Common mineral deficiencies in cattle and treatments.

Nutritional deficiency in livestock such as cattle can present a whole host of problems for the farmer. With careful monitoring, dietary supplements, and other treatments, many deficiencies can be prevented or remedied, resulting in a healthy and productive herd.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common deficiencies, their symptoms, and how to treat them.


Selenium is an important trace element for cattle, aiding growth and fertility and helping to prevent conditions such as mastitis. It’s found in a number of enzymes and proteins and protects against damage to cells. It also plays an important role in keeping the immune system healthy.

Selenium deficiency can be caused by grazing on selenium-deficient soil, for example, acidic soils in areas of high rainfall, sandy soils in coastal regions, and granite soils, as well as areas with high levels of clover growth and in lush pastures that grow quickly.

Young cattle in the growth stage are especially susceptible to selenium deficiency.

Selenium deficiency symptoms in cattle include the onset of nutritional muscular dystrophy, also known as white muscle disease. Cattle may have difficulty breathing as a result of damage to the muscles supporting the heart, as well as problems standing and general stiffness.

Other selenium deficiency symptoms in cattle include poor milk production and fertility, mastitis, and the premature birth of calves. Young cattle with selenium deficiency may fail to grow satisfactorily and suffer from chronic diarrhea.

Deficiency can be prevented by adding selenium to pasture, though it should be noted that several seasons will need to pass for the mineral to be absorbed by the soil and plants, and subsequently cattle.

Injections can also be given, with some varieties offering up to 12 months’ supply of selenium.

Selenium can be offered in lick blocks, although it is difficult to gauge exactly how much each individual animal has ingested using this method.

Finally, intra-ruminal selenium pellets are an effective way to increase selenium levels in the blood.


Zinc is an important mineral for cattle, helping to build a good immune system, and promoting strong hooves and fertility.

Zinc deficiency can occur when cattle have too much calcium or phosphorus in their diet, or when cattle are grazing areas that are naturally lacking in this mineral. This includes grazing areas with acidic soils in sandy regions, alkaline soils with high calcium carbonate levels, and soils with elevated levels of organic matter.

Cattle may also be affected by a hereditary condition resulting in zinc deficiency called Adema disease.

Zinc deficiency in cattle can present with skin lesions, impaired growth, vulnerability to infection, failure to thrive, white patches of hair, and hair loss.

Zinc-based fertilizers can be added to the soil to balance out a deficiency, or zinc supplements can be added to cattle feed to boost levels of the mineral. Zinc is also available by injection, which can be given at critical times in the cattle life cycle such as during mating and calving. Zinc salt blocks may be used to boost amounts of the mineral in the herd’s diet.


Copper is an important mineral for cattle that helps in a variety of roles including bone growth and white blood cell function.

Copper deficiency can arise for a variety of reasons, for example, the type of terrain where cattle are pastured. Areas of peat swamp, granite soil, or sandy soil near the coast can be naturally lacking in copper. Deficiency in the soil can be made worse by the application of lime, which can, in turn, lead to increased production of molybdenum. This reacts with enzymes containing copper in the cattle’s bloodstream and can lead to deficiency.

Cattle mainly offered green feed may also lack copper, compared to those on dry feed where it is more abundant.

Breeding and growing cattle are more susceptible to copper deficiencies.

In cattle, you may notice decreased pigmentation, particularly around the eyes, or lameness. Unfortunately, copper deficiency can also result in heart failure and sudden death.

To remedy copper deficiency, you can administer a copper supplement by injection, which must be repeated every four to six months, or offer a slow-release intra-ruminal bolus which can last up to a year.

Alternatively, multi-mineral supplements can be added to feed or offered in a block form, and you can also apply a copper fertilizer to the soil where cattle graze.


Cattle need cobalt in their diet in order to process vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is essential for the creation of red blood cells and for energy to be metabolized.

Some types of soil, for example, sandy, granite, or acidic soil, can be naturally lacking in cobalt. Pastures that contain low levels of clover are also more likely to be deficient in cobalt.

Newborn calves are particularly vulnerable to cobalt deficiency due to their low reserves. And because cobalt is not stored in the body, young cattle, in particular, may need help to keep their levels up.

Symptoms of cobalt deficiency include a failure to grow and thrive in young cattle, an emaciated appearance, and susceptibility to infections and parasitical infestations in cattle of any age.

Cobalt injections with vitamin B12 can be given to calves at around six to eight weeks of age.

Liquid cobalt supplements are also available, as are lick blocks containing the element.

To increase the level of cobalt in the pasture, fertilizers or sprays can be used.


When cattle are phosphorus-deficient, they may exhibit a reduced appetite, which may harm their nutritional intake. This results in poor general body condition, vulnerability to infection, and lower milk production.

Phosphorus deficiency can also affect the quality of cattle’s bones and teeth.

Much of the soil in northern Australia is naturally low in phosphorus, leading to deficiency in cattle.

Symptoms of phosphorus deficiency include pica (an appetite for non-food substances, commonly bones in the case of cattle), stunted growth, bones that fracture easily, and infertility.

Phosphorus supplements can be given to cattle in a number of ways, including lick blocks, liquid supplements, and phosphorus-enhanced feeds.

Supplements for a full, healthy and productive life

Getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals can be challenging, especially where the landscape is naturally lacking in these essential components of an animal’s diet.

But as well as adding fertilizer and other treatments to pasture, there are many supplements available to help boost the diet of cattle and ensure that they live as full, healthy, and productive a life as possible.