DARK MOON PICTURES / SHUTTERSTOCK
BY GILDA V. BRYANT
is often fa S
elenium is a critical trace
element cattle require for
health. If animals receive too
little, they lose productivity,
and calves may be born with
white muscle disease, which
is often fatal. Producers must walk a
fine line because too much selenium
also causes toxicity problems.
Don Llewellyn, Ph.D., Associate
Professor and Livestock Extension
Specialist at Washington State
University, says one of selenium’s
roles is to work as an antioxidant that
stabilizes cell membranes. Crucial
for healthy muscle cells, selenium
works closely with vitamin E, another
potent antioxidant that also prevents
the formation of free radicals in cell
membranes. Producers should give
cattle appropriate amounts of selenium
and vitamin E.
The Pacific Northwest, Great
Lakes region, New England, and the
Southeastern states lack selenium.
Forages and grasses depend on their
ability to absorb this trace mineral from
soils. The plant species also determines
mineral uptake. For example, white
clover, buffalo grass, and gramma grass
take up very little selenium. Without
supplementation, animals can develop
health problems. A significant feature
of selenium deficiency occurs when
calves are born with white muscle
disease. Characterized by stiffness in
skeletal muscles, it can also involve the
heart, causing sudden death.
When mature animals lack selenium,
reproductive concerns, such as retained
placentas, reduced fertility, uterine
infections, abortions, mastitis, or stillbirths
may occur. In all classes of cattle,
diarrhea, unthriftiness, and compromised
immune systems may result.
“If you’re running cattle on historically
deficient selenium areas like the
Great Basin and eastern Washington,
work with your veterinarian on a
prevention plan,” Llewellyn explains.
“Acknowledge that you have a selenium
deficiency and work around that.
Be proactive and stay ahead of it.”
After a producer spots selenium deficiencies
in his cattle, a veterinarian
may determine a particular animal’s
mineral status with a liver biopsy.
32 I WORKING RANCH I NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 2020