Too much? Too little? Refine your search for the perfect minerals

Excessive mineral can be just as problematic as deficiencies. Your mineral supplement needs to solve all problems.

Alan Newport, Editor, Beef Producer

May 5, 2016

5 Min Read
Too much? Too little? Refine your search for the perfect minerals

When you work on your mineral supplement program, don't forget most livestock minerals come from forage and water. That's also true both for shortages and excesses, reminds Jason Banta, beef cattle specialist for Texas AgriLife extension service at Overton, Texas. He says those shortages and excesses are the first things you must recognize when thinking about the supplemental mineral needs of your cattle.

One example is this: Some ranches have very high sulfur content in their water. When combined with supplemental feeds using distiller's byproducts, which often are high or very high in sulfur, this can create health problems with sulfur toxicity, but also with uptake and usage of other minerals.

Also common is the grass tetany issue when cows calve on cool-season grass and/or wheat pasture and develop low levels of magnesium. Symptoms can be nervousness, stiff gait, staggering, convulsions and paralysis. Because of mineral interactions, high potassium, lowered calcium or lowered magnesium can all cause the tetany ratio to increase and predispose animals to tetany.

These are a couple of the more obvious of the potential possible problems caused by mineral deficiencies or excesses.

Banta says because there are so many different mineral supplement formulations from so many companies, some basic knowledge about mineral supplementation is well worth collecting. Banta says a complete mineral supplement should have these components:

  • Salt

  • Macro minerals

  • Trace minerals

  • Vitamins A, D, and E

Salt can be fed separately, can be used as a limiter and may be required in different amounts depending on where you live and ranch, he adds. For example, in coastal regions where salt content of the soils, forages and sometimes the water is relatively high, salt consumption by cattle may be pretty low. That means relatively small amounts of salt in a mineral formulation may limit consumption of that supplement.

Banta adds that in recent years, the amount of phosphorus in most mineral mixes has been decreased as phosphorus costs have gone up and research has shown not as much of that mineral is needed as once thought. This is perfectly acceptable, as long as you're not having a problem with phosphorus deficiency or tie-up.

It's also important to understand mineral mixes generally are formulated for either 2-ounce intake level or 4-ounce intake. This is particularly important to know if you are adding additives for fly control, disease control or performance. Examples are insect growth regulators (IGR), chlortetracycline or an ionophore. The "programmed" intake of the mineral should match the needed intake of the additive, he says.

Organic vs. inorganic

In addition, there are many claims made for inorganic minerals versus organic or chelated minerals versus hydroxy sources of minerals. The research is all over the place, with some trials showing improvements and some not, Banta says.

Here are the fundamental differences:

  • Inorganic minerals have an ionic bond. Examples are copper sulfate, zinc oxide, sodium selenite.

  • Organic or chelated minerals have a covalent bond to a carbon-containing ligand, typically an amino acid, protein, or CHO group, also known as an aldehyde group. Examples would be zinc methionine, copper amino acid complex, cobalt glucoheptonate.

  • Hydroxy minerals have a covalent bond to a hydroxy (OH) group. Examples would be zinc hydroxychloride, basic copper chloride, manganese hydroxychloride.

Banta says organic and hydroxy sources are likely safer for any vitamins which might be added to mineral supplements. He also adds the availability of copper oxide is extremely low. That may lead to limited amounts of truly chelated minerals in some products labeled as such. The solution is to read the labels and see what sources are listed and in what order. First on labels is highest content; last on the labels is lowest content.

Micro minerals

Banta warns when it comes to trace minerals, some mighty outcomes have been claimed and most of that unjustly.

One such problem he calls the "copper race." Intercompany marketing about the benefits of copper in the diet created this situation, Banta says. The truth is that many products have way more copper than needed, and a few are at levels he thinks excessive.

Banta says 1,200-1,500 parts per million (ppm) is plenty in a mineral formulated for 4-ounce consumption. He also suggests you read your mineral labels looking for ratios of 1:4 or 1:3 for copper-to-zinc, and 1:2 for copper-to-manganese as sufficient.

He adds that a red tinge to the hair coat of Angus cattle is not always a copper deficiency, but is sometimes a genetic predisposition.

Trace minerals are important to bodily function, but perhaps less so than some mineral sellers would have you believe, Banta says. Here's what the research suggests:


  • Female: No effect

  • Male: Probably no effect


  • Female: Very little data in cattle, but importantvin ovarian remodeling and corpus luteum production

  • Male: Impacts testicular growth


  • Female: Possible estrous effect

  • Male: No claims

Where selenium is concerned, you should know selenium content of your soil and water and be a little careful, Banta says. Selenium has the smallest safety margin of any trace mineral, so toxicity could be a concern if your livestock is getting significant amounts of the trace mineral from other sources.

The requirement for a 1,250-pound cow is 1.3 milligrams per day. The legal limit for that same cow is 3 milligrams per day, which is only 2.3 times her requirement.

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About the Author(s)

Alan Newport

Editor, Beef Producer

Alan Newport is editor of Beef Producer, a national magazine with editorial content specifically targeted at beef production for Farm Progress’s 17 state and regional farm publications. Beef Producer appears as an insert in these magazines for readers with 50 head or more of beef cattle. Newport lives in north-central Oklahoma and travels the U.S. to meet producers and to chase down the latest and best information about the beef industry.

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