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South Central: Mineral supplements: Important but not the silver bullet

Jason Banta for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 May 2019

A mineral supplement in a cow-calf operation is designed to provide minerals and vitamins that may be lacking in the forage. A complete free-choice mineral supplement for grazing cattle will have four main components:

  • Salt

  • Macrominerals

  • Microminerals

  • Vitamins A, E and sometimes D

It is important to realize mineral supplements are important, but they are not a silver bullet. Minerals, especially trace minerals, often get more credit or blame than they deserve for improvements or deficiencies in pregnancy rates, health and weaning weights.

When it comes to animal performance, meeting the protein and energy (aka calorie) needs of the animal are the most important. These nutrients are responsible for the biggest gains/losses in performance. Providing a mineral supplement isn’t going to overcome a diet lacking in protein or energy. This is especially true when it comes to pregnancy rates. Body condition score at calving has the biggest effect on cows coming into heat and getting bred.

Precipitation map

Providing minerals or vitamins that might be lacking in the diet can help make small increases in performance and health after the protein and energy needs have been addressed. Additionally, mineral supplements can be used to help prevent problems like milk fever and grass tetany.

Free-choice mineral supplements generally come as a loose meal in 50-pound sacks but may also come as tubs or blocks. When providing mineral supplements, don’t overdo it. A well-designed, complete free-choice mineral supplement does not require multiple products to be fed at the same time.

There should not be a need to have a loose mineral supplement and several different-colored mineral blocks out at the same time. This is a waste of mineral and, in some situations, can actually cause additional problems. Except in some very, very unusual situations, yellow (i.e., sulfur) salt blocks should be avoided, as the sulfur in these blocks can actually tie up other trace minerals and prevent them from being absorbed.

If using mineral tubs, check to make sure they contain salt. If they don’t, then a source of plain salt (e.g., white salt block or loose “mixin” salt) should also be provided along with the tub.

Additionally, there should not be a reason to be feeding both a loose mineral and a mineral tub at the same time. Remember, for mineral supplements to be most effective, they need to be consumed at the targeted rate of intake.  end mark

Jason Banta
  • Jason Banta

  • Associate Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
  • Texas A&M University
  • Email Jason Banta