Farmers could at be affecting the performance of their livestock and even, pouring hard earned cash down the drain, if they are buying excessive amounts of minerals that are already available in soils, forages and concentrate feeds.

That was the take home message from Peter Bone of Livestock and Grassland Mineral Consultancy, and specialist sheep vet, Fiona Lovatt, who told producers they don't need to buy minerals if their rations are adequately balanced for the class of stock being fed.

Furthermore, they said many free access minerals and some blocks are being wasted as there is a lack of regulation on their usage with some animals eating blocks purely because they are 'bored.'

"If you've got the ration right, you don't necessarily need additional minerals," Mr Bone told a packed Quality Meat Scotland Better Grazing meeting, just outside Perth.

"Blocks need to be handled with care when dealing with mineral imbalances due to variable intakes and they may not be appropriate for energy supply if other feeds can provide equivalent for less cost.

Many of the mineral drenches on the market only last for two or three weeks too, so you need to make sure to use the right product in the right situation."

Instead, Mr Bone urged producers to remember that dry matter intakes, energy and protein, remain the key components of overall nutrition, while minerals and trace elements are essential for correct functioning of the body – they should not used as an excuse for other issues, he said.

However, with minerals found in the soil, water, grass and forages and compound feeds, he encouraged livestock farmers to get their grass and forages analysed if they feel they have a mineral deficiency.

"There is a poor relationship between the minerals in the soil and the minerals in grasses and forages, so measure the mineral content of what the animal is grazing not that of the soil. Don't spend money on trace elements for the soil – concentrate on testing your grazed forages and crops either grazed or conserved.

"Long-term soil management will help mineral balance in the soil and in some cases show positive effects in both the grazing platform and conserved crops but it is certainly not the place to start," he said.

"The dry matter of a feed is where all the nutrients are, so if you think you have an issue with mineral deficiency, analyse your forages."

Going by results from the audience, deficiencies of Selenium, Cobalt and Iodine appeared to cause the most problems on farm. Cobalt deficiency can be seen in lambs as they become ruminants and become less reliant on their mother's milk usually from about six weeks of age.

This Mr Bone said, also coincides with the seasonal decline of cobalt in grass, while increases in the pH of the soil or high levels of nitrogen fertiliser can also affect the uptake of cobalt from forages.

Copper can also cause issues, but with most farm forages containing adequate supplies, Mr Bone warned producers not to oversupply the mineral as it's uptake from the rumen can be affected by Molybdenum which is freely available in Scottish soils, and cause toxicities.

He added that there are a number of elements (iron, sulphur and molybdenum) which have the capacity to combine in the rumen and interact with copper, which could result either in copper deficiency, if supplies of copper are unable to meet those of the animals needs, or, increased levels of molybdenum and sulphur combining in the rumen.

If copper is not available to react with these in the rumen, they will pass into the blood, causing problems with the copper enzymes in the body, with this signs of this separate problem very similar to copper deficiency. Therefore care must be taken to diagnose this properly, although in general, sheep are more at risk of copper toxicity than cattle, with specific breeds particularly at risk.

He added that applying salt to pastures that are known to be deficient in minerals can benefit livestock performance but otherwise - natural or Himalayan sale - is great for improving the palatability of feeds, increasing dry matter intakes and buffering the rumen. However, he advised against putting out salt blocks just in the last couple of weeks before calving or lambing.

Mr Bone also advised producers to ensure all water sources are clean. "Forget water at your peril. If it doesn't look good enough for you to drink it, don't expect stock to perform to their best. You cannot underestimate the value of water when a dairy cow requires 5litres of water to produce 1litre of milk."

Mr Bone also encouraged livestock farmers to undertake a mineral audit for the different stock on the farm at different periods, if they believe their farm could be deficient in minerals. Consider the history of the stock and what problems have arisen if any, relating to productivity, fertility and growth rates.

If there have been issues, he advised producers to consider analysing the mineral content of grazing fields, forages and additional inputs and or blood sampling livestock at the end of the grazing season particularly for cobalt, selenium and iodine deficiencies.

Commenting on the best treatments for deficiencies he said: "Boluses are seen as the silver bullet but there is a lag of about six weeks for Selenium, so they may not be the best immediate option if Selenium is very low. Also remember that many of the boluses contain copper and may well not be appropriate for sheep.

Mr Bone also warned about chelated minerals. "Cobalt needs to go into the rumen to breakdown, therefore you don't want chelated Cobalt. Basically, don't trust someone who just walks up the drive trying to sell you a miracle cure – you should know the basic mineral status of your forages and feeds from the performance of your stock in previous years and if you don't get good diagnostic information first," he said adding that excessive amounts of some minerals can cause serious issues and sometimes death.