October 2014
Farm & Field

Mastering Minerals

Supplying proper mineral nutrition doesn’t have to be hard.

While most cattle producers know they should provide year-round mineral nutrition to their cattle, they sometimes get caught up in the how. Bulls tear up mineral feeders. It’s hard to find widely scattered cattle. Wind and rain create waste. It’s easy to just throw your hands up in the air and give up. Below is a list of general tips to help guide you.

Choose the delivery system that is best for you.

Mineral supplements come in many forms, from 200-pound low-moisture blocks in plastic tubs, to 40-pound pressed blocks that can be placed directly on the ground, to granular minerals requiring dedicated feeders. Each option has pros and cons. Do your research to find the product form that works best for your operation.

Give cattle convenient access to mineral supplements.

Mineral supplements must be consumed at recommended levels to provide advertised benefits. It makes no sense to make cattle compete for minerals and possibly not eat enough, so provide an adequate number of mineral feeders/blocks/tubs to reduce competition. Each product label should give specific stocking recommendations, so follow label directions. Place supplements at least 20 feet apart to allow all cattle, even the subordinate ones, equal access. Also, place supplements in areas cattle frequent. This is typically within 50 feet of a water source, loafing area or feeding area. However, conditions may change with season. The loafing area during winter months may be totally different from the loafing area during summer months. No matter what, avoid making cattle travel excessively to get the minerals they need.

Follow label directions.

Always read and follow label directions! Never mix a granular mineral with other ingredients (i.e. salt, dried molasses, dical, etc.) unless directed to do so. Mixing dilutes the minerals and vitamins provided or alters intake. Thus your cattle either get too little or too much, either way resulting in wasted money on your part.

Remove access to other free-choice sources of salt.

Cattle crave salt, so it’s used as an attractant in supplements. Salt is also used to limit intake. If cattle have more than one source of salt to choose from, they may over eat the high-salt supplement and under eat the balanced supplement (many essential minerals like phosphorus, magnesium and copper taste bitter). Once they have their fill of salt, they won’t eat any more supplement even if they haven’t met their needs for essential minerals. For this reason it is VERY IMPORTANT to provide only ONE free-choice source of salt in the form of the *complete* mineral supplement of your choice at any one time.

Monitor consumption.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure! Calculate average daily intake by first determining overall intake for one month (i.e. number of blocks/bags/tubs) and then multiply this by the weight of the supplement (for example, 10 bags @ 50 lbs. each = 500 lbs.). Divide this figure by 30 days to determine the consumption per day (500 lbs./30 days = 16.67 lbs./day). Next, divide this figure by the number of cattle exposed to the supplement to determine consumption per head per day (16.67 lbs./day/60 cows = 0.278 lb./hd/day). To convert this into ounces, multiply by 16 (0.278 lb./hd/day X 16 oz./lb. = 4.4 oz./hd/day). In this example, the average consumption was 4.4 ounces per cow per day.

Do not allow cattle to run out of mineral supplement.

Inconsistent access to minerals results in poor performance. Monitor granular mineral feeders at least once a week and refill as necessary. Or place new blocks or tubs next to the old when the old is half-consumed.

Cattle with inconsistent access to minerals typically over-consume when they do have access in a "feast or famine" cycle. This mistakenly leads producers to think this behavior will continue long term and they will "eat me out of house and home." When this happens, producers often limit access to minerals even more, thus perpetuating the cycle. However, when animals are allowed to eat as much as they want, they will typically slow down to recommended consumption levels within two weeks once they have had a chance to correct underlying mineral imbalances or deficiencies.

Make management changes if consumption is not at desired levels.

If cattle are consuming too little, increase the number of mineral feeders/blocks/tubs. You might also consider changing your feeding locations. For example, if blocks are near the water, but in the sun; you might want to place them in shaded loafing areas instead.

If cattle consistently consume too much (after an initial two week acclimation period), reduce the number of mineral feeders/blocks/tubs or move them farther away from areas that cattle frequent. If repositioning of supplements does not correct the situation, remove and reevaluate your overall feeding program. Remember that supplements cannot take the place of a well-balanced diet. If supplement over-consumption persists, it can be a sign of a poorly balanced overall diet.

Don’t be afraid to switch things up.

If after trying all of the above tips your cattle are still not consuming desired levels, you may need to consider switching products or even delivery methods. Differing cattle needs, environmental conditions, management practices and producer preferences mean that there is no one-size-fits-all product that is ideal in all situations.

There are a lot of different supplement options out in the marketplace. We know we have to deliver on quality and value for the price to keep your business. Give us a call at 1-87SWEETLIX, visit www.sweetlix.com or like us on Facebook to learn more about the many different supplement forms and fortification levels SWEETLIX has to offer to help you be successful.

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations (www.sweetlix.com). You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.