Source: Purina Animal Nutrition
“By skipping mineral supplementation, you may be skipping out on performance and profit potential,” says Kent Tjardes, Ph.D. and cattle consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition. “Minerals are vital to cattle productivity, so it’s important to have the facts straight.”
Here are four common mineral misconceptions debunked:
Myth: Mineral costs too much
“We often focus on the cost of feeding a free-choice mineral supplement,” says Tjardes. “But, we should also figure out the cost of not feeding mineral because the impact on cattle performance can quickly stack up.”
Research shows that providing cattle with an organic trace mineral source can lead to cows that breed back sooner, have higher conception rate, have enhanced reproductive performance early in the breeding season, improved calf average daily gain and reduced disease incidence in calves.
“An investment in mineral is an investment in the performance of your herd,” adds Tjardes.
Myth: My cows won’t eat mineral, or they eat too much mineral
Some mineral products can taste metallic and bitter due to ingredients such as phosphorus or magnesium oxide. If those flavors are left unmasked, cows may under-consume mineral.
On the other hand, overconsumption can occur when a mineral isn’t well-balanced. One example is a phosphorus imbalance. Because phosphorus is an expensive mineral ingredient, it’s common to see minerals with a lower phosphorus level. However, cows crave phosphorus and will overconsume it until they are satisfied.
“A palatable, balanced mineral can help cattle consume at target intake levels,” says Tjardes. “Finding the right mineral can take a small time investment, but one that’s worth it.”
You can also control mineral consumption through management. If cattle are under-consuming, place mineral feeders or tubs closer to loafing areas and water sources. If cattle are overconsuming, move mineral sources further away from these areas.
Myth: My herd is too small or large to control intake
Small herds often mean smaller, confined pastures. In these situations, cattle may eat mineral out of boredom and could overconsume. It can be helpful to evaluate different mineral forms. For instance, you may look at using a cooked tub mineral instead of a loose mineral to help control intake.
Large herds often mean more spacious pastures. If pastures are too large and mineral sources are limited, cattle may not encounter mineral sources on a regular basis. It’s important to use the appropriate number of mineral feeders for the number of cattle. One feeder for every 20 to 30 head is ideal.
Myth: We don’t need mineral in our area
“You might think you don’t need mineral because you have great grass quality. Remember grass quality can change drastically from month-to-month and year-to-year,” says Tjardes.
As grass dries down, mineral levels can shift dramatically. Grass also becomes higher in lignin as it dries down, and mineral availability decreases.
“It’s also important to remember that a forage test showing you’re meeting basic mineral recommendations does not mean you’re meeting cattle mineral requirements,” says Tjardes. “Recommendations and requirements are two different things – it’s important to meet requirements.”
Hitting two birds with one stone
Providing a mineral supplement not only ensures you’re doing what’s best for your cattle, but it can also deliver added convenience benefits. USDA research has shown that 82% of cow-calf producers use fly control, but only 14.5% of those producers are taking advantage of a feed-through form.
“By using a mineral with fly control, you’re hitting two birds with one stone,” says Tjardes. “It’s easy because you set out your mineral, your cattle consume it and you don’t have to gather cattle up to treat them for horn flies every month.”
Other convenient mineral formulas are designed to address challenges associated with fescue forages and grass tetany. There are also formulas designed to cover any season.
“If you’re not currently feeding a quality mineral, it’s time to reconsider,” says Tjardes. “A closer evaluation may show surprising benefits left on the table.”