May 2008
Feeding Facts

Feeding Facts

By Jimmy Hughes

As cattle producers enter the spring, they do so with great anticipation of a successful year. This year though, brings about several concerns for beef producers throughout the state. Farmers are and always will be concerned about weather conditions that either makes a successful or, as in last year, an unsuccessful crop.

This year brings about a new set of challenges due to the increased cost of inputs. What fertilizer to use and how much will it cost, how much will it cost for fuel, where can I save money on input cost, and how much will cattle be worth this fall? These are all questions discussed over many cups of coffee this spring. As a cattle producer, you have to make tough decisions this year to remain in the cattle business.

What I feel will be the biggest question this spring is how do I save money without sacrificing performance in my cattle herd? As we look at input cost in a cattle herd we find producers spend money on fuel, fertilizer, hay production, mineral and vitamin supplementation, parasite control and feed. When we look at these costs,

I am fearful some producers will try to save money based on decreasing or eliminating the mineral and vitamin supplementation program in their herd. While this may seem to be a cost saving measure, this practice could have a detrimental long term effect on your cattle herd in the area of reproduction and immunity.

Mineral and vitamin supplementation is essential for acceptable performance in cattle. When considering a complete supplement, we must understand what makes up a complete supplementation program. Minerals are broken into two categories: macro and micros. Macro minerals make up the largest percent of a mineral because they also make up the largest percent of the mineral composition of the animal’s body.

Macro minerals are: calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium and sulfur. Micro minerals make up the smallest portion of a mineral supplement because they make up the smallest amount in the mineral composition of an animal.

Micro minerals are copper, cobalt, zinc, iron, selenium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum and fluorine. Let’s look at the role each of these minerals play in the overall health and well being of the animal.

Calcium is very important in bone and teeth formation, nerve function and milk production. It is one of the least expensive ingredients in a complete mineral mix. This means is the higher the calcium level in the mineral the expected cost of the mineral would be less. Calcium and phosphorus work together in absorption and utilization. There must be more calcium than phosphorus in the overall diet of the animal or phosphorus will bind calcium making it highly unavailable in the cow’s diet. A good mineral supplement will run between 15 and 18 percent calcium.

Phosphorus is also very important in the formation of bone. It plays an important role in reproduction and proper cell balance. Phosphorus is an expensive ingredient in most mineral supplements and will be at sub-standard levels in minerals that are lower priced to the producer. Phosphorus levels should run from four to eight percent in good quality supplements.

Sodium is very important as a major cation of extracellular fluid where it is involved in osmotic pressure and acid-base equilibrium, preservation of normal muscle cell irritability, and cell permeability. Salt provides both sodium and chlorine in a mineral supplement. Salt is also relatively inexpensive and should run from 20 to 25 percent.

Chlorine is a major anion involved in osmotic pressure and acid base balance along with aiding in the digestion process. Like sodium, chlorine is added to most supplements in the form of salt.

Magnesium is very important as an enzyme activator primarily in the area of energy production. It also plays a key role in the prevention of grass tetany during the spring. Magnesium is an expensive ingredient in the formulation of a mineral supplement. It is also very bitter and when fed at high levels during non-grass tetany times can lead to a decrease in consumption leaving your cattle deficient in other minerals. Most minerals will be at least two percent magnesium and up to 14 percent magnesium in high magnesium mineral supplements. Pay extra attention to the magnesium and phosphorus levels in minerals this year. Some mineral companies might sacrifice one of these two minerals in a cost cutting effort.

Potassium is a major cation of intracellular fluid where it is involved in osmotic pressure and muscle activity.

Sulfur is very essential in sulfur-containing amino acids that are the building blocks for protein. It also plays a key role in tissue respiration and serves a component of biotin and thiamine.

This is a quick overview of the macro minerals a producer should be concerned with when selecting the proper mineral supplementation for your cattle.

The micro minerals and their functions are as follows:

Iron is very important in blood formation and cellular respiration.

Copper is very important in hemoglobin synthesis, enzyme systems, maintenance of nerves and hair pigmentation. Alabama is a copper deficient area and research is available promoting the increased levels of copper in mineral supplements. Look at a mineral supplement that is at least 1,500 parts per million (ppm) copper.

Zinc is very important in immunity along with hoof integrity. It is also important in the development of bone and hair.

Manganese is utilized as an enzyme activator, growth, reproduction and cholesterol metabolism.

Cobalt is a component of B vitamins and is needed by rumen bacteria for growth and reproductive performance.

Selenium is regulated by the FDA and can only be provided at the rate of three milligrams (mg) per head per day. Any mineral supplement higher than 26 ppm selenium will have a lower consumption rate than those supplying 26 ppm in the total supplement.

Iodine is important in the formation of thyroxin and is also very important in immunity.

Molybdenum is important in microbial activity.

Fluorine is important in protecting teeth against decay.

As you can see, all of these minerals work together to assure the cattle are performing and reproducing at an adequate level. Cattle deficient in any of these minerals may show signs of depressed immunity, slow reproductive performance, poor milk production and reduced feed efficiency. All of these areas will have a direct impact on the bottom-line of your cattle herd. Remember University researches have shown the importance of ALL of these minerals to be included in the diets of cattle at a level to meet the daily requirements of the animal. A supplement not including adequate levels of these minerals will have a direct impact on your cattle herd.

It is also important to note most mineral problems will show up later than sooner. This meaning when you least expect a problem you may find less calves in your pasture due to a reproduction problem. So while it might seem this would be an area to potentially save some money this year, it would cost more in the long run than what small saving you will see.

There are some things you can do to help save cost on your minerals. Only purchase minerals meeting the exact needs of your cattle. For example, there is no need to purchase a mineral high in magnesium during non-grass tetany times of the year. I would also suggest you make sure to keep minerals out at all times assuring consistent intake and a consistent cost of less than 10 cents per head per day.

A good/complete mineral supplement should contain highly available sources of these minerals at the recommended levels. A mixture of sulfates and oxides along with chelated trace minerals will be more available to your animal assuring utilization by the body. While lower available minerals might be at a lower cost, if the animal can’t utilize it, then it does not matter what the cost of the mineral. Also remember trace mineral salt will not meet the daily mineral requirements for your cattle other than for sodium and chlorine.

Review of the levels needed in a good cattle mineral for Alabama cattle producers:

Calcium: 15 to 20%
Phosphorus: 4 to 8%
Sodium/chlorine (salt): 20 to 25%
Magnesium: 2 to 4%; 14% during grass tetany season
Sulfur: 1 to 2%
Potassium: 1 to 2%
Copper: 1,500 ppm
Zinc: 3,000 to 4,000 ppm
Iodine: 60 to 100 ppm
Selenium: 26 ppm

I hope this information provides some assistance in your decision making process. If I can be of any help, please feel free to contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 256-947-7886.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.