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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mineral Supplementation for Your Herd

by Chris Shelley
CSU Extension

Mineral supplementation has been a part of livestock nutrition and management for well over one-hundred years and still remains just as important today. The first documented case of mineral supplementation was by George Fordyce in the late 1700’s. Researchers have since documented 17 important minerals required by beef cattle. Many of these minerals are found in commonly used feedstuffs; however, some cattle diets can be deficient or devoid of certain minerals.

Cattle requirements for minerals, or any nutrient for that matter, may change depending on a variety of factors including the age, stage of production, body size, temperature and even the diet they are eating. This makes it very important to be able to identify in which stage of production your animal is and their corresponding nutrient requirements. When considering mineral nutrition in Northeastern Colorado, there are several key events: lactation, spring grass grazing, fall grass dormancy, corn stalk grazing and any major diet change.

For most of the required minerals, cattle can tolerate a wide range in the level of supplementation. If we use cobalt as an example, the minimum amount that cattle need is 0.1 mg/kg in the diet on a dry matter basis. Signs of toxicity are not seen until 100 times that amount, or at 10 mg/kg in the diet on a dry matter basis. These ranges provide flexibility for cattle producers to select from a variety of supplement options. However, over feeding can lead to excess mineral excretion and in some scenarios environmental concerns. Feeding excess minerals is also an economic inefficiency and is unnecessary. Providing a year round all-purpose mineral can be convenient, but may over or under supply expensive nutrients. It is more effective and economical to determine cattle requirements and mineral concentrations in feeds at various stages throughout the year so a precise supplement can be designed. Understanding animal requirements and nutrients supplied can create the potential to save money.

The following graph depicts the mineral requirements (blue bars) with toxic levels (red bars) for a 1000 pound cow in early gestation consuming 25 pounds of forage on a dry matter basis.

Building a custom mineral program for your herd does not need to be a laborious process. Cattle producers in Colorado have many resources available to them including Colorado State University Extension, the USDA, and many mineral manufacturers. If cattle are predominantly grazing on rangeland, the process should begin from the ground up. Frequent analysis of soils and forages will provide invaluable information on the minerals and other nutrients available to your herd. Any mineral deficiencies found can then be addressed with supplementation.

Today’s producer can select from a variety of options to make sure cattle have their needs met. The choice can be difficult with the vast options and products. Many additives including ionophores, probiotics or other health products may also influence your decision. When considering only the minerals, there are several methods of feeding or delivery available. First, and not in order of importance, is supplementing your rangeland or farmland soils to bolster up the level of minerals in the forages and feeds. Second is the option to mix minerals into a complete ration. This method is effective for complete mineral delivery, as animals consuming the diet will also consume the mineral. In grazing operations, and with no complete mixed ration being fed, a third option is to provide a free choice supplement where cattle have access to consume as much or as little of the supplement they want or need. It can be challenging to manage the desired mineral consumption. Lastly, an injectable dose of minerals can be an effective way to deliver minerals. This is also a very effective method to deliver the exact desired level of supplementation.

Regardless of which product and method you choose to implement, there are a few key points to remember.

1. Know your animal requirements
2. Know what is being supplied in the diet
3. Find a supplement that supplies what you are lacking
4. Compare the price of various supplements

For additional information or for help to customize your mineral program, contact your local county extension office.