Trace Mineral Study

By: Gregor Dike

Three years ago there was significant discussion among yak breeders concerning proper copper trace mineral levels. The discussion was the result of a number of breeders having yaks become significantly ill/die without an obvious cause. The problem with linking trace mineral levels to yak health was that there had been no studies to determine the proper trace mineral ranges for yaks. The best information we had was trace mineral ranges for beef cattle.  But yaks aren’t beef cattle, and no one knew what trace mineral levels for beef cattle apply to yaks?

In order to begin to get usable data for yaks a study was started two years ago working with the University of Kentucky Diagnostic Veterinary Laboratory under the guidance of Dr. Michelle Arnold, DVM. The goal was to collect over one hundred blood samples from apparently healthy yak from across the United States to get a quantifiable idea of what trace mineral levels are for healthy yaks. The study was not designed to determine upper and lower limits as this requires a large controlled study where trace levels are pushed to upper and lower limits to determine at what point the animal’s health is affected. Knowing what trace mineral levels were for “healthy yaks” would at least provide us with a point of comparison to begin to determine if a yak’s trace mineral levels were high or low and how levels for yak compare to those of beef cattle.

At this point we have twenty-eight samples representing only five states: Kentucky (11), Connecticut (2), Nebraska (3), Wyoming (3) and Illinois (9). Clearly this is not a sufficient number on which to make safe conclusions about what is a “good” specific trace mineral level. Since animal health, including fertility, pregnancy outcome, birth calf vigor and the strength of the immune system are related to trace mineral levels, it is very important for us as yak breeders to work together to get the data we need to manage our herds health and productivity.

If just twenty breeders would agree to collect blood samples on six yak from their herd we would have the sample size needed to determine “working” trace mineral concentrations from which we (and our veterinarians) could make management decisions as well as understand what might be happening with sick or non-productive animals. The cost to run six samples at the University of Kentucky DVL is $125 ($25 apiece for the first five and the sixth is for free). This is a very small investment compared the preventable  death of a yak, poor birth vigor or poor conception rates.

Dr. Arnold is in contact with the Yak Research Facility in India to see what trace mineral guidelines they have but they have only tested a minimal number of yaks to date. They are sending her information they have to help in this study which is wonderful and a step forward for us all.

The only way we will get the needed information is if we all participate in collecting the samples. This way we can get not only the number of samples needed for analysis but samples which come from across the U.S. and remove possible regional differences.

If you want to get the results you and all of us need for herd health and management decisions (and which we can share with yak breeders in India) , then contact me at and let me know how many yak you want to test as part of the study and I will send you the collection tubes and protocol.  Please give me ten days notice as I will mail the sample collection tubes to you.

USYAKS is yak breeders helping yak breeders.

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