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Clearing up confusion

Deciphering feed tags for organic versus inorganic trace minerals
Dr. Jason Russell, Beef Research Nutritionist, Zinpro Corporation 4/24/2020

Last week, my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. The little guy arrived 12 days early, and we still hadn’t purchased a few key baby items, so I headed to the nearest big-box store in Chattanooga to tackle the list. I was doing great until I stepped into the aisle for bottles. I was overwhelmed by the options for volume, shape, glass or plastic, anti-colic designs, and more nipple options than I ever knew existed. This was an area outside my expertise, and I began to relate the experience to my work.

I realize many producers encounter similar bewilderment as they work to decipher a feed ingredient tag. Containing a variety of nutrient levels and additives like medication or feed-through fly control, the ingredient list can seem complex and create as much confusion as my first trip to the baby bottle aisle.

The most common misunderstanding about the ingredient list is the difference between inorganic and organic trace minerals. It’s a valid concern, as there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace. For reference, remember that copper, zinc, and other trace “minerals” are metals. At the broadest level, an inorganic mineral is a metal bound to an inorganic compound — one that doesn’t contain both carbon and hydrogen. When inorganic minerals reach the small intestine, the metal is absorbed through specific pathways. For example,

copper has its own pathway for absorption.

You probably recognize inorganic compound names from your feed tags like sulfates, oxides, carbonates, and hydroxychlorides. These minerals have been around the longest, should be the lowest cost, and generally help animals achieve acceptable levels of performance. Though inorganic minerals are absolutely better than no supplementation, they won’t necessarily help your animals reach their genetic potential for growth, reproduction, immunity, and other traits.

An organic mineral is simply a metal bound to an organic compound (a compound containing both carbon and hydrogen). You’ve probably heard that organic minerals improve animal performance more than ordinary inorganic minerals. There are a variety of organic minerals available for livestock and companion animal feeds, but they don’t all perform the same since many of them are not chemically stable enough to stay intact throughout the stomach(s). When these organic minerals break apart, they arrive in the small intestine in a similar form as inorganics and are absorbed or – not absorbed – in similar fashion. Examples of these unstable organics include proteinates, polysaccharides, propionates, and methionine hydroxy analogs. If they are absorbed the same as inorganic minerals, then we don’t expect better performance, so many organics may not actually be worth the added cost.

However, one form of organic minerals, called amino acid complexes, is absorbed differently than inorganic minerals. Amino acid complexes are made up of one metal bound to only one amino acid; often an essential amino acid that the animal requires nutritionally. The amino acid complexes are stable through the stomach(s) to the small intestine, and research has shown that they are absorbed through amino acid pathways rather than normal inorganic mineral/metal pathways. Don’t confuse amino acid complexes with amino acid chelates. Chelates contain one metal bound to multiple amino acids and are too big to be absorbed in the small intestine. If you read the ingredient list of some Co-op feed products, you’ll see items like zinc amino acid complex, copper amino acid complex, zinc methionine complex, and others. These complexes are backed by hundreds of university and real-world studies and have been shown to benefit animal performance and support animal wellness compared to both inorganic minerals and other, unstable organic minerals.

The next time you read a feed tag, look in the ingredient section for amino acid complexes. Although inorganics should provide acceptable performance, the amino acid complexes will help animals get even closer to genetic potential for performance and profitability. Hopefully, you will feel more prepared the next time you read a feed tag. And, hopefully, I will be more prepared the next time I enter the baby bottle section of a store.

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