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Examining the biological function of trace minerals

Providing optimal trace mineral nutrition can address many challenges in production and unlock greater performance potential and profitability.


Challenges in animal production have led to increased costs and more customer pains. Increased production pressures and industry standards have had a large impact on the animals themselves. This requires nutritionists to provide a balance of key nutrients to sustain the health and welfare of the animal as well as to ensure production efficiency and a high-quality end product. The requirements for the major nutrient groups are well established; however, the importance of key micronutrients in maintaining metabolic balance and optimal performance is being reconsidered.

Optimal trace mineral nutrition provides several benefits to the animal, including improved growth performance, immune development, structural integrity of tissues, bone development and strength, protection against oxidation and enzymatic activity. Zinc, copper and manganese each serve integral roles to reach optimal animal nutrition, specifically in swine and poultry. 

Zinc aids enzymes

Zinc provides multi-functional physiological roles within the animal, including: skin integrity, improved immunity, normal growth and development, and serves as an essential component for multiple enzymatic activities. The duodenum serves as the main absorption site, with the majority of zinc accumulating in the muscle and bones. Specifically, skeletal muscle accounts for about 60 percent of zinc concentration in the body, with 30 percent in the bones.

There are approximately 300 known zinc-dependent enzymes, wherein zinc either modulates enzymatic activity or is required for structural stability. Chronic zinc deficiency has several drastic results in the animal, including poor growth, delayed sexual maturity, abnormalities in fetuses, diarrhea, skin lesions and compromised immunity. 

Copper vital to immunity

Similarly to zinc, the concentration of copper in the body is in the bone and skeletal muscle with 45 percent in the former and 25 percent in the latter area. The major site of absorption is also the duodenum; however, copper and zinc are antagonistic toward each other.

Copper is a cofactor for several enzymes found in the body and is vitally important to immune functions. Signs of copper deficiency can include poor growth rates, anemia in piglets, low fertility, disorders in bone and connective tissue, weak vascular tissue and impaired egg shell formation in poultry.

Copper is often used as a growth promoter, improving appetite and increasing antibiotic activity in the gut, as well as feed efficiency. 

Manganese promotes growth, reproduction

In addition to copper and zinc, manganese is vitally important to the animal. Manganese is essential for growth and reproduction, wound healing and in the shell matrix formation.

The majority of manganese in the body is located in the mitochondria, which is responsible for energy generation in all tissues of the body. Manganese deficiency results in poor conception rates, structural abnormalities and lameness, congenital defects and abnormal metabolic activity. 

Performance benefits

Specifically, in the case of zinc, copper and manganese, the main functions of these trace minerals include improved growth performance, enzymatic activity, tissue and structural health, immune function and protection against oxidative stress. Structural integrity of tissues, which includes bone, tendon, hoof, skin, egg shell and more allow for collagen and keratin synthesis and crosslinking, as well as elastin crosslinking. Bone development and strength relies on collagen and cartilage synthesis, followed by ossification.

Zinc, copper and manganese are essential to egg shell formation in poultry. The calcification of the collagen matrix depends on these enzymatic cofactors. These trace minerals are crucial to reduce oxidative stress, which consequently reduces the susceptibility to disease. Maintaining optimal oxidative balance allows for a stronger immune system.

The increasing performance achieved by animal production requires a holistic approach to address all challenges in production that comes along. Zinc, copper and manganese have critical roles in several metabolic and biological processes. Providing optimal trace mineral nutrition can address many challenges in production and unlock greater performance potential and profitability. 

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