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Don’t underestimate the value of a good mineral program

Autumn is a great time to assess your cow herd’s mineral program and choose a good beef cow mineral that best fits your operation.

Beef producers should buy good-quality commercial cattle mineral containing balanced levels of essential minerals and vitamins. Some of these essential trace minerals such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium are actually required in higher amounts during gestation compared to the cow’s immediate days after calving. When consumed in proper amounts, they promote good gestation health for the next several months and up to the calving season.

Unseen by our naked eye, microscopic amounts (re: milligrams) of copper, zinc, manganese and selenium act as “on” switches” in specialized proteins (enzymes), which in turn are activated antioxidants; destroying dangerous “free radicals” produced during a normal immune response against disease. Without sufficient levels of these essential trace minerals in the cow’s body to activate these protective enzymes, free radical compounds would be simply allowed to multiple. As a result, they oxide and destroy vital immune cells and thus may compromise the entire cows’ immune system.


These same trace minerals important during a cow’s pregnancy are also circulated through her placenta and help develop the fetus/calf’s protective immune system as well as contribute to antibody-enriched colostrum production.

For example, a recent study performed at the University of Liege in Belgium fed 0.5 mg/kg selenium (via selenium yeast) to Belgian Blue cows. It was found that these cows gave their superior selenium status to their unborn calves through the placenta and this transfer continued once the calves were born by consuming higher selenium in the colostrum and later milk. These cow-calf pairs were judged by the researchers to be the healthiest animals of the experiment.

Another reason we want to build up immunity in gestating cows with a good mineral program is to improve the effectiveness of post-calving cow vaccination programs. It is well established that many cattle fail to acquire good “vaccination take” (increase antibody titers); not because there is something wrong with vaccine, but because beef cows are marginally or severely deficient in certain trace minerals that are essential for a strong immune response. Furthermore, no vaccine seems to be effective without good trace mineral status in fledging new beef calves as they convert from a passive to permanent immune system.

Fortunately, a good cattle mineral program in pregnant cows can be chosen and fed for the next six months with relative ease. It’s a matter of feeding a well-balanced commercial cattle mineral along that complements the macro-minerals of provided forages as well as meets all their respective trace-mineral and vitamin requirements.


Consider six parameters of a good cattle mineral taken from the guaranteed analysis and feeding directions of a common feed label:

1. Complementary macro-minerals to your forages. Calcium and phosphorus are listed as percentages and usually formulated in either a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio. For example: a fall/overwintering cattle mineral might contain at least nine to 12 per cent P to complement inadequate P level found in mature forages and stubble pastures.

2. Good trace mineral levels. A good cow mineral should contain levels of copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt, iodine and selenium that at least meet the cow’s NRC requirements to prevent a basic or “primary deficiency.” Some minerals are fortified with extra trace mineral such as copper to correct “secondary” mineral deficiencies caused by dietary factors that bind up it up and makes much of it biologically unavailable to the cow.

3. Trace minerals of greater bioavailablity. Some research suggests cattle fed “organic or chelated” trace minerals (i.e. — mineral proteinates) respond more favourably to disease challenges or stressful conditions due to assured good trace mineral status/strong immune system. This class of specialized trace minerals offer advantages of superior absorption, retention and metabolism in the cow’s body compared to respective inorganic trace minerals.

4. Adequate A, D and E levels. Vitamin A and D are often included to meet each animal’s respective requirements. In particular, Vitamin A is involved in the immune response against pathogens, where it is required for the production of white blood cells to fight disease. Vitamin E plays an antioxidant role in animal cells, which is also associated with a strong immune system.

5. Feeding directions. The general recommendation to meet mineral and vitamin requirements of gestation beef cow is to feed commercial cattle mineral so that each cow should be consuming between 56 to 112 grams (two to four ounces) of salt-free mineral per day. If salt makes up at least 25 per cent of this mineral, one should adjust suggested mineral intakes, accordingly.

6. Purchase price of the cow mineral.There are several features of a commercial cow mineral, which determine its cost. A standard cow mineral costs about $25 to $30 per 25-kg bag and a special fortified cow mineral (i.e. organic trace mineral) may cost up to $45 per 25-kg.

In most fall situations, it’s a cost-effective exercise to implement a well-balanced mineral feeding program for gestation beef cows that closely matches their increasing mineral demands as the fetus grows inside each cow. As well as these minerals helps building immunity against disease. The profitable value of a timely mineral program ultimately is measured with a healthy freshened cow and healthy newborn calf. †

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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