Trying to compare different Vitamin and Trace Mineral (VTM) packs can be a daunting task. However, it is an important comparison that needs to be made when evaluating the individual needs of the farm.
Bringing it back to basics, always make sure the VTM are being compared equally. Look at the expected consumption level, if there is a difference between the feed tags do the math to put them on an even playing field. For example, tag A has 125 IU/lb of Vitamin E with a consumption level of 1 lb and Tag B has 500 IU/lb of Vitamin E with a consumption level of 0.25 lb. For both tags the animal is going to be receiving 125 IU/d. Always double check the units, a lb does not equal a kg.
After putting every VTM you are evaluating on an even playing field, think about the individual requirements of your herd. There is a laundry list of characteristics that can change the requirements, such as gender, breed, weight, age, stage of lactation, housing, implant status, etc. The requirement of a 1,400 lb Holstein dry cow is not the same as a beef calf being back-grounded. Talk to a nutritionist and have a plan as the cattle’s status changes through-out the year.
Feeding the VTM
A question that should be asked is “how are you feeding the VTM?” The VTM can be fed as a press block, tub, pellet, cube, free choice meal, or through the total mixed ration. How you are feeding it is going to dictate how you evaluate intake. The VTM are only as good as the amount that is being fed to the animal, if the intake is a little off then the results will not be optimal. In an ideal situation, a VTM would be fed through a total mixed ration and every ani-mal will eat the exact same amount that was calculated for them. However, we all know that animals do not read the ration books, so producers still need to evaluate intake levels overall. Also, make sure to match how the VTM is fed to the farming practices. If the cows are out on pasture and not being supplemented with a TMR, free choice mineral or tubs would be the best option.
The bioavailability of the VTM should be evaluated. Not all minerals are the same when it comes to the availability to a ruminant. In the ingredients list of the VTM there is an inventory of components being used to make the VTM. The list of ingredients is long, yet it is important to take the time to see if you are feeding a manganese sulfate or a manganese oxide. Both are providing manganese, but with different bioavailability’s. Ideally, there should be chelates listed in the feed ingredients to help increase the bioavailability of the VTM. Another invisible factor are elements found in the environment that can bind minerals. Of specific concern are the solids found in the water. If there are high iron, sulfate, or Molybdenum levels the VTM is not going to be as effective because the VTM minerals can be bound by the solids.
A component that does not get addressed often is how and for how long mineral is stored. Make sure to store mineral in a dry, cool environment that is away from direct sunlight. Also, do not overbuy, as vitamins quickly lose their potency. A good rule of thumb is to only purchase a two-month supply and make sure to rotate the VTM by using the oldest product first.
Selecting a VTM is not a black and white decision. Spend the time necessary to evaluate what product will work best for your farm. After you make your decision, continue to evaluate the VTM by ensuring that your cattle are getting the correct intake, and do not be afraid to make a change. Keep in mind that the VTM you used last year may not be the one you elect to use this year. The information regarding ruminant nutrition is constantly evolving, making it impossible for you to have all the answers at any given time. Contact your local nutritionist to help work through the information available and confirm why the VTM you are using is the best one for your farm. A VTM is a big investment, which makes it vital to use the optimal product for your farm.