“Not all minerals are created equal, and it’s important to recognize the differences in minerals that are out there,” says Greg Eckerle, beef technical consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition. “Even though mineral nutrition is complicated, you can easily evaluate or ask questions about a few different elements of a mineral supplement.”
Sorting through the various mineral types can sometimes be a daunting task, regardless of whether you buy a mineral off the shelf at a retail store, walk into your local dealer and request the “standard” mineral or work closely with your nutritionist to select a mineral supplement for your herd. It may even be a purchase decision that’s so complex you simply cling to the generic or most popular mineral available in your area.
But the generic or popular option may not be the best choice for your herd’s mineral requirements. If you’re not feeding a quality supplemental mineral, you may see the consequences of mineral deficiencies later in the form of decreased calf weaning weights, small or weak calves, decreased milk production, reduced or delayed conception and even poor immunity.
Here are three things to look for in your cattle mineral:
1.) Balanced mineral nutrition.
A complete mineral should contain the proper balance and ratios of all 14 essential cattle minerals. Those minerals include: calcium, copper, cobalt, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulphur and zinc.
“A proper zinc-to-copper ratio is one of the biggest considerations when choosing a mineral, with a ratio of 3:1 being preferable,” says Eckerle. Zinc and copper are commonly deficient microminerals in cattle, and the ratio is critical because of how closely zinc and copper absorption are tied.
2.) Large particle size ingredients and rain protection.
Rain and other elements can quite literally wash a mineral investment down the drain, or can alternately turn your mineral into a brick-type substance which cattle often refuse to eat. But, minerals should also be wind resistant, according to Eckerle.
“A weatherized mineral should not just be water-resistant, it should be wind-resistant as well,” he says. “You don’t want the particles to be so small that the wind picks them up and blows them away. A weatherized mineral that includes a larger particle can remedy this problem.”
“The biggest drawback of a non-weather resistant mineral is that cattle just aren’t going to consume it. Daily mineral needs to be consumed, and if you’re not seeing consumption because the mineral has been turned into a hard block or because the particles are being blown away, then your investment is a loss,” adds Eckerle.
3.) Organic, bioavailable mineral sources.
Another important aspect when choosing a mineral is to make sure it has bioavailable mineral sources. The bioavailability of a mineral source alters the absorptive ability of the trace minerals eliciting their full benefit.
“Mineral sources that are more bioavailable may be a bit more costly, but they can be a good fit for herds with marginal trace mineral status, consistent reproduction issues, overall herd health problems, foot problems or in areas with forage or water issues,” says Eckerle.
Some key trace minerals that you might look to for bioavailability would be zinc, manganese, copper and cobalt. These minerals are required for a variety of functions including, but not limited to, immunity, reproduction, growth and fiber digestion.
Minerals are just one piece of a comprehensive cattle nutrition program. A high plane of nutrition during all three trimesters increases the probability of superior health and performance genetics passing to the calf. Sustained Nutrition assists in keeping the pregnant heifer or cow in optimal condition for the long-term programming of future generations.
 Stewart, L. Mineral Supplements for Beef Cattle. Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.cfm?number=B895