Phosphorus (P) is an essential mineral required by all people, animals and plants. It is vital for most functions of the body from simple life support to reproduction and health.
In the northern areas of Australia many of the soils are phosphorus deficient and cattle in the north are not usually able to obtain sufficient quantities from the natural pastures on which they graze as the plants also tend to be deficient.
Phosphorus is vital for the growth of bones, teeth, milk production and efficient feed conversion which is when the animal gets the most benefit from what it eats.
Symptoms of phosphorus deficiency in a herd is not instantly obvious as the animal draws on their phosphorus ‘stores’ from their bones and this takes time to deplete. It also takes time to replenish.Symptoms in animals are that they have poor growth , have weak bones, even eating less. Often the animals will chew bones, loose condition faster than a non-deficient animal, particularly in the latter stages of ‘dry seasons’ as the feed reserves lesson. Their fertility could be very low, thus a herd may have low calving percentages and poor weaning rates. Generally they are more susceptible to disease, particularly botulism (See Botulism Vaccinations). Botulism is an organism that produces a toxin which through paralysis of the muscles can be fatal to cattle. It is very prevalent in the soils and is present in old bones and carcases which the animals will chew as they are craving and seeking phosphorus.
From an animal welfare point of the view the feeding of supplements like Phosphorus assists the animal’s general health. Their bone structure is stronger; they grow better from a young age, usually meaning they are a healthier animal overall which assists their bodies to resist infections and maintain itself. They also utilise feed available more efficiently in dry periods when the grasses lose their nutritional value and the cattle would be expected to lose some body conditioning, such as late in the dry seasons. It also lessons their desire to chew the bones of dead animals.
From a production value point of view animals receiving adequate phosphorus are healthier throughout their whole life and are much more likely to have increased reproductive fertility. Producing healthier calves, as a cow with good phosphorus levels can maintain a better milk supply; those calves will grow into strong animals themselves with heavier body weights and better general health. Their is usually a decrease in mortality rates across the herd due to these combined improvements.
The benefits to a property monetary wise is more animal production, less deaths and more kilograms to sell. While it may cost approximately $20 -$30 per head to feed an animal just phosphorus,the healthier animal’s better health and calving percentages usually enable a return on investment to warrant the increasing cost of supplementations.
Phosphorus can be fed as a supplement in a number of ways, water additives or in feed mixes with other supplements. We feed ours in a concentrated granule that is placed in various areas of the property for the animals to access as they require.
If you are interested in reading further on this subject go to
‘Phosphorus management of beef cattle in Northern Australia’