Meet mineral needs without breaking bank

A Nebraska Extension beef systems specialist offers tips for meeting the mineral requirements of cattle on rangeland.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

April 28, 2022

3 Min Read
Cattle grazing
MEETING NEEDS: Mineral can be a very expensive item in beef budgets these days, so producers want to make sure they are meeting the mineral requirements of cattle on rangeland. But they also want to control consumption so they are not feeding nutrients cattle do not need. Curt Arens

Livestock producers are all feeling the pain of high input prices, and many are suffering from recurring drought conditions. Expensive mineral mixes might be an input that producers are tempted to cut while looking for places to reduce costs.

If managed properly, mineral for cattle on rangeland could be a place where there are savings to be recognized. However, Mary Drewnoski, Nebraska Extension beef systems specialist, says that management is the key.

“In terms of keeping the mineral bill under control, the big thing is getting intake dialed in,” Drewnoski says. “You can have a well-balanced mineral mix, but if cattle overeat, you are throwing money out the window. An extra ounce per cow per day can cost $4 to $8 per cow per year. If your mineral mix is designed to meet the cows’ needs at 4 ounces per day, intake above this only adds unnecessary cost.”

Salt is key

Intake of free choice minerals in most situations is driven by the animals’ desire for salt, Drewnoski explains. Distillers grain or molasses might be added to mineral to improve intake, but salt is a key driver. As the cows’ craving for salt changes throughout the year, their intake of mineral will change as well.

“So, salt can be used as a weapon to control intake,” she says. “In most situations, adding some salt to a mineral mix will cause cattle to eat it. This, along with the fact that forage is deficient in sodium is why all free choice minerals have salt in them.”

If a mix has a smaller target intake, it generally has more salt than those with greater target intakes.

“As you start increasing the salt, you can cause cattle to start decreasing their intake because they get their salt ‘fix’ with less intake,” Drewnoski says. “If cattle are eating above your target intake, mixing in more salt at home can help reduce intake of the mix. Relatively speaking, salt is cheap and can be a very cost-effective way to manage mineral intake.”

However, if a producer adds salt at home, they should not include salt in their calculation for reaching the target intake of the mineral mix, as it is diluting the mix.

“The goal is to make sure cows reach the target intake of actual mineral,” Drewnoski says. “For instance, if the target is 4 ounces [0.25 pounds] per head of a mineral mix, then for 100 cows, you are looking for them to consume 25 pounds [0.25 pounds per head x 100 head] of mineral mix per day, or half of a 50-pound bag. If you add 10 pounds of salt to a 50-pound bag of mineral, you actually want them to consume 30 pounds total per day to get their target intake of the actual mineral mix.”

About phosphorus

Phosphorus is the most expensive component of a free choice cattle mineral.

“Making sure they are only adding what they need can significantly cut costs,” Drewnoski says. “Looking at mineral content of samples sent into Ward Laboratories over a seven-year period, there is really not a lot of difference in P content of grass.

“We broke the samples down by zip code and evaluated by location. Good, which is 10% average crude protein, and excellent, which is 16% CP; grass has about 0.23% and 0.27% P respectively, so most green pasture is going to meet the P needs of cattle without additional supplementation.”

Learn more about meeting the mineral needs of cattle in a new Nebraska Extension publication at

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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