Minerals, trace elements and vitamins play a multitude of vital roles in bodily functions including structural, physiological, catalytic and regulatory.

Scotmin Nutrition (a Carr’s Agriculture company) recently undertook a forage analysis survey to find out the results of minerals and trace elements found in grass silage.

The survey, which was made up of 262 grass silage samples – many of which were taken from farms throughout the Central Belt between August 2023 and May 2024 – revealed the deficiencies of grass silage and the need for supplementation.

“Forage is still one of the cheapest available feeds for cattle and sheep and is capable of sustaining good levels of animal performance throughout the year. However, forage is inconsistent and can be lacking in minerals and trace elements. It is imperative to make the most of your forage with careful accurate supplementation,” said Graeme Warnock, head of marketing at Scotmin Nutrition.

Interestingly in a recent company study, 50% of farmers said they analyse their forages seasonally, with 25% analysing annually and 19% admitting they do not routinely measure forage quality – 6% of the survey answered non-applicable for their farm type.

He added: “Most livestock is fed a forage-based ration. Whether it is fresh or conserved, the mineral content of such forages does not generally meet the animals’ minimum dietary requirement. Modern grassland management can further depress the availability of minerals and trace elements.”

Sample analysis found low levels of copper, cobalt, iodine, zinc and selenium in forages which, as a result, required supplementation.

Dr Richard Wynn, head of technical at Carr’s Agriculture said: “Every farm is different, and it is important that farmers analyse forages to find out what they require to supplement rather than just carry on with what they always do, or what their neighbour is doing.”

The company offers a full forage testing service to help advise farmers on dry matter, protein, water soluble carbohydrate (sugars), and nitrate, plus the full range of minerals and trace elements.

“The primary goal of supplementation is to overcome deficiencies in the base diet to meet maintenance and production requirements. The ultimate goal is to overcome a deficiency without an oversupply.

“Oversupply bypasses what an animal can absorb or even cause toxicity. In any case oversupply will cost money. Sufficiency and precision are key,” Dr Wynn added.

Molassed mineral buckets are a popular way for farmers to supplement those minerals and trace elements which are missing from forage.

Grazing and forage quality can be defined as the capacity of the grass to nutritionally meet the basic requirements of the animal. However, they are dependent on soil pH, sward type, fertiliser usage and the weather.

“Pasture and silage aftermath growth rates have struggled in many parts of the country this year due to the weather, so it is important to regularly monitor animals to ensure they are growing to targets. If you are not tracking the progress of these animals, it is hard to play catch-up later on,” added Mr Warnock.

“This starts with youngstock – the sooner they get supplements the better their growth rates should be. Farmers are rightly always thinking of the next target to get lambs or calves away as quickly as possible but also think about the longer-term goals for replacement stock hitting performance targets.”

He added that sustainability and environmental factors play are crucial in new products.

“When it comes to methane reduction, there are two parts – firstly supplementing animals to improve growth performance effectively 'dilutes' methane production, reducing methane production per unit of weight gain, or milk yield.

“The other is through additives that reduce methane directly in the rumen, from feed additive companies. Both are important to help achieve necessary methane reduction.”

One Crystalyx product saw animals in a long-term trial record 18.7% reduction in methane emissions per kg of dlwg as animals grew more quickly which in turn reduced the methane ‘load’ per kg of bodyweight.