When An Ounce Of Mineral Prevention Can Be Worth A Whole Cow

The importance of good nutritional management is no secret to cattle producers. Protein and energy tend to receive the greatest amount of attention due to their direct impact on growth and performance. Yet the value of a good mineral and vitamin program is often lost, and sometimes even purposely neglected by the producer. As a nutritionist I often hear, “mineral is too expensive and I get the same results when I don’t feed it” or, “my cows don’t need mineral because my feedstuffs are so good.” There may certainly be times when each of these statements are true; however, there is value in providing proper vitamin/mineral nutrition.

All animals have a minimum requirement for each nutrient. When nutrients run out, that’s where performance is impacted. Vitamins and minerals play a key role in the nutritional needs of animals, both directly and indirectly. The two types of minerals required by the animal are macro and trace minerals.

  • Macro minerals: Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Sodium and Chlorine
  • Trace minerals: Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Cobalt, Iodine, Selenium and Iron

Vitamins A, D, and E are also required by the animal and therefore often supplemented.

Generally, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are relatively minor when the animal is receiving a well-managed nutrition program. However, while not always visible to the naked eye, the negative effects tend to show their ugly face on the producer’s bottom line.

Minerals and vitamins play a key role in fertility and fetal development of cows, heifers and bulls. Selenium, zinc, and manganese have been found to have direct effects on reproductive efficiency, significantly affecting ovarian function, steroidal synthesis, and testicular development and function. A subclinical deficiency may not result in an open cow, rather in one that conceives in a later cycle. When managing for longevity, early-calving cows tend to stay in the herd longer. Availability of these vital nutrients is most important in the 90 days before calving to 60 days after calving when the cow’s nutritional needs are greatest.

The lasting effects of cow mineral nutrition can be seen in her offspring. Minerals and vitamins including copper, zinc, and Vitamin E drastically affect the function of the immune system. Adequate cow mineral nutrition may be just as import-ant as, and is likely to enhance, a sound vaccination program.

Additionally, digestibility is highly dependent upon the vitamin and mineral status of the animal. Ruminal microbes require a very specific environment for survival. If critical driving factors (i.e. minerals) are not present due to a deficiency, digestibility will be hindered and performance will likely decrease. While not likely dramatic, a 0.1 lb. decrease in ADG can add up to 15-20 lbs. of live weight at sale time.

Not All Are Created Equal
Minerals can be either organic or inorganic. Organic trace minerals are more bioavailable for the animal than inorganic sources. In times of high stress/growth, it is beneficial to provide at least a portion of the mineral source in the organic form.

How much will it cost?
Most cow mineral supplements are formulated for a 2 to 4-ounce consumption rate. If a good mineral costs $1,000/ton, that is equal to $0.50/lb. At 4 ounces per day, the hd/day cost is$0.125/day. 365 days x $0.125 = $45.63/year. Put more practically, $45 is 3% of the value of replacing that cow that fell out of the target calving season.