — is going to become increasingly more important in beef production. ULTRALYX® offers a wide variety of high-quality supplements that deliver essential minerals and vitamins to cattle.

For cows during the breeding period, consider ULTRALYX® All in One 20% Breeder with Bioplex® organic trace minerals. Bioplex® trace minerals offer greater bioavailability to the animal for better performance and protection. For calves during times of stress, ULTRALYX® Stress and Weaning is fortified with minerals and vitamins to help combat stress or times of sickness. It is an ideal low-moisture block for receiving calves, aggressive breeding programs or other stressful conditions.

Visit your local ULTRALYX dealer for more information on our available ULTRALYX products.