At this time of year, many people are looking for a good spring cattle mineral that will fit into their immediate post-calving feeding plans and can be fed well into the breeding season.
Buying the right cattle mineral is a matter of finding one that meets the cows’ essential macro-and trace-minerals as well as vitamins A, D, and E requirements. Such nutrient needs not only play a critical role in maintaining basic body functions of the whole cowherd, but supports high milk production for their calves, maintains a healthy immune system and promotes several reproductive activities, so the cows can get pregnant with next year’s calf. The key in purchasing the best cattle mineral for your operation is do a little homework by assessing your own cows’ nutrient needs and then purchase a cattle mineral that is a close match and at a good price.
Good homework starts with investigation of solid cow nutrition. It should be anticipated that mineral and vitamin requirements of spring nursing cows that are getting ready for the breeding season tend to soar. Their calcium needs increase by nearly 100 per cent, while phosphorus and trace mineral demands grow by 50 to 60 per cent, and finally the need for fat-soluble vitamins, more than doubles. Subsequently, one should keep in mind that matching such elevated mineral and vitamin nutrition of post-calving beef cows with higher formulated cattle minerals may cost more than one purchased back in the fall (re: given constant ingredient prices), when the cows were in early gestation and their respective nutrient needs were relatively low.
Regardless of what type of mineral that anyone’s cattle actually needs, it still is quite common for many people that are buying cattle mineral to prematurely ask “How much is this mineral going to cost me?” Cow-calf producers should avoid shopping for cattle mineral simply based on the beef mineral’s price. Although, it’s a hard reminder for everyone (including those people that purchase the best of the best cattle mineral, no matter what it costs), the best recommendation for shopping for cattle mineral is to look for nutritional value, which means; choose a reasonable priced mineral that match your cows’ mineral needs.
The inherit cost of most reputable commercial beef mineral for calved out spring cows is usually a reflection of its feed label guaranteed analysis, and therefore is governed by its most expensive nutrients/ingredients. In an off-the shelf beef cow mineral, its most expensive nutrient is phosphorus, followed by its vitamin A-D-E levels, and lastly by its bio-available sources of trace minerals. At the other end of the nutrient/ingredient price spectrum; salt (NaCl) and limestone (re: calcium carbonate) tend to be the cheapest ingredients thus beef mineral products with high levels of one or both are usually comparatively inexpensive.
Case-in-point: dietary phosphorus is added to beef mineral formulations as dicalcium phosphorus (21 per cent P) and currently costs about $700 -750/mt. Given, that a 14:14 beef mineral contains about 100 kg more dicalcium phosphorus compared to a 12:12 beef mineral, we can estimate the expected cost of this higher P-mineral formula to be (adjusted for ingredient substitutions) about $1.50 -$2 per 25-kg bag more than the lower P-mineral. In the same light, a “12 per cent Ca: 12 per cent P” beef mineral formulated with a standard trace mineral and vitamin pack might retail for about $30 -$35 per 25-kg bag, but by comparison; a fortified 14:14 beef breeder mineral that also contains significantly higher levels of more bio-available trace-minerals in “chelated” form” and a good dose of vitamin E (a very costly vitamin) can cost a producer up to $50 per 25-kg bag.
We should also keep in mind that a $35 bag of our standard beef mineral fed at 70g/cow/day costs about 10 cents to feed per cow per day, and a $50 bag of breeder mineral costs about 14 cents to feed per cow per day. Given that we might choose to feed a breeder mineral over a standard one for a post-calving period of 80 days until the start of the breeding season; the extra feed cost would be about $3.20 for each cow. It seems to be a small price to invest in order to improve the overall reproductive performance of the entire herd, when their individual mineral and vitamin requirements are at their highest levels of the year.
Such highly nutritious and other mineral products available for beef cows during springtime and beyond are manufactured from formulas that are based on cattle mineral and vitamin requirements that vary with animal age, reproductive status, health status and even soil and environmental conditions. Ruminant nutritionists design these formulas using some basic mineral and vitamin recommendations for beef cattle as outlined by the National Research Council (NRC), and often go one step further by adding an “insurance factor” in the attempt of covering a broader base of feeding situations.
The central objective of most beef minerals that are purchased at the feed store is to prevent marginal to several mineral deficiencies found in many cow diets. This avoidable event could be a “primary” mineral deficiency in cattle caused by not feeding enough a particular macro-or trace mineral, which is simply lacking in the feedstuffs of the animals’ entire diet. For example, a simple copper deficiency in beef cows caused by a very low concentration of copper found in their hay or pasture.
A mineral deficiency could also be a “secondary mineral deficiency” caused by antagonistic dietary factors that might naturally occur in cattle feeds or be dissolved in their water, which binds up essential minerals and make them biologically unavailable to the cattle. A good example of this situation is molybdenum found in many soils/ forages, which binds dietary copper and forms an unabsorbed complex in the cow’s gut and is excreted.
Therefore, it is common for producers to find many commercial beef mineral programs are built around these goals with a series of individual products that will take care of many general or specific cattle mineral needs. To avoid confusion, they can develop their own mineral program and thus choose beef mineral that suits their cattle. A good action plan that might be followed, when choosing a good spring cow mineral is as follows:
Assess the needs of your own beef cows. If they calved out without many problems, are nursing their calves well, retain good body condition after calving, return to heat cycles, quickly and have good general health status; maybe a standard mineral package is all that is needed until the breeding season.
Take a look at your forages (including pasture) that is presently and will be fed for the upcoming season. It should narrow down the type of beef mineral that will be chosen to compliment the macro-minerals like calcium and phosphorus, already supplied to a reasonable extent by the forages. Determining whether a 2:1 or 1:1 (calcium to phosphorus) mineral tends to be one of the first parameter to determine which mineral formula to select for your cattle.
A trace mineral analysis of forages or regional assessment of soil/forages might require more custom mineral formulations. For example, forages harvested or grazed from areas noted for high molybdenum soils or high sulphur water that binds dietary copper might warrant a beef mineral with higher copper level or more biologically available copper chelates.
Change beef mineral with needs of your beef operation. For example, you might segregate the cattle with hoof problems off to another pasture or pen. These animals might need a specialized mineral that uses chelated zinc to improve hoof strength.
It’s also always important to keep in mind that even these well laid-out plans that help producers choose a commercial beef mineral will eventually fail (re: mineral deficiencies, poor performance), if the cowherd does not consume enough mineral at their recommended levels.
Producers should put out enough mineral in weather-proof feeders or mix them into the animals’ ration, so each cow receives about 50 to 100 grams (re: about two to four oz.), on a daily basis. Under-or over-consumption can be a problem in both methods of feeding, but producers can take appropriate action to correct each respective problem (i. e.: add salt to loose mineral to decrease or improve consumption). Lastly, mineral feeders or ration troughs should be checked frequently to monitor feed intake and prevent expensive mineral and feed waste by cattle.
Spring beef cows that eat a well-balanced beef mineral that you took the time to investigate and buy for them should help meet all of their mineral and vitamin requirements. It could be standard cattle mineral that came off the shelf or one that is tailored-made. Ultimately, it is a beef cow mineral that returns your investment with a productive and thus profitable beef cow herd.
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]