Wasted Potential

Herd consumption of minerals is critical to health, reproduction and gain.

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Even when feeding minerals, deficiencies happen. Jeff Hall says in many herds, low copper is a common problem, Image by Becky Mills

Jeff Hall believes most cow/calf operations have animals that are mineral deficient--especially when it comes to copper. It’s a conclusion he’s reached after thousands of blood and liver biopsy tests in herds across the country. And, it’s convinced him there’s a big potential upside in herd productivity that can be tied to better supplement management.

Hall, professor of veterinary services and toxicology at Utah State University, calls mineral deficiency at commercial cattle operations “very common,” adding in some parts of the country, it’s not uncommon to see 70% or more of animals tested deficient in copper. Selenium deficiency is also widespread, he adds.

Hall challenges producers to know how much supplement their cows are eating. It’s a point Kent Tjardes agrees with. He advocates weighing the amount of mineral being put out to judge just how much of a product is being consumed.

“If you’re not using a weatherized product, weigh back what you throw away, so you know how much is being wasted,” he encourages. Tjardes is a cattle consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition. He says waste is one of the biggest issues when it comes to cattle minerals.

Water Supply. There are a lot of ways to waste mineral. No. 1 is not having a good supply of clean water for the herd. Tjardes stresses without this, cattle won’t eat mineral. And, uneaten mineral is, well, a waste. A good average for loose mineral consumption in a beef cow herd is 2 to 4 ounces daily, but desired intake is dependent on concentration of minerals in a given formulation. Mineral tub consumption averages are 4 to 8 ounces. Tjardes recommends one tub per 25 to 30 head.

Taste Test. After water availability, lack of palatability in a mineral is probably the next biggest reason for waste. Sometimes, it takes trial and error to see which products are best consumed, as it can vary by herd and location. Tjardes notes minerals can have a metallic, bitter taste. Depending on soil profile and forage nutrition, what’s tasty to cattle in one region won’t be somewhere else.

“Cattle really only crave phosphorus and salt, but in cases where soils are high in salt, cows won’t go after those high-sodium products. And, in some areas low in phosphorus, cattle will eat a lot of mineral--to the point of overconsumption. So, it’s key to work with a nutritionist who knows the region to get the best mix,” he says.

Tjardes explains some companies have done more palatability studies than others, and producers should consider this research when making buying decisions.

Delivery And Form. Placement and feeder type has an impact on consumption in a considerable way. Mineral should be placed where cattle tend to congregate--unless they are overeating it, in which case, he recommends moving it further from loafing areas. More than feeder type, formulation has a lot to do with limiting waste.

“I believe some feeders even reduce intake,” Tjardes adds. “Those where cattle have to flip up a flap may do a good job of keeping mineral dry, but it’s easy for the dominant cow to push others away. I’ve seen them limit intake.”

Weatherized minerals, he stresses, are often the best choice. This type of mineral can be put out in recycled protein tubs or even old tires without creating waste. Don’t overfill them, he notes, if you are located in an area prone to windy conditions.

Probably the biggest debate, Tjardes says, continues to be over loose minerals versus tubs. Tubs are more expensive because of the molasses and additional manufacturing, but the consultant explains tubs may lead to more consistent intake day to day.

“There is a value to that,” he says. “Also, a 200- to 250-pound tub is something you deliver to one location, and you’re done. There’s no breaking bags or putting it out. So, if you’re only seeing your cows a couple of times a week, tubs let you deliver more at one time. For a lot of producers, that has a value. You really can’t just look at mineral selection purely as price per pound or ounce, and make a decision. You have to consider the whole picture and be sure you’re getting maximum use out of what you’re paying for.”

Mineral Basics:

The right mineral program for cow/calf operations can benefit a herd in four key areas:

1. REPRODUCTION. Providing cattle with a source of organic trace minerals equals better breedback, higher conception rates and improved reproductive performance early season.

2. CALF PERFORMANCE. Dams with a mineral source produce calves with better daily gains and reduced disease.

3. FLY CONTROL. Mineral containing a feedthrough insect growth regulator is a growing part of producers’ approach to fly control. These products have to be started prior to fly season, because they break the life cycle of the pests early.4. IMMUNE FUNCTION. A good micromineral status aids in the function of animals’ overall immune systems, allowing them to respond better to vaccines and naturally fight disease.

Any program must hit certain basic needs. Beef cattle require the macronutrients calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chlorine and sulfur. In addition, seven microminerals have established requirements for beef cattle: cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc.

Vitamins important to mineral metabolism and absorption include Vitamins A, D and E. When choosing a mineral, consider not only stage of life but whether the diet is grain- or forage-based. And, remember region, soil profile and forage nutrient levels will dictate the best supplement.

Several factors can interplay with efficacy of mineral supplementation programs, including concentrations and chemical forms of individual minerals, rate of consumption and higher sulfur in the diet or water, which limits usability.

For More Information:

“Common Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies in Utah,” Jeffrey Hall

University of Georgia, “Mineral Supplements for Beef Cattle


Past Issues