The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 11, 2013

Mineral supplements depend on needs

By Rick Nelson, Extended Forecast
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Beef cattle owners normally supplement their cattle during times of seasonal nutritional deficiencies.

In winter, hay may be supplied due to a lack of growing or standing dormant forages. In summer, stocker cattle in particular respond well to protein supplementation when grazing mature summer pastures.

Regardless of the season, though, cattlemen routinely provide supplemental minerals. Given such an ongoing investment, cattlemen often question the need for mineral supplements and whether those they purchase are economical and effective.

Walk into any feed store and there are likely a dozen different mineral mixes from which to select. Many are different, but they all share one characteristic, they’re expensive.

Even so, minerals play important economic and performance roles in cow/calf and stocker operations. They impact pregnancy rates, fetal development and growth, lactation, as well as the underlying body condition of the cow affecting all that. Stocker health and rate of gain are impacted by supplemental minerals.

The need for supplemental minerals varies with the time of year, mainly due to seasonal variations in forage mineral sources as affected by quality and availability, stage of the animals’ growth, and where — mainly for cows — where they are in their production cycle. One must consider if they are they pregnant, lactating, gaining or losing weight.

Most mineral mixes contain calcium, often needed by cattle, especially those grazing small grain pastures. Calcium is used for bone growth, blood clotting, muscle contraction, regulation of heart rate and more.

Forages are adequate in calcium, but small grains pastures and feed grains do not by themselves supply the amount needed in cattle diets. The main source of calcium in mineral supplements is calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphate.

Cattle grazing summer pastures of native grass or Bermuda grass normally don’t require calcium, but some amount of phosphorus is needed. Phosphorus, in concert with calcium, has a role in bone growth and strength, but also is involved in energy metabolism and cell structure.

It’s more expensive to supply phosphorus than calcium, usually with dicalcium phosphate.

Potassium follows calcium and phosphorus in abundance in the animal. It is used for water balance, muscle contraction, acid-base reactions and some enzyme function. Potassium chloride is a primary source of supplemental potassium.

Magnesium is used for hundreds of enzyme actions, nerve impulses, genetic code and energy metabolism.

Trace minerals, such as copper, cobalt and iodine, are required in much smaller amounts that those previously mentioned, but the roles they play are no less dramatic. Individually, they’re involved in such functions as hemoglobin production, B12 vitamin production, energy metabolism, immunity, and many more.

So, the need for dietary minerals is established. And, it is recognized that certain forages, during certain times of shortage or maturity, lack concentrations necessary to meet dietary requirements of cows, calves and stocker cattle.

But which of those mineral mixes in the feed store should a cattleman purchase? Cattle grazing summer pastures require a phosphorus-based mineral supplement. In general, producers should select a mix that is 10 to 25 percent salt and 8 to 12 percent phosphorus with a broad package of potassium, magnesium, and trace minerals. Ten to 15 percent cottonseed or soybean meal will enhance intake.

There are other considerations, too. A red color is not an issue, only a marketing ploy. A very high salt content may be used to mask problems in the mix or to cheapen the cost per pound. Producers should select a mineral with a moderate salt concentration.

Stay away from calcium levels over 18 percent. Calcium is cheap and it’s uncommon for ranches to have a calcium deficiency outside of small grain pastures or feedlot cattle on a high concentrate diet.

Trace minerals should be supplied by way of sulfate combinations since oxides are not readily digestible. Organic sources are even better, but expensive, and usually not required.

A simple mineral mix can be homemade, but adding trace minerals can risk toxicity if not thoroughly mixed so such attempts are not recommended.

Producers who want more information on animal health programs their local Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service office.

Nelson is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag education for Garfield County.