Although mineral supplements are just a small part of the total diet of a beef animal, they are an important detail to get right when it comes to maximizing cattle performance.
“It is important to monitor mineral consumption on a herd basis,” writes Deke Alkire, Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation planned consultation manager. “Simply providing a mineral supplement will not ensure that deficiencies are met. Intake of a free-choice mineral supplement will vary from animal to animal and change with the animal's requirements and the mineral content in the forage and any supplements.”
Alkire says a reasonable range for mineral intake is 2-5 ounces per day, depending on the composition of the mineral supplement and the factors previously mentioned. He adds that, generally, consumption is lower during the summer months and higher in the winter months due to the mineral levels available in growing forages versus dormant forages.
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Alkire lists three important ways minerals play a role in the performance of beef cattle:
1. Growth performance
Adequate consumption of potassium (K), sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl) are critical for muscle contraction, nerve signal transmission and enzymatic reactions, he says. Deficiencies in these minerals can result in decreased intake and gains.
Mark Landefeld, Ohio State University Extension educator, warns against offering mineral without knowing exactly how much the herd needs. He says, mineral supplementation should not be done haphazardly in cow-calf operations. "Producers need to monitor mineral consumption regularly to be sure cows are consuming proper amounts. Directions on each product's bag should indicate how much each animal should consume in a given amount of time. Making this calculation for a 7-day period (often times 2-4 ounces per head per day), and feeding that amount once each week, is one way to help monitor intake,” he adds.
2. Reproductive efficiency
The ratio of calcium to phosphorous in the total diet is also important for reproductive efficiency, says Alkire.
“While cattle can tolerate ratios of between 1:1 and 7:1, excessive calcium may decrease the absorption of other minerals,” Alkire says. “Therefore, it is recommended to maintain a ratio of calcium to phosphorous between 1.5:1 and 3:1. Deficiencies in calcium and phosphorous or an imbalance in the calcium to phosphorous ratio can result in decreased fertility and milk production.”
Landefeld adds that reproduction losses aren’t always obvious, but a cow that is a month or two late-bred might have a mineral deficiency. He offers this example: “Think about this. If you have one open cow, or animals not calving on expected calving dates, due to insufficient minerals in the feed, you could have easily paid for many bags of minerals with the loss you have incurred. One calf not born; ($1,000-$1,500 lost, plus feeding momma all year), one calf 21 days late; (a calf gaining 2 pounds per day would be 42 pounds x $2.00 per pound = $84 lost) per missed heat cycle.”
3. Immune function
A beef animal can’t perform well if its immune system is not running on all cylinders. Calcium (Ca), phosphorous (P) and magnesium (Mg) have many vital functions, including bone development, growth, energy utilization, membrane structure, muscle contraction, and hormone secretion, says Alkire. Other important trace minerals include cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc.
Alkire writes, “Trace minerals are required at very small concentrations, making deficiencies difficult to recognize. Deficiencies of the trace minerals can result in decreased intake and gain, reduced fertility and libido, retained placentas, abortions and stillbirths, low birth weights and poor calf performance.”
Mineral supplementation is an important factor in improving the health and performance of the cow herd. Unfortunately, deficiencies -- even slight ones -- can easily go undetected, but can result in decreased reproductive efficiency, poor growth performance and depressed immune function.
“All of these factors ultimately impact your profitability,” says Alkire. “Providing a free-choice, complete mineral supplement all year is cheap insurance against the many problems associated with mineral deficiencies.”
Landefeld adds that it’s much easier and more cost-effective to proactively manage cattle to prevent mineral deficiencies than trying to pinpoint production problems caused by deficits. “Adequate minerals and nutrition should not be overlooked. You are paying for it one way or the other! Proper minerals and nutrition just makes ‘cents,’ actually dollars, and several of them for the understanding producer.”
How do you ensure your cattle are getting the proper mineral supplementation? Share your methods in the comments section below.
The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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