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Don’t forget about your cows’ mineral needs this grazing season

Tim Clark for Progressive Cattleman Published on 03 May 2017
beef cows in pasture

Most cow-calf producers look forward to pasture turnout for many reasons – reduced labor being one of the biggest.

Rather than “kicking your cattle to the curb” this season, make sure to offer a quality mineral supplement that provides consistent daily intake of essential minerals and vitamins. Your pregnancy rates will improve and so will the overall health of your cow herd.

The negative impact of mineral insufficiency takes time to notice, due to how the cow’s body will prioritize metabolism and the fact she can pull from mineral reserves that she’s stored. This can lead to a false belief that we can get by without offering mineral year-round.

Minerals are needed in small amounts, often just milligrams per day, but a minor insufficiency can lead to decreased performance. Trace minerals are called “trace” because they are needed in very small amounts. Many trace minerals are included in a supplement at a low concentration – often in parts per million (ppm), which is not much considering 1 ppm is equivalent to 32 seconds out of a year.

A cow uses trace minerals for several functions with varying priorities. There’s a serious problem if we get to the point where we can detect a mineral deficiency. The body’s priority is given to maintenance; second is immune function; third is basic growth; then reproduction. Recent experience has shown that to improve performance and capture most of the genetic potential requires a higher trace mineral status than preventing deficiency.

Importance of consistent delivery and intake

Trace minerals are needed in milligram quantities, and the concentration in minerals is at the ppm level. Missing supplementation for a period can lead to a lower status. Likewise, feeding higher concentrations or higher daily amounts can be detrimental due to possible antagonist effects on other nutrients. Additionally, some trace minerals can be toxic if fed at high levels.

In general, minerals have a low biological availability and consuming more in a single meal will not increase the total amount that is absorbed by the animal. This makes it critical that cattle consume mineral on a consistent daily basis. If high intake of a mineral product happens every third or fourth day at three to four times the target level, the animal will be in a lower mineral status compared with an animal consuming mineral on a regular basis.

Consistent intake takes on added importance if we are trying to deliver a feed additive, such as feed-through fly control in the mineral supplement.

Physical properties of mineral

Palatability is key

Mineral ingredients are not very tasty and some are downright bitter. In free-choice minerals, salt is used to draw cattle to the mineral and encourage intake. The ideal amount of salt will vary due to forage type, water quality and other factors. Some areas of the country where soils are alkaline, salt is less effective as an attractant to free-choice minerals. In that case, other carrier ingredients that can help are distillers grains, dried molasses and yeast products.

Rain and wind resistant

Mineral supplements must be protected from the elements or in a form that is resistant to loss from wind and rain. Many of the ingredients in mineral supplements have a small particle size and can blow away in the wind. Some level of mineral oil or other liquids will need to be included in a free-choice mineral to help reduce the dust level. The salt in the product and other ingredients are hygroscopic, and rain events can result in clumping – limiting intake. Free-choice minerals can be weatherized, reducing the risk of clumping.

Delivery options

Free-choice minerals necessitate the use of a mineral feeder. The mineral feeder should protect the mineral, yet not deter intake. Mineral feeders need to be sturdy enough to withstand the elements and animal pressure, which often means they are not easily moved to different spots in the pasture.

Pressed blocks with mineral formulation offer a convenient package size that is easily moved to various places. These do not require specialized feeding equipment and the form provides more rain and wind resistance than a free-choice loose mineral. Pressed blocks also have the advantage of using dried molasses or other ingredients to improve palatability and provide consistent intake.

Low-moisture blocks offer the convenience of a rain- and wind-proof feeding system that doesn’t require additional feeding equipment. The hardiness of the low-moisture block prevents wind and water damage while providing a palatable supplement and predictable intake. The package size often allows for supplements to be placed every few weeks, instead of every few days. An added benefit of low-moisture blocks is modifying cattle behavior and movement. Research has shown that these blocks can aid in pasture and grazing management by attracting cattle to underutilized areas.

Conclusion

Summer grazing will soon be in full swing. Enjoy this time of lower labor needs of the cow herd, but don’t forget the importance of a consistent daily mineral supplement. Proper supplementation will help the herd reach your reproductive and performance goals.  end mark

Tim Clark
  • Tim Clark

  • Nutritionist
  • CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements
  • Email Tim Clark

PHOTO: Don't forget about the importance of a consistent daily mineral supplement this grazing season. Staff photo.

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