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Trace Elements


In the context of a farming system, trace elements are of interest if you are seeking to maximise the performance of your herd and reduce herd wastage from disease and infertility. Whether or not trace element deficiency could be an issue for you depends very much on your soil type, but also to some extent on bought in feed and herd management and performance.

While much of the focus with trace elements is on cows in the herd, heifers and young stock often are forgotten about despite regularly being the group most deficient. 

The two most common deficiencies encountered are copper and selenium.


Copper deficiency can result from either a simple shortage of the mineral in the diet or from an abundance of complexing minerals causing secondary copper deficiency due to reducing the availability to the cow.

There is a seasonal reduction in copper availability from spring pastures and combined with the high copper demand from pregnant cows and growing yearling calves and we see most copper deficiency in these high risk groups in late winter through to the end of spring.

Copper is stored in the liver and circulates in blood enzymes. Blood tests give us current working levels but liver biopsies give us information on copper reserves. Both are important measures and if we test your herd we can customise an action plan to avoid deficiency.

Supplementation requirements can differ from herd to herd as levels can vary significantly. This has become more evident since the introduction of palm kernel as a feed supplement. Zinc supplementation and facial eczema can complicate using copper treatments, so it is important to talk to us if you have any concerns. Accidental or overzealous supplementation can result in copper overload, toxicity and rapid death so care must be taken.


Selenium deficiency results from low dietary levels. In severe cases, selenium deficiency is associated with fatal white muscle disease or it can affect immune function (immune cells). Subclinical deficiencies include ill thrift in young growing cattle, poor milk production and infertility in cows. Retained foetal membranes (RFM), subclinical mastitis, perinatal calf mortality and abortion and anaemia have also been associated with low selenium levels.

Testing is via blood tests or liver samples, best taken pre-calving. There are several options for supplementation and again, overdosing with selenium can be fatal so care must be taken.

If you are considering supplementation with trace elements or investigating your levels, sit down with us to work out a plan. We encourage regular testing and monitoring of cows and heifers to ensure your supplementation is working. It is easy to waste money on trace elements, so talk to us!


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About Us

Local farmers, associated rural communities and Te Puke town people have supported Te Puke Vet Centre for over 50 years. During those years scores of receptionists, nurses and vets have lived and enjoyed the benefits of this great town and area. It is very important for Te Puke Vets that we are strongly integrated with the local community and as part of that we are proud to support many local schools, sports clubs, service organisations and community events.