March 2013
Feeding Facts

Minerals & Vitamins

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 make a successful or an unsuccessful crop year. As a cattle producer, you have to make tough decisions each year to remain in the cattle business.

What I am seeing in the Southeast is a continuing trend in the use of mineral and vitamin supplements not meeting livestock’s needs. It seems common for a new mineral company or a lower cost mineral to come along on a daily basis. The end results of this trend can be very costly to the producer utilizing the products.

The use of lower cost minerals are starting to show in reduced reproductive performance, increased numbers of retained placentas and prolapses, inability to fight off sickness and infection, and reduced milk production and growth. Most producers do not realize what a vital role the proper mineral and vitamin program plays in the overall performance of livestock.

A good mineral and vitamin supplement will contain the proper amount and ratio as well as the most absorbable source of minerals and vitamins for the cow to utilize. Too often, I am seeing more and more minerals from sources that cows can’t easily absorb or will be in amounts that bind each other, and the cow can’t utilize the product.

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. Macro minerals make up the largest percentage of a mineral because they also make up the largest percentage of the mineral composition in the animals body. These minerals are: calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chlorine, potassium, magnesium and sulfur. The Micro minerals make up the smallest portion of a mineral supplement 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.

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

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 that the higher the calcium level in the mineral the lower the expected cost. 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.

Phosphorus is also very important in the formation of bone. Phosphorus also plays an important role in reproduction and proper cell balance. It is an expensive ingredient in most mineral supplements and will be at sub-standard levels in minerals with lower prices. Phosphorus levels should run from 4 to 8 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. It is also relatively inexpensive and should go into the supplement at the rate of 20 to 25 percent.

Chlorine is a major anion involved in osmotic pressure and acid-based 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. Magnesium also plays a key role in the prevention of grass tetney during the spring. It is an expensive ingredient in the 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 in high magnesium mineral supplements. Pay extra attention to the magnesium and phosphorus levels in minerals. 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.

The micro minerals and their functions are:

Iron is very important in blood formation and cellular respiration.

Copper is very important in hemoglobin synthesis, enzyme systems, and 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 1,500 parts per million 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 3 milligrams per head per day. Any mineral supplement higher than 26 ppm selenium will have a lower consumption rate than those with 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 that 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 research has shown the importance of ALL of these minerals to be included in the diets of cattle at a level to meet their daily requirements. A supplement not including adequate levels 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. While it might seem this would be an area to potentially save some money this year, it would cost you more in the long run than the small savings seen.

The biggest factor most producers give me for changing minerals and vitamins is their cost difference. With that in mind, let’s look at the difference in mineral cost on a yearly basis.

A good all-purpose highly fortified mineral and vitamin supplement will cost a producer around $18 a bag while an economically priced mineral will cost closer to $14 a bag. Based on these two figures, it will cost an additional $8 to $10 per cow per year to feed a good fortified mineral over a lower cost mineral. On a 100 cow herd that figures out to be $800 per year in additional cost. At today’s prices, you would only need one additional calf to offset the additional cost. You would only need to save one calf from sickness or increase your weaning weight an additional 5 pounds to justify the better mineral. I would encourage you to consider this as you decide what mineral supplementation program you would like to implement and select the program giving the most returns.

An example of a good/complete mineral should contain at least 14 percent calcium, 4 percent phosphorus and no more than 20 percent salt along with adequate levels of the other discussed minerals as well as vitamins A, D and E. 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 the animal assuring utilization by the body. Look at the mineral tag; as phosphorus levels go up, the price will be higher as well. Be aware of trace mineral levels as a way to lower the overall cost of a complete mineral. 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. As a producer, always remember that in the mineral business if there is a cost difference there is a quality difference as well. Also remember, trace mineral salt will not meet the daily mineral requirements for your cattle other than for sodium and chlorine.

As you can see, there are a lot of considerations when deciding on a complete mineral supplement. When the proper supplement is selected and offered to your cattle, the cattle will perform at a level up to the standards you are looking for as a producer.

If I can provide more information or provide you some assistance in the decision-making process, 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.