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Combating trace element deficiency boosts fertility and health

A Cheshire dairy farmer has seen significant improvements to cow health and fertility after discovering a serious copper lock-up and trace element deficiency problem.


Chris Fowles, who milks just over 200 cross-bred cows at Frodsham, Cheshire, with his son Tom, started seeing issues with cow fertility and calf health about five years ago.


Cows were struggling to get in-calf, despite showing strong heats. Calves were often being born weak and going on to contract illnesses, such as pneumonia.


Despite consultation with his vet, they were unable to identify the source of the problem. Cows were already vaccinated for leptospirosis, BVD and IBR and colostrum and milk management adequate.


Mr Fowles says at its worst, 70 per cent of the cows were failing to get back in-calf.


Two years ago he noticed his grass silage seemed wetter than it should be and that some corn he was growing was failing.


He says: “A couple of years ago, when the silage came in it never stopped fermenting. It was like pond weed. The effluent was still flowing after nine weeks and second cut was literally eating itself to death, so we knew something big was going on.”




After hearing about his issues, Agri-Lloyd’s dairy product manager James Ireland, suggested Mr Fowles take some forage samples for analysis. Results showed levels for the copper antagonist molybdenum were ‘off the scale’.


Mr Ireland says: “Typical range for molybdenum is 0.5-1mg/kg, but Mr Fowles’ result was 7.87mg/kg. His copper level was only 0.01mg/kg, instead of the typical

range of 8-12mg/kg, showing he had a significant deficiency due to the molybdenum locking up the copper.”


Mr Ireland says: “Low copper levels can put immunity at risk leading to a high susceptibility for infection. It can also cause delayed oestrus, silent heats, weaker eggs and thus reduce conception rates. Poor milk yield, scouring and a brown rustiness to an animal’s coat can also be signs of a deficiency.”


The analysis also showed a deficiency in trace elements with zinc levels only 1.14mg/kg instead of a target of 40-80mg/kg and cobalt and selenium also severely lacking.




Mr Ireland says: “Chris’ farm is situated between two major airports, jet fuel and fumes tend to be high in heavy metals, Cheshire is also known to be high in levels of molybdenum.”


Mr Fowles says: “About 15 years ago, we were incentivised to spread waste paper but it was full of heavy metals from the ink. The pH went up to 8.5 when the paper was added instead of being at a target of 6-6.5.”


Mr Fowles also grows potatoes and used a lot of sulphur fertiliser, which he believes sterilised the ground as a soil analysis by Kingshay revealed little worm activity in these fields. Some of the 130ha (320 acres) fields were also found to have compaction.




Mr Fowles immediately started dosing cows with a chelated trace element, vitamin and amino acid supplement drench just before calving and again before serving.


Mr Ireland says. “Chelated trace elements, where the mineral is bonded to an essential amino acid, improves utilisation by the cow and corrects imbalances in trace element levels.


“Costing less than the average semen straw, it can make a dramatic difference to the fertility and profitability of the herd.”


To improve the lock-up problem long-term, Mr Fowles has flat-lifted 44.5ha (110 acres) to alleviate the compaction.


He says: “I have also applied 10t per acre of decomposed compost to aid worm activity. In some fields, potash and sodium were found to be low, so I am applying two bags of rock salt to an acre to as well as compost/FYM.”


The calcium soil status in some of the other fields was also extremely low, which could have also caused the silage to be lacking in structure. As a result, his soil analysis report suggested he apply a Calcifert Sulphur fertiliser.




Already Mr Fowles has seen an improvement to cow and calf health, with calves thriving and more eager to suckle and more cows getting in-calf.


He says: “We have still got some way to go, but now it is less than 40 per cent not getting in-calf, which is vast improvement on where we were.”


Mr Ireland says: “A Forage Mineral Audit is essential for you to know what your animals are eating and the mineral and trace element levels in your forages. If you take on extra land, then get an audit done so you know what they are consuming. It is such an important factor in cow health and milk yields.”

Trace element facts

  • Molybdenum is one of the major antagonists and although it can interact with many other elements, it is well known for causing ‘lock-ups’ with copper
  • High dietary molybdenum in combination with moderate to high dietary sulphur results in formation of thiomolybdates in the rumen
  • Thiomolybdates greatly reduce copper absorption, and certain thiomolybdate compounds can be absorbed and interfere systemically with copper metabolism. This can result in symptoms of copper deficiency being seen even when copper levels in the feed are normal
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