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Animal Rights

Mineral priorities: Supplementation can be critical for cowherd

Written by Gayle Smith

Walking the aisles of the local feed store may not be the best way to purchase mineral supplements for cattle. According to Chris Shelley, Colorado State University Extension livestock specialist in Wray, Colo., each herd is unique and has different needs.

The key is to tailor a program to meet those needs, he said.

“The program we have for our cattle needs to be built specifically for our cattle,” he told producers.

“There has been a lot of research done, and a lot of technology has come out regarding minerals since the 20th century. Today, we know a lot more about minerals than what we used to,” he explained.

Critical supplements

Shelley says 17 minerals are critical for cattle health.

The seven macro-minerals are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chlorine, magnesium and sulfur. The 10 trace minerals are iron, iodine, zinc, copper, manganese, cobalt, molybdenum, selenium, chromium and nickel.

Because of differences in how cattle are managed, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to selecting a mineral. Shelley says age, sex, breed, stage of production and the feeding program also affect what minerals the cattle need.

Tailoring a program

During certain times of the year, the mineral program will change, Shelley continued.

“We should evaluate multiple times during the year if our animal’s mineral needs are being met,” he said. “For example, during lactation, cows need more calcium, potassium and magnesium. During spring grass growth, cattle will need magnesium and calcium to prevent grass tetany.”

“When the grass goes dormant in the fall, it will lose its crude protein, available energy and total digestible nutrients (TDN), as well as some minerals,” he continued. “Basically, any time there is a major change in the diet, the mineral program needs to be re-evaluated.”

Shelley also recommends developing a plan before moving cattle to summer pasture. He said producers should use soil maps and possibly have a soil analysis to determine what minerals are in the grass.

Environmental impacts

“It is possible for the soil to have a deficiency in one mineral or another,” Shelley said. “Since grass quality can fluctuate year to year so can mineral requirements.”

Testing the water is also important.

“Producers should test the water just to see what the salt content is,” he explained. “Cattle can tolerate a lot of salt, but when combined with a lot of salt in the water, it can be harmful to them.”

Cattle have a baseline requirement that needs to be met to maintain proper health. They also have a toxicity level for each mineral. The key is finding the range where they are efficient, without becoming toxic, Shelley explained.

“The goal is to meet their requirements, but not to overfeed them. Minerals are expensive,” he said.

Supplementation strategies

Shelley recommends building a mineral nutrition program from the ground up.

“The first step is to understand what the cattle’s requirements are and what’s in their feed,” he explained. “We want to find that balance between deficiency, overfeeding and cost.”

Minerals can be delivered to the cattle different ways. Pastures can be supplemented so grasses are taking in the minerals they are deficient in, Shelley said. In dairy feedlots, many producers choose to mix the minerals into the feed to develop a complete diet.

Cow-calf producers typically feed a free-choice mineral.

“The problem with that is some cattle won’t eat it, and others will over-consume it,” he explained. “Sometimes, more salt has to be added to the mineral to keep consumption down.”

Shelley shared with producers a new method of injecting the cattle with the minerals they require.

“The advantage is in knowing exactly how much mineral the cattle are getting,” he said. “The disadvantage is bringing them in, and committing to giving them another shot.”

Depending upon what minerals are needed, producers may have to rely on a veterinarian to give the injection, since some minerals are considered controlled substances.

Mineral choice

When selecting a mineral, producers can choose between organic and inorganic minerals. Mineral selection is based on bio-availability of the animal, which is how much of the consumed mineral will be utilized by the animal and how much will be down on the ground.

Inorganic minerals are oxides, which have the lowest bio-availability, carbonates, which are considered a little higher, and chlorides and sulfates, which have the highest bio-availability.

“When we are evaluating a bag of mineral, take it apart,” Shelley urged producers. “If there is a lot of oxides, we will have to feed more of it than if it has chlorides or sulfates.”

“When we get into organic minerals, there is a lot of conflicting research out there,” he continued. “We need to pay attention to how much mineral our cows need, because some companies want to sell more mineral, so they do these studies based on feeding more than the cow actually needs, but they keep it below toxic levels.”

“Organic minerals are a chelate of metal ions, whether it is zinc or cobalt, to an organic compound. They are large protein molecules, amino acids, and sugars,” he said.

Studies

Shelley shared a Texas A&M study that compared three different organic zinc sources to an inorganic zinc source, which was zinc sulfate.

“They found that only one of those organic zinc sources outperformed the zinc sulfate,” Shelley said. “Our can meet our animal’s requirements with inorganic sources.”

However, one of the selling points for purchasing organic minerals is that they are more viable.

“There can be advantages to feeding organic, but you need to look at what they attach to and what they are doing inside the animal’s body, if its a big protein molecule,” he explained.

Shelley encouraged producers to compare different mineral programs to find the one that is right for them.

“We may find the one that is more expensive initially is actually less expensive in the end because we have to feed less of it,” he said. “I also don’t recommend buying all the mineral supplement for a year at once. The stage of production changes, and the vitamins in the mineral tend to go bad.”

“Keep the animals in mind. Know their requirements and what we are feeding them,” he said.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..