Cash in on beef cow mineral status in the spring

To avoid disease and promote rebreeding and maybe a dash of garlic for fly control

Have a look at the mineral mix to make sure it has components for grazing and breeding season.

As the weather turns warm, many beef producers wish to refresh their cow mineral programs. It seems that most want to maintain the well-being of their cows coming into spring, whether cows are spring-calvers or calving is completely done and their cows are nursing new spring calves.

In both cases, many producers also want to build up their herd’s mineral (and vitamin) status so their cows are prepared for the upcoming breeding season. With so many commercial mineral/vitamin choices on the market, it gets a little overwhelming, even for the most experienced diehards and me. However, with a little determination, most people can find a well-balanced one, which can help cows get rebred with next year’s calf.

This means that with each bag, tote or bulk purchase, cattle mineral (with vitamins) should contain about a dozen or so individual minerals and vitamins that beef cows require for good post-calving reproduction.

Many cattle nutritionists like myself design “spring” minerals based upon the latest NRC (2001) recommendations for beef cows. Personally, I also like to go one step further by adding any mineral and/or vitamin that might be required in elevated amounts to prevent and overcome specific problems that often occur in the spring.

For example, I designed a high-magnesium cow mineral (four to eight per cent Mg) that broadly helps to counteract severe magnesium deficiencies or “grass tetany” that might affect beef cows grazing lush pastures. And nursing beef cows are so susceptible to it because they need about 25 grams of magnesium per head daily as compared to 15 grams for overwintering beef cows during gestation.

I also designed more specific springtime cow minerals along similar lines. In one particular situation, a beef producer’s cow herd that I dealt with had low fertility rates traced back to a copper deficiency caused by tall-grass pastures with a high-molybdenum content (molybdenum binds diet and forage copper). His cows’ conceptions rates rebounded once I formulated a cattle mineral with elevated levels of highly bio-available “chelated” copper.

My other spring recommendations follow the 1:1, 2:1 and even 3:1 calcium and phosphorus ratios of commercial minerals that compliment most producers’ forages. In these minerals, the exact amount of calcium and phosphorus formulated also varies from high to low, meaning a 2:1 cattle mineral might contain 18 per cent calcium and nine per cent phosphorus or at the 3:1 ratio 12 per cent and six per cent respectively.

Let’s say a producer plans to graze a post-calving cow herd on grassy-type pasture that contains low levels of calcium. Then, a well-balanced 20 per cent calcium/10 per cent phosphorus mineral makes a good choice. Across the highway, the neighbour might have more mixed pastures of some high-calcium alfalfa grass. Then a 1:1 (12:12 per cent ratio) mineral should be selected.

A breeder-season mineral

Once these macro-mineral (including grass tetany) issues are taken care of, there are many commercial cattle minerals as well as my own formulas that are designed as “breeder” cattle minerals.

My own advice for feeding them is to promote active estrus cycles as well as improve conception in the cow herd. They should be fed to second-calf and mature cows, right after calving or to replacement heifers coming up to their first breeding season. They should also be fed to breeding bulls to promote fertile sperm production.

Breeder minerals, compared to standard cattle minerals, tend to contain specific and elevated levels of trace-minerals/vitamin levels in a much broader sense than described earlier in my molybdenum-copper story. But at the same time, their copper content as well as manganese, zinc and selenium are added in similar “chelated” fashion (copper or zinc protein-ates). Finally, vitamins; A, D and E levels are not forgotten and also fortified.

Aside from good nutrition, many producers are requesting for garlic to be added to their spring cattle mineral purchases as a natural fly control to combat cow pinkeye. I do some consulting work for a feed mill that also runs its own 150-head cow-calf operation. They found by trial and error that essential garlic oils, rather than garlic powders added to cattle minerals, effectively control face-flies and dropped pinkeye on their farm to a couple of treated cases.

It’s a real-life situation that makes me believe that adding garlic to cow mineral is a good idea. Yet, I never want to lose sight of the fact that the main goal of a well-balanced spring mineral is to promote mineral and vitamin status of cows getting ready for a good breeding season. It might be cow mineral that came off the shelf or be a breeder mineral with garlic. Just as long as it helps cows get rebred.

About the author


Peter Vitti is an independent livestock nutritionist and consultant based in Winnipeg. To reach him call 204-254-7497 or by email at [email protected]



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