You are here

Mineral mix

A decade ago, Chris and Sherry Vinton, who run 1,000 beef cows near Whitman, Nebraska, supplemented their herd with a high-quality commercial mineral mix. The cost of $550 a ton seemed high. So they began asking questions and researching alternatives.

Today they hand-mix a mineral supplement for a cost of about $245 a ton. The cows eat only a third of the amount of the home-mixed mineral supplement they ate of the commercial mix. Best of all, performance hasn't suffered.

The notion that more is better is a major misconception producers have relating to mineral supplementation, says Dennis Brink, livestock nutritionist at the University of Nebraska. Producers are not only overspending but they also may be exposing cattle to toxicity problems when trace minerals are over-supplemented.

"A second misconception is that if a cow eats a mineral, that's a sign she's deficient in that mineral," he says. "That's not necessarily true. Cattle will eat something just because it's new, or it tastes different, or because it has a different texture."

So how do you make sense of your herd's mineral needs and find the best ways to meet them? Nutrition experts offer these six guidelines.

  • Know a cow's requirements
    Mineral needs of a cow change with her stage of production. During lactation, for instance, a cow needs more calcium and phosphorus.

    "Look at her physical status and the environmental conditions she's come through," says Brink. "If she's just come through the summer, grass has been plentiful and she's had opportunity to graze selectively. She's probably consumed the protein and minerals that she needs."

Evaluate grazing conditions
"Lush grazing forages typically meet the cow's need for calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals," says Brink. "But if pastures are frequently overgrazed and cows are not able to graze selectively for high-quality forages, mineral deficiencies may arise."

Minerals tend to be more concentrated in leaves than in stems. They tend to be more concentrated, too, in regrowth than in forage that is more physiologically mature.

There's growing evidence that when cattle are able to graze diverse and vigorous forages, they are actually able to self-medicate to a great extent and meet their own nutritional needs. "New studies have been done under managed grazing conditions showing that animals will select for foods to correct deficiencies in sodium and phosphorus," says Darrell Emmick, an NRCS grassland specialist at Cortland, New York.

  • Know your soils' minerals
    Some soils can be deficient in trace minerals. Such soils, of course, produce forages that are also deficient in these trace minerals.

    "In Montana we have a large area in which forages are generally deficient in copper and zinc," says John Paterson, Extension beef specialist at Montana State University. "A cow's minimum requirement for copper is 10 to 15 parts per million. Native range in eastern Montana typically supplies four parts per million.

    "The nutritional requirement for zinc is 30 to 40 parts per million. Our native range averages between 13 and 20 parts per million."

    Cattle performance provides clues to deficiencies. Red flags include a decline in reproduction, an increase in pneumonia in calves, or an increase in foot rot, which is correlated to zinc and iodine deficiencies.

    Don't expect minerals to cure all ailments. "Minerals make up just one part of a good nutrition-health program," says Paterson.

Analyze your hay
Paterson recommends doing a complete mineral profile on hay at least once to establish levels of calcium, phosphorus and the trace minerals copper, zinc, iodine, manganese and sulfur.

Be aware of antagonists
An excess amount of sulfate or iron in pond water, or molybdenum in forages, can tie up copper, creating deficiencies even though a sufficient level may be present in soils and forages. Test for these antagonists if you notice a decline in average daily gain in calves on pasture.

"Especially after drought, sulfates in ponds can build above 1,000 parts per million, [more] than cattle can tolerate," says Paterson.

Correct deficiencies
Organic trace minerals Organic trace minerals are chelated (bound to a protein) to enhance availability of the deficient mineral. Chelated minerals are expensive but helpful when cattle are in poor condition, in a high-stress situation, or on a low-protein diet.

Brink recommends a mineral program for some producers in Nebraska based on two years of grass samples gathered from the region. They showed sufficient trace minerals, so he recommends a wintertime supplement of half white salt and half dicalcium phosphate.

"The dical contains 22% calcium and 18% phosphorus," Brink says. "The salt controls intake of the supplement. Cattle on warm-season grasses late into the season should have this supplement starting in October. Cattle at low risk for deficiencies may get by without supplement until January. Phosphorus is key to good milk production."

"There's no one ideal mineral mix out there," says Paterson. "It should match the conditions of the ranch."

A decade ago, Chris and Sherry Vinton, who run 1,000 beef cows near Whitman, Nebraska, supplemented their herd with a high-quality commercial mineral mix. The cost of $550 a ton seemed high. So they began asking questions and researching alternatives.

Chris and Sherry Vinton's basic home-blended mineral supplement was recommended by University of Nebraska nutritionists for their ranch near Whitman, Nebraska. It's a 50-50 mix of white salt and dicalcium phosphate. To each 100 pounds of this mix, they add 3/4 pound of copper sulfate and 1 1/2 pounds of zinc sulfate.

Read more about

Talk in Marketing

Most Recent Poll

Will you plant more corn or soybeans next year?