April 2011
Feeding Facts

How do I save money without sacrificing performance in my cattle herd?

As cattle producers enter the spring, they do so with great anticipation of a successful year. Although, this year brings about several concerns for beef producers throughout the state. Farmers are, and always will be, concerned about weather conditions that either make a successful or unsuccessful crop year. This year brings about a new set of challenges and that is the increase in input cost. What fertilizer do I use and how much will it cost? How much will it cost for fuel? Where can I save money on input cost? How much will cattle be worth this fall? These are all questions being discussed this spring.

While the outlook for cattle prices looks strong, as a cattle producer, higher input cost will reduce the profitability of your operation. What I feel will be the biggest question this spring is how can 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 micro minerals.

Macro minerals make up the largest percent needed because they also make up the largest percent of the mineral composition in the animal’s body. The macro minerals are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium and sulfur.

Micro minerals make up the smallest portion needed because they make up the smallest amount in the mineral composition of the animal. Micro minerals are copper, cobalt, zinc, iron, selenium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum and fluorine.

When selecting the best mineral for your operation, you need to consider two important factors. One factor being the type cattle being produced. The requirements for a cow will differ from those for stocker calves and you need to plan your mineral program accordingly.

Another major factor, when deciding on a mineral program, is knowing your forage’s nutritional content. The use of poultry litter is playing a major role in creating a new set of nutritional disorders when it comes to mineral utilization and absorption. If you are or have used poultry litter as a fertilizer source, I would encourage taking forage samples of your grass and hay. We are finding producers who utilize poultry litter have an increase of milk fever in their cow herd. This is coming from a problem with the calcium and phosphorus levels in the litter. A soil sample will not completely provide the information needed to develop a good mineral program. Just because the soil samples indicate one thing, this does not assure the forage is taking it up from the soil. This is why the forage sample is important as well.

Now, let’s look at the role each of these minerals play in the overall health and well-being of the animal.

1. Calcium is very important in bone and teeth formation, nerve function and milk production. It is one of the less-expensive ingredients in a complete mineral mix. What this means is the higher the calcium level in the mineral, the expected cost of the mineral would be less. Calcium and phosphorus also work hand-in-hand 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.

2. Phosphorus is also very important in the formation of bone. It also 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 lower-priced minerals supplements. Phosphorus levels should run from 4 to 8 percent in good-quality supplements.

3. 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 go into the supplement at the rate of 20 to 25 percent.

4. 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.

5. 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 tetney during the spring. Magnesium is an expensive ingredient in a mineral supplement. Magnesium is also very bitter and, when fed at high levels during non-grass tetney times, can lead to a decrease in consumption leaving your cattle deficient in other minerals. Most minerals will be at least 2 percent magnesium and up to 14 percent magnesium in high magnesium mineral supplements. Pay extra attention to the magnesium and phosphorus Llevels in minerals this year. Some mineral companies might sacrifice one of these two minerals in a cost-cutting effort.

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

7. Sulfur is very essential in sulfur-containing amino acids, 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 that you as a producer should be concerned with when selecting the proper mineral supplementation for your cattle.

The Micro Minerals and their functions are as follows:

1. Iron is very important in blood formation and cellular respiration.

2. 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. I would look at a mineral supplement that is at least 1500 parts per million (ppm) Copper.

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

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

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

6. Selenium is regulated by the FDA and can only be provided at the rate of 3 milligrams (mg) per head per day. Any mineral supplement that is higher than 26 ppm Selenium will have a lower consumption rate than those that supply 26 ppm in the total supplement

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

8. Molybdenum is important in microbial activity

9. Fluorine is important in protecting teeth against decay.

As you can see all of these minerals work together to assure the producer that his cattle are performing and reproducing at an adequate level. Cattle that are 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 that university research has shown the importance of ALL of these minerals to be included in the diets of cattle at a level that will meet the daily requirements of the animal. A supplement that does not include adequate levels of these minerals will have a direct impact on your cattle herd. It is also important to note that most mineral problems will show up later than sooner meaning that when you least expect a problem you may find less calves in your pasture due to a reproduction problem. So while it might seem that this would be an area to potentially save some money this year, it would cost you more in the long run than what small saving you will see.

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

An example of a good/complete mineral should contain levels of minerals as follows: A good mineral supplement will also contain highly available sources of these minerals. 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 is. Also remember that trace mineral salt will not meet the daily mineral requirements for your cattle other than for sodium and chlorine.

Example of a good cattle mineral for Alabama Cattle Producers:

Calcium: 15 to 20%
Phosphorus: 4 to 8%
Sodium/Chlorine from salt: 20 to 25%
Magnesium: 2 to 4 percent/14% during grass tetney season
Sulfur: 1 to 2%
Potassium: 1 to 2%
Copper: 1500 ppm
Zinc: 3000 to 4000 ppm
Iodine: 60 to 100 ppm
Selenium: 26 ppm

I hope that this information provides you some assistance in the decision making process. Your local cooperative will be glad to assist you in any manner possible to help you select the best products for your operation. 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.">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.