Mineral Of The Month: Sulphur

Sulphur (S) comes from the Latin word sulphurium, meaning ‘burning stone’ or, as it is colloquially termed throughout history, ‘brimstone’. Sulphur is a chemical element found near hot springs or in large quantities of rock located in various volcanic regions all over the world, but what makes it highly distinguishable from other elements in nature is its bright yellow colour and rotten-egg smell.

Why Is Sulphur Essential For Animals?
Within the animal body sulphur mainly occurs in proteins containing amino acids cysteine, cystine and methionine; within vitamins biotin and thiamine; as a component of coenzyme A; in the hormone insulin; and as chondroitin sulphate, a structural compound and component of cartilage, bone, tendons and blood vessel walls, making sulphur an essential macro mineral for animal health. Among sulphur-deficient animals, Morrison, et al. (1990) acknowledged dietary sulphur supplementation improved animal performance by enhancing bacterial protein synthesis in the rumen and amino acid balance; this research relates to findings which found rumen synthesis of cysteine, cystine and methionine among ruminants was influenced by the amount of sulphur in their diets, suggesting additional sulphur supplementation is both essential and beneficial for ruminants consuming high levels of non-protein nitrogen, such as urea (McDonald 2011).

While many factors influence the sulphur requirements of ruminants, such as age, physiological state, and source of nitrogen or sulphur; when compared with other species, the dietary sulphur requirements of sheep is higher because wool contains 4% sulphur, meaning the per kg body weight supply of sulphur among sheep, as opposed to cattle, must be higher to accommodate wool production. Sulphur supplementation in ruminant diets has not only improved wool and meat production among sheep, leading to higher wool clips, improved wool strength, increased weight gain and higher lamb survival rates (Tisdale 1977), but has also been associated with increased meat and milk production across other industries. Increased sulphur intake among dairy cattle resulted in higher production of milk solids, milk fat, milk protein and milk casein (Tisdale 1977); in beef production, elemental sulphur supplementation among deficient cattle resulted in improved daily weight gain averages, decreased feed costs per kg of gain, and increased carcass grading (Hill, et al. 1984).

What Does Sulphur Deficiency In Livestock Look Like?
Closely related to protein deficiency, sulphur deficiency can have similar detrimental effects on livestock that can negatively impact production and income potential among farmers by:

  • Reducing the rate of microbial synthesis, leading to reduced microbial protein and volatile fatty acid production
  • Reducing fibre digestion as a result of slower microbial growth in ruminants
  • Slowed growth rates
  • Reduced feed efficiency
  • Reduced milk production
  • Reduced feed intake

If sulphur deficiency increases in severity without rectification, visible symptoms will become increasingly evident among livestock, such as:

  • An increased unwillingness to eat
  • Excess weight loss
  • Stunted growth, dullness and lethargy
  • Excessive salivation
  • Death

Do Plants And Soil Need Sulphur?
Sulphur is essential for plant growth and varies in composition across soil types. Some soil types, such as sandy soils with low organic matter receiving high rainfall, are more prone to sulphur deficiency and other soil types, such as clay, can reduce sulphur absorption potential among plants by keeping the element bound tightly within its structure. Sulphur deficiency promotes similar symptoms to nitrogen deficiency in plants and is often detectable on younger leaves first; symptoms can include:

  • Delayed plant maturity
  • Small, stunted plant growth
  • Leaves taking on a light green to yellow tinge known as chlorosis
  • Reduced nodulation of legumes

Facilitating mineralisation through microbial activity converts sulphur from soil organic matter into sulphate, making it readily available for plants to utilise; this helps plants to form important enzymes and essential plant proteins to assist health. Sulphur is required for the production of chlorophyll, a green photosynthetic pigment found in many plants, and it also plays a crucial role in seed production and producing fruit and vegetable flavours, particularly in garlic, onions and mustard.

How Can We Help?
Determining the sulphur status of your land is crucial for ensuring your crops and livestock are receiving optimal sulphur intake to assist overall health and production quality. We can help you identify sulphur deficiency or other issues your land may be experiencing by conducting a soil test; the process itself is simple, but the value it can create for your property is immeasurable because we not only diagnose soil complications, we also provide you with a solution.

At AgSolutions, we specialise in producing high quality NatraMin Mineral Fertiliser and MegaMin Livestock Supplements designed to help improve soil and animal health and assist production goals, but we want to understand your land better, so we’ll work with you to develop a soil management program suited specifically to the needs of your property – and if our NatraMin and MegaMin products are unable to offer a suitable regime, we’ll recommend alternate solutions because we’re committed to helping Australia grow; healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy livestock, healthy people – we understand it all starts with you.

Looking For A High Sulphur Solution Now?
If you’re struggling with sulphur-deficiency on your property, reach out to AgSolutions or your preferred local store to find out more about our range of high sulphur products, including;

To book a soil test or talk over any issues you might be experiencing on your farm, give AgSolutions Australia a call on 1800 81 57 57 and we’ll put you in touch with one of our Field Advisors today.

By Shannon Godwin (BAppSc GDTL)

Archer, KA & Wheeler, J 1978, Response to salt and sulphur by cattle grazing sorghum, Proc. Aust. Soc. Anim. Prod 12:172.

Archer, KA & Wheeler, JL 1978, ‘Response by cattle grazing sorghum to salt-sulphur supplements’, Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, vol. 18, no. 95, pp. 741-744.

Breytenbach, S 2014, Sulphur in Ruminant Nutrition, Engormix, viewed 28 August 2020, https://en.engormix.com/dairy-cattle/articles/sulphur-of-feeds-in-ruminant-t33358.htm

GHD Pty Ltd, Lane, J, Jubb, T, Shephard, R, Webb-Ware, J & Fordyce, G 2015, Priority list of endemic diseases for the red meat industries, Meat & Livestock Australia Limited, viewed 28 August 2020, https://www.mla.com.au/download/finalreports?itemId=2877

Hill, GM, Hembbry, FG, McMillin, KW, Harpel, RA & Blanchard, JP 1984, ‘Effect of Sulphur levels in Urea-treated corn silage diets’, Sulphur in Agriculture, vol. 8, pp. 8-10.

Hungerford, T 1990, Diseases of Livestock, 9th edn, McGraw-Hill Book Company Australia Pty Ltd, Roseville.

McDonald, PE 2011, Animal Nutrition, 7th edn, Pearson Education Limited, Essex.

Morrison, MM, Murray, RM & Boniface, AN 1990, ‘Nutrient metabolism and rumen micro-organisms in sheep fed a poor-quality tropical grass hay supplemented with sulphate’, The Journal of Agricultural Science, vol. 115, no. 2, pp. 269-275, doi: 10.1017/S0021859600075237

Stoltenow, C & Lardy, G 1998, Understanding prussic acid poisoning, North Dakota State University, viewed 28 August 2020, https://library.ndsu.edu/ir/bitstream/handle/10365/9224/V1150_1998.pdf?sequence=1

Tisdale, S 1977, Sulphur in forage quality and ruminant nutrition, The Sulphur Institute, Washington DC, viewed 28 August 2020, https://fertiliser-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/tsi_bulletin_22_ifs_reprint.pdf