5 things to consider when looking at mineral supplementation

Not all mineral and vitamin supplements are the same.

August 1, 2016

7 Min Read
5 things to consider when looking at mineral supplementation

Ranchers on average pay around $1,000 per ton for their mineral supplementation program, which equates to about $35 per head per year. Given the costs of these additives – and the multitude of options available – it is imperative to choose the right minerals that will deliver the desired nutritional benefits.

These are challenging economic times for beef industry – times that require ranchers to do everything they can to get the most out of their input investments. This is especially the case with purchased feed ingredients.

What goes in to your mineral supplementation program?

Mineral supplementation programs are designed to help balance the macro and micro mineral requirements of cattle. Macro minerals include calcium, phosphorous, etc., while micro mineral requirements include trace minerals and vitamins. Mineral supplementation programs can also function as delivery methods for feed additives – including probiotics, yeast, yeast cultures, etc. – that may be used to enhance production or reduce losses.

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In many cattle operations, the micro mineral requirements – namely trace minerals – tend to get more attention than macro mineral requirements when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of the mineral supplementation program. Therefore, here are five performance qualities to keep in mind when selecting the trace mineral components for a mineral supplementation program: mineral absorption, feed stability, leaching, consumption and forage utilization. Let’s take a look at each one.

Mineral absorption

Feeding a trace mineral source that can successfully bypass the rumen is an important part to a successful mineral supplementation program. This allows for absorption of the mineral into the blood stream via transport across the wall of the small intestine for utilization in biological processes (i.e. enzymatic activity) or storage.

In recent years, the industry has learned that the source of ingredients utilized in mineral supplementation programs can have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the additives supplied in the mineral and the production results of the animal. The first issue encountered is the source of trace minerals included in the mix and what they are doing for the animal.

Inorganic trace minerals, specifically sulfates, are popular choices by many ranchers primarily due to their relatively low cost. However, these mineral forms are held together with weak ionic bonds that tend to solubilize rapidly in the mineral feeder or in the rumen. There are a large number of antagonists (iron, sulfur, molybdenum, etc.) that exist in the rumen, which can impact mineral absorption.

Fortunately, several improved sources of trace minerals now exist. Hydroxy trace minerals and organic trace minerals such as amino acid complexes, proteinates, etc., are mineral sources that contain strong covalent bonds to resist antagonisms in the rumen. This in turn helps provide greater bioavailability for mineral absorption in the small intestine (Spears et al, 2004) and helps improve the trace mineral status of the animal for health as well as growth, reproduction and lactation. 

Feed stability

Vitamin nutrition is also important for animal productivity. However, sulfate sources of trace minerals can act as powerful pro-oxidants within the mineral supplement. Based on the results of research trials – though many of them on poultry diets (Coelho, 2002; Luo et al., 2005) – it can be hypothesized that the source of trace mineral can degrade the stability of vitamins within the mineral mix. 

Like trace minerals, not all sources of vitamins are the same, and the results from one source to another may vary. Other factors such as temperature, moisture, pH, carrier ingredients, humidity, storage time, and feed processing methods can all affect vitamin stability (Coelho, 2002).


It is important that ranchers never overlook the effect that weather events can have on free-choice minerals. Many commercial feed manufacturers utilize weatherization techniques to help reduce losses due to leaching as the result of inclement weather.

Wiebusch et al. (2015) demonstrated that after a 4-inch simulated precipitation event, equally distributed over three days, total copper, zinc and manganese losses were less (P<.001) for hydroxy sources than for sulfate and organic trace mineral sources. To further compound the issue, there was more loss from zinc and manganese sources than from copper sources.

These data not only suggest that the amount of actual mineral consumed per ounce of free-choice mineral is less, but that the formulated ratios (i.e. zinc: copper) are impacted as well.


If the investment is made to feed a high-quality, free-choice mineral that incorporates a feed additive for anaplasmosis control or fly control, the last thing you want to worry about is consumption. The University of Florida has demonstrated that the source of trace mineral can impact consumption.

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In a preference study utilizing early weaned calves fed a corn/cottonseed meal supplement, Caramalac et al. (2014) concluded that when given a choice, calves almost exclusively prefer (P<.001) hydroxy sources of trace mineral compared to sulfates or organic trace minerals. In a follow-up study, Wiebusch et al. (2015) demonstrated that in a salt-based, free-choice mineral, consumption was higher (P<.001) when hydroxy trace minerals were the source compared to the sulfate and organic sources.

Forage utilization

Finally, the goal of any mineral supplementation program is to maximize the use of the available forage. Therefore, whatever ranchers feed should not inhibit the ability of bacteria in the rumen to digest the basal diet.

Recently, Iowa State University researchers determined that the source of trace minerals could have an impact on diet digestibility. The results of their study showed that sulfate sources of trace minerals reduced DM disappearance (P=.03), whereas hydroxy sources and the untreated control showed no negative impact (Genther and Hansen, 2015). 

Take time to evaluate your mineral investment

When evaluating a supplemental mineral program, trace mineral source can not only impact the animal, but can also impact other key components within that program.  Inorganic trace mineral forms, particularly sulfates, may have a negative impact on rumen function, consumption, mineral losses, and feed stability. Therefore, if improved sources of trace minerals are used, they may offer much more than just improved bioavailability.

Editor’s Note—Jeff Heldt serves as president of the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Research and Education Foundation and is a member of the Nebraska Cattlemen Scottsbluff Affiliate. He is the ruminant business development manager for Micronutrients USA.


Carmalac, L.S., H.J. Fernandes, and J.D. Arthington.  2014.  Young beef calves preferentially consume supplements fortified with hydroxy vs. organic and sulfate sources of Cu, Zn and Mn. J. Anim. Sci. Vol. 92 Suppl. 2.

Coelho, M. 2002. Vitamin stability in Premixes and feeds. A practical approach in ruminant diets. Proc. 13th Florida Ruminant Nutrition Symposium.  pp. 127-145.

Genther, O. and S. Hansen.  2015.  The effect of trace mineral source and concentration on mineral solubility in the rumen and diet digestibility. J. Dairy Sci. 98:1-8.
Luo, X.G., F. Ji, Y.X. Lin, F.A. Steward, L. Lu, B. Liu and S.X. Yu. 2005. Effects of dietary supplementation of copper sulfate or tritribasic copper chloride on broiler performance, relative copper bioavailability, and oxidation stability of vitamin E in feed. Poultry Sci. 84:888-893.

Liu, Z., M.M. Bryant and D.A. Roland Sr. 2005. Layer performance and phytase retention as influenced by coper sulfate pentahydrate and tritribasic copper chloride.  J. Appl. Poult. Res. 14:499-505.

Pang, Y and T.J. Applegate. 2006. Effects of copper source and concentration on in vitro phytate phosphorus hydrolysis by phytase.  J. Agric. Food Chem. 54:1792-1796.

Spears, J.W., E.B. Kegley, and L.A. Mullis.  2004.  Bioavailability of copper from tritribasic copper chloride and copper sulfate in growing cattle.  Anim. Feed Sci. Tech. 116:1-13.

Wiebusch, A.T., M. L. Silveria, L.S. Caramalac, H.J. Fernandes, and J.D. Arthington.  2015.  Effect of Cu, Zn, and Mn source on preferential free-choice intake of salt-based supplements by beef calves and precipitation-impacted metal loss.  J. Anim. Sci. Vol. 93 Suppl. 2.


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