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Selko | Dairy Performance


The impact of trace mineral source on palatability of calf starter

Use hydroxy trace minerals to increase feed intake of calves to ensure they eat at least 1.5 kg of starter feed at weaning

The impact of feed intake early in life on future production potential of dairy cows

Palatability research conducted on both swine and ruminants has demonstrated that the choice of mineral source influences feed intake. More reactive mineral sources, like sulphate-based trace minerals and also some types of organic trace minerals, can change the flavor profile of feed and reduce animals’ feed intake. One of the challenges in dairy farming is to ensure calves eat at least 1.5 kg of starter feed at the time they are being weaned. Selecting less reactive trace minerals – like hydro trace minerals – can support or even improve intake of different types of feeds for calves, including mineral supplements, concentrates and molasses tubes. Getting calves’ feed intake off to a strong start can help animals to gain weight early in life and allows them to better adapt following weaning. It has been proven that this helps them to reach their full production potential later in life[1,2].

The relation between flavor and feed intake of dairy calves

The flavor of feed, especially for young animals, can be an important consideration when developing the animal’s diet. Taste can either stimulate or suppress appetite and feed intake. A total of 3 experiments were carried out to study the effect of trace mineral inclusion on feed intake of dairy calves.

Study 1

In a preference study[3], 16 calves were offered 3 supplements simultaneously. The 3 supplements contained either hydroxy-based trace minerals, sulphate-based trace minerals or organic trace minerals. The supplements were offered for a 14-day period. Intake of the hydroxy based supplement was higher throughout the entire 14 day period (see Figure 1).

Study 1

Figure 1, Percentage intake of calves of the total offer of supplements based on hydroxy trace minerals, organic trace minerals or sulfates.

Over the total period of 14 days, calves almost exclusively consumed (p < 0.001) the hydroxy trace mineral source (see Table 1).

Mineral source % out of total intake
Hydroxy trace mineral 82.9%
Organic trace mineral 10.4%
Sulphate trace mineral 6.7%

Table 1: Preferential intake of calves offered 3 different sources of trace minerals simultaneously. Intake is expressed as the percentage out of the total intake.

Study 2

This study was conducted at the University of Florida[4]. A total of 139 pairs of calves were included in the study. They were on a feeding schedule with limited intake of creep feed from 104 days before weaning. Half of the calves were fed a creep feed supplemented with sulphate trace minerals, the other half were fed a creep feed that was supplemented without using sulphate trace minerals. Intake of the creep feed without sulphates was higher. There was about an 8-fold difference as the average supplement intake increased from 20 g/day to 160 g/day during the 14-week trial (see Figure 2).

Study 2

Figure 2. The effect of removing sulphate sources of Cu, Zn and Mn from the supplement, calves supplement intake increased from 20g to 160g/calf/d during the 14-week trial period.

Study 3

In a third study, also conducted at the University of Florida[3], 3 different supplements were compared. One supplement did not contain trace minerals, one contained a blend of copper, and zinc from a sulphate source with manganese from an oxide source. The third supplement contained a hydroxy-based mineral sources. Creep-feeding supplements were provided starting 84 days before weaning. Calves ate the largest amount of creep feed containing the hydroxy-trace minerals, followed by intake of the control feed. Intake of the sulphate-fortified diet was significantly lower, with the hydroxy trace mineral supplemented feed having a 26% increase in consumption (see Table 2).

Mineral source Kg/day Total amount for 84 day period
Hydroxy trace mineral 0.109 kg/day 9.2 kg
Sulphate trace mineral 0.088 kg/day 7.4 kg
No trace mineral 0.100 kg/day 8.4 kg

Table 2: Voluntary feed intake of dairy calves of Cu, Zn and Mn sulphate trace mineral fortified grain-based supplements compared to Cu, Zn and Mn hydroxy trace mineral fortified supplements and supplements without Cu, Zn and Mn trace minerals.

Study 4

In this study[3], a supplement containing hydroxy trace minerals was compared to a supplement containing sulfate trace minerals. Calves fed the hydroxy trace mineral supplement had a higher bodyweight gain after weaning compared to calves supplemented with sulfates (see Figure 3).

Study 1

Figure 3, Bodyweight gain of calves during the 16 day the post weaning period, one group of calves was fed hydroxy trace minerals, the other group was fed sulfates.

The trial also demonstrated that calves with a higher mineral intake had lower cortisol levels and higher plasma ceruloplasmin and haptoglobin levels, indicators of a faster post-weaning recovery (see Figure 4).

Study 1

Figure 4. Cortisol levels, and plasma ceruloplasmin and plasma haptoglobin levels in calves during the first 16 days after weaning, one group of calves was supplemented with trace minerals and compared to a group of calves not supplemented.


Significant differences in preference of calves between sources of trace minerals were found, resulting in a difference in pre and post weaning feed intake between feeds containing different sources of trace minerals. These differences resulted in a better adaptation of the animal during the weaning period. A possible explanation for the difference in palatability may be related to the strong covalent bonds of hydroxy trace minerals, meaning they are insoluble. As a result, they do not break down when exposed to moisture. This insolubility protects the mineral in the feed and keeps it from dissociating until it reaches the proper area within the animal.

Feed efficiency of dairy cows is a key driver of dairy farm profitability

Feeding IntelliBond trace minerals improves digestibility of fibre in the diet, enabling cows to produce more milk out of the same amount of feed.

Learn more about how Selko IntelliBond helps to improve fibre digestibility to optimize performance

Selko | solutions based on science

Increase your milk production by improving fibre digestibility

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  1. Davis Rincker L.E, VandeHaar M.J, Wolf C.A, Liesman .JS, Chapin L.T. and Weber Nielsen M.S. (2011). Effect of intensified feeding of heifer calves on growth, pubertal age, calving age, milk yield, and economics. J. Dairy Sci 94:3554-3567.
  2. Terré, M., C. Tejero, and A. Bach. (2009). Long-term effects on heifer performance of an enhanced growth feeding programme applied during the pre-weaning period. J. Dairy Res. 76:331–339.
  3. Caramalac, L. S., Netto, A.S, Martins, P.G.M.A, Moriel, P, Ranches, J, Fernandes, H.J. and J. D. Arthington. (2017). Effects of hydroxychloride sources of copper, zinc, and manganese on measures of supplement intake, mineral status, and pre- and post-weaning performance of beef calves. J. Anim. Sci. 95:1739-1750.
  4. Moriel, P. and J.D. Arthington. (2013). Effects of trace mineral-fortified, limit-fed preweaning supplements on performance of pre- and postweaned beef calves. J. Anim. Sci. 91:1371-1380.