Do Your Cows Need a Mineral Overhaul?

When harsh weather or drought conditions strike and natural forage quality lessens, nutrition is one of the first requirements to suffer. Without proper mineral supplementation, all functions of an animal are affected, from hoof and hair health to reproduction and disease resistance. 

Annie Doerr, territory sales manager for Kent Nutrition Group, explains, “While forages such as alfalfa, brome, cereals and native grasses have ample amounts of resources by themselves, they lack nutrients like zinc needed to meet a cow’s demands. As forages mature and become dormant, the availability of minerals in them declines, as well. During drought, we see forages do this even sooner in the grazing period.”

Some signs and symptoms of mineral deficiencies are: 

  • Coats look rough and dull, rather than smooth and shiny
  • Whites of the eyes have a yellow tone
  • Disposition changes, especially more lethargic 
  • Physical differences are noticeable between each cow in size and structure

The best minerals are those with organic trace minerals, which helps improve bioavailability. 

Cows exhibiting these symptoms may need a mineral upgrade. Doerr provides these fundamentals for building a solid mineral program:

A mineral should contain all 14 essential macro and micro minerals, if possible. Key macro minerals are calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chlorine and sulfur. The most important micro minerals are selenium, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese and especially zinc. 

Not all minerals are created equal, and do not always contain all the essentials. The best way to identify the ingredients of a mineral is to read its mineral tag. Always read its instructions to make sure the product is labeled for your intended uses. Certain mineral products also contain ionophores and antibiotics, which may not serve your needs. 

Another consideration is mineral bioavailability — bioavailability being the amount of nutrients that can enter the animal’s circulation and influence health and function. Bioavailability is important, especially during drought when cattle need nutrients most. 

Doerr adds, “Certain trace minerals supplied with an oxide, carbonate or chloride source are not as bioavailable to animals. A better choice is one supplied with organic trace mineral as they are more bioavailable to animals.”

Not all minerals are created equal — always read the mineral tag.

In general, each cow in a herd should consume 0.25 pounds per head, per day, and should have access to mineral at all times. This will keep them healthy and breeding back.

“Even though the difference between a ‘good’ mineral and a ‘basic’ mineral can mean $5 or more per bag, ask yourself, ‘What is one more 600-pound calf worth in today’s market?’” Doerr says. “Sometimes it can mean $1,200, or more. In other words, a quality mineral pays for itself.”

Choose an application medium that works best for your herd. Minerals come in different mediums: solids, like mineral blocks and tubs; and loose mix mineral, which has an appearance similar to feed.

A pro of loose form mineral is its distribution. It allows cattle lower in a pecking order to be able to access it, as it can be spread more widely over a pasture. And while loose form mineral may increase cattle’s rate of consumption, it is also more easily eroded away by the elements, such as wind and rain.

A pro to block or tub minerals is they slow consumption rate. They can help lessen the opportunity for cows to over-consume, or consume too quickly, which can be a con to loose-form minerals. “Mineral tubs can be more convenient for producers who do not want to store or haul mineral around too. They can be left for longer durations of time before needing replenished,” Doerr says.

Minerals come in a variety of different mediums, primarily in a solid form or loose mix form.

To learn more about the costs associated with mineral supplementation, especially in times of scarcity, read this article published by Kansas State Research & Extension article:

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