April 2014
Feeding Facts

Don’t Forget the Minerals

As cattle producers enter the spring, they do so with great anticipation of a successful year. With the wet and record cold temperatures we had this past winter, I am seeing more cows than average in below-ideal body condition going into spring and summer. While good quality forages and warm weather will help improve body condition, I am still concerned about these thinner cows cycling and rebreeding in a timely fashion. With record cattle prices expected to continue, it is very important that, as a producer, you get as high a conception rate as possible in your cattle. An area I feel is often overlooked and ignored going into a summer with good grass is a proper mineral and vitamin supplementation program. The lack of a good quality, highly available mineral and vitamin supplement can have a detrimental long-term effect on your cattle herd in the areas 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.

Macro minerals make up the largest percent of needed minerals because they also make up the largest percent of the mineral composition in the animal’s body. The macros 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. Micros are copper, cobalt, zinc, iron, selenium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum and fluorine.

When selecting the best minerals for your operation, you need to consider two important factors. The first is the type cattle you are producing. The requirements for cows will differ from those of stocker calves, and you need to plan your mineral program accordingly. Another major factor is knowing what they are getting from the forage.

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 you to take forage samples of your grass and hay. We are finding producers who utilize poultry litter have an increase in 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 us with the information needed to develop a good mineral program. Just because the soil samples say one thing, this does not assure you that the forage is taking that up from the soil. This is why the forage sample is important as well.

Now, let’s look at the role each of the macro 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 15-18 percent calcium.

2. Phosphorus is 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 minerals that are lower priced to the producer. Phosphorus levels should run from 4-8 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 the sodium and chlorine going into a mineral supplement. Salt is also relatively inexpensive and should go into the supplement at the rate of 20-25 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. It is an expensive ingredient in the formulation of a mineral supplement. Magnesium is 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 levels 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 the synthesis of methionine and cysteine, sulfur-containing amino acids, the building blocks for protein. Sulfur also plays a key role in tissue respiration and serves as a component of biotin and thiamine.

Here is a quick overview of the micro minerals and their functions:

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 1,500 parts per million 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 for 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 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.

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


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 trace mineral salt will not meet the daily mineral requirements for your cattle other than for sodium and chlorine.

I hope this information provides you some assistance in the decision-making process. Your local Quality Co-op 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. or 256-947-7886.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.