It's often what you can't see that makes the biggest difference. Minerals, for example, affect a lot of what's going on inside a cow. While the cost of a good program can be pennies a day, it's only money well spent if it meets the needs of the herd.
Those needs can vary by time of year and herd condition, making it important to work with a herd veterinarian to develop the most cost-effective program. In addition, remember some mineral formulations now require a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) for purchase, including those containing chlortetracycline (CTC).
Minerals for cattle are classified as "macrominerals" or "microminerals." Altogether, there are 16 key minerals, but keep the focus on these nine.
1. Calcium. Deficiencies can lead to skeletal issues, including broken or weak bones. Most grasses are adequate in calcium; corn, corn silage, corn byproducts, sorghum grain and sorghum silage are usually poor sources.
2. Phosphorus. The skeleton can store both calcium and phosphorus for the short term, but long term, a good supply is needed. Most forages are low in the mineral. Protein supplements like cottonseed meal and soybean meal contain moderate amounts; byproduct feeds are often high in phosphorus. Because calcium and phosphorus work together, a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 1.5-to-1 is recommended.
3. Sodium and Chlorine. Also known as salt, this plays several key roles in the body, including regulating water retention and pH, and helping the nervous and muscular systems work properly. Deficiencies can lead to weight loss or reduced gains. Depending on diet, cattle will consume 0.005 to 0.010% of their body weight as salt everyday. When forage is young and succulent, cattle consume more salt than when grasses are mature.
4. Magnesium. Deficiencies are uncommon unless cattle are grazing lush fescue or small grain pastures late winter or early spring. In these cases, grass tetany can become a serious issue. This can be avoided in most cases by feeding cattle a mineral with magnesium oxide. Four ounces of a mineral each day with 10 to 14% magnesium, along with adequate salt intake, will usually prevent problems.
5. Potassium. Most grasses contain adequate amounts of this mineral. It can be low in some stockpiled forages and/or hay, making it important to have an analysis done prior to feeding these types of stores.
6. Sulfur. Part of the amino acids that make up protein, sulfur is not normally deficient in cattle. It is, however, sometimes in excess, which can result in copper deficiency. Some byproducts are especially high in sulfur, including distillers grains and corn gluten feed.
7. Copper. A common deficiency in grazing cattle, this can result in reduced fertility, lowered immunity and a reddish hue to dark coats. To improve absorption, supplements should be copper sulfate, tribasic copper chloride or an organic complexed form.
8. Selenium. Some areas of the country see issues with selenium deficiency, which can lead to muscle disease in young calves and increase susceptibility to scours, retained placentas and poor reproduction. Selenium is usually found in minerals such as "sodium selenite." It's toxic and should only be used in a premix.
9. Zinc. Immunity, male reproduction and skin and hoof health can all suffer if zinc is deficient or marginal. Zinc and copper absorption are closely tied, and the ratio should be kept around 3-to-1.
For more information: University of Georgia: extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.cfm?number=B895
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