Beef cow mineral approach: Determine the needs, match the source

All cows, feeds and minerals are not created equal. Performance objectives and reproductive efficiency are dictated by recognizing the cow's mineral needs as they apply to her stage of production, analyzing the mineral levels of the diet she consumes and selecting a mineral supplement that meets her needs by complimenting minerals found in the feed.

As complex as that may sound, an effective mineral supplementation program can be designed with the assistance of a nutritionist, and is a must for success in the cow/calf business.  Minerals are extremely vital for normal body functions and physiological processes such as reproduction and lactation.  The third trimester of gestation and early lactation are two of the most critical times to evaluate the cow herd mineral program.  Testing feeds and selecting the proper mineral supplement are key steps in that process.  This article will focus on the latter.

Mineral sources can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of a mineral supplementation program.  This is especially true during the stressful stages of the production cycle such as calving and lactation but is becoming a greater focus as cattle become more genetically superior with elevated production performance.  For years, inorganic mineral sources have been the most cost effective method of meeting a beef cow's mineral needs.  However, bioavailability differences of minerals within the supplementation package have become a major criteria in the source selection process.

That statement has the most relevance when trace minerals are considered.  Trace minerals carry out key functions in the metabolic process, especially in their role in the interaction of enzymes and hormones.  Besides the lack of performance and reproductive success, deficiencies in trace minerals result in impaired immune responses and lead to general un-thriftiness of the animal.

Organic sources of trace minerals, commonly referred to as chelates, may provide the bioavailability attribute in mineral supplementation because cows absorb, digest and utilize them better than inorganic sources.  However, they come with an increased price tag attached to them and must be accompanied by a corresponding increase in production or performance to offset the added expense. In general, the most beneficial responses to organic mineral sources will be during either times of stress or in the presence of an antagonist. Outside of these two conditions, the likelihood of a beneficial response is diminished. Utilizing blends of organic and inorganic minerals is also a commonly used and recommended practice.

It is also important to recognize that supplementation of minerals above the levels required by the animal is generally of no benefit, regardless of the mineral source. However, there are circumstances where this practice is appropriate. For example, in the presence of a strong antagonist, it may be economical to simply feed higher levels of an inorganic mineral than it is to supplement organic minerals.

Recognizing the sources of minerals within a supplement is accomplished by reading the tag attached to the product. That tag will explain the source of the mineral and guaranteed amount of it. Salt content is also a major piece of information included in the analysis and has a considerable impact on daily intake. In many cases the salt concentration can be manipulated to either enhance or limit intake.

Beef cattle mineral supplementation directly affects cattle performance, reproductive efficiency and immune response. Source and bioavailability of minerals play key roles in all of the above.

Source: Jim Krantz