Monday, March 12, 2018

Mineral Supplementation for Cattle

Eric Bailey
University of Missouri Extension State Beef Nutrition Specialist
Presentation at Southwest Missouri Spring Forage Conference 

Here is the contrarian view. Compared to other drivers of profit,  mineral has an extremely small impact on profitability. Here is a quote to illustrate this view.

"Don't measure with a micrometer and cut with an ax!" -Dr. Tim Steffens.

We don't give a cow a half a teaspoon of mineral, watch her eat it, and go about our day. No, we put out mineral and cows will eat as little or as much as they want.

Bailey's philosophy: Mineral nutrition is an insurance policy. Minerals are not a cure or a key to improving production.

What is the issue? Marketing vs. Science. If we are feeding cows 3 year old hay that is mainly buck brush and sumac, we have much bigger nutritional issues than mineral. In many situations we have energy and protein deficiencies before we have mineral deficiencies. Minerals are high profit margin products for feed companies. They are frequently bombarding cattle farmers and ranchers with testimonials of how well minerals work.

Bailey surveyed articles by extension specialists. He and other specialists recommend using the same mineral program during a drought. 

Injectable trace minerals cover the 4 trace minerals most likely to be deficient in cattle (copper, zinc, selenium, and manganese). The pros of injectable trace minerals is that we ensure nutritional requirements are meet.

Mineral intake does not need to be consistent across time. Minerals are stored in blood, bones, etc., so cattle do not need constant supplementation. If 50 cows eat an entire palette of mineral in a month, simply wait a month before supplying them additional mineral.

Free choice mineral consumption is projected to be 2-8 ounces per animal per day. This means each cow needs one to two 50 lbs bags per year. If they eat more than that, pull out the mineral for a while to maintain rate.

Price per bag ranges from 6.29 to 34.99. Let's compare mineral supplementation costs and annual cow costs. In southern Missiouri, the average producer spends $46.68 per cow per year for minerals. The average producer spends $848 per cow per year. There are bigger problems with cow costs than mineral! Pasture and hay are the biggest cost per cow each year.  

Trace minerals have important roles in immunity but the effect of supplementing above established requirements is debated. 
Keeping salt out year round is a good idea.
Most nutrition issues are related to protein and energy intake.

Cafeteria style mineral supplementation (cow gets to choose which mineral to eat) was disproved 40 years ago. Cows don't crave specific minerals.

We shouldn't compare prices between tubs. We should be looking at what is the cost of meeting nutritional requirements. Often, nutritional requirements are meet with the least expensive mineral.
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