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Shop Around For Minerals


Experience and balanced budgets largely determine the type of overwintering beef cow mineral that is purchased by producers, now and for the next six months until spring calving. Despite their final choice, the main ingredient in designing any successful overwintering mineral program for gestating beef cows is one that never overlooks their minerals and vitamin needs.

Consequently, it’s becoming ever more popular among many beef producers to split the winter into two parts of three months each by feeding a more economical cattle mineral at first to their gestating beef cows, followed by a more fortified “breeder mineral” during the last few months before calving. Their intention is to manage their cows’ mineral (and vitamin) needs, which are relatively low throughout the winter, but are prepared to closely match them as these requirements dramatically rise during the cows’ last trimester of pregnancy.

Then again, some producers feed such a nutritious breeder mineral all winter long, saying that the cost difference between a basic gestation and such a pre-calving mineral calculates to a $2.70 per head premium for the first half of the winter, yet it is worth the buildup of good mineral status for the entire gestating herd until the calving season. Besides, they often express that it simply more convenient to purchase and stock only one mineral all winter long.

How should most people determine the overwintering mineral-vitamins needs of the beef herd in the first place in order to shop for the “right” mineral?

The quick answer comes in three short answers: (1) we determine their cow herd’s stage of gestation, (2) we should get an idea of the cows’ current mineral status and (3) we take inventory of the available forages, grains and water being fed to the beef herd. From this information, we can determine what kind of mineral(s) that we might decide to purchase at our local feed store.

For demonstration purposes, let us design a commercial beef cow mineral program based on these three parameters for a typical 200- to 300-beef cow operation (with replacement heifers).

We will assume that our beef cowherd is coming home from decent summer-fall pasture and have already consumed a well-balanced spring-summer commercial mineral since this year’s calving season. Therefore, they should be in good general health and body condition and should be in early to mid-gestation with next year’s calf. We ought to plan to feed them at least fair-quality grass-mixed hay throughout the winter and provide supplemental grain during the coldest months. Lastly, there should be an adequate supply of clean water with no apparent contamination.

Because we assume our cow herd was on raised on a decent feeding program including a good commercial mineral program, we would think that it would have adequate mineral status for all the essential macro-, trace-minerals and required vitamins required by beef cattle.

Since our demonstration cowherd is judged to have adequate mineral status, we foresee no special or addition mineral consequences, other than to plan a straightforward overwintering mineral program. Consequently, we might consider using a split-winter mineral-vitamin approach. As mentioned above, we might design a standard mineral to be fed for 90 days or until the end of the year, followed by a breeder-type mineral with higher levels of macro-, trace minerals and vitamins until the start of the calving season (re: a virtual target of March 30, 2011).

Moving forward, the foundation of our standard mineral should first balance the macro-minerals or calcium and phosphorus levels analyzed in forages that will be fed to our example cowherd.

For instance, if an average beef cow requires about 25 grams of calcium and 18 grams of phosphorus per day, a grass mixture (re: 0.40 per cent Ca and 0.12 per cent P) fed at about 11 kg per head per day might be complemented with a standard cattle mineral provided at 60-70 g/ head/day that supplies a nominal level of calcium (requirement is already met by forage), but formulated with at least six to seven per cent phosphorus. As these cows approach calving, this phosphorus level should be elevated to eight to 12 per cent in the breeder mineral, since the pre-calving and post-calving cows’ phosphorus requirement increases by at least 25 to 50 per cent.

Next, a good palate of trace minerals should be supplied at recommended levels for gestating beef cows on a complete feed basis (i. e.: copper –10 ppm, zinc –30 ppm, manganese –40 ppm, cobalt –0.1 ppm, iodine –0.5 ppm and selenium –0.3 ppm). The effectiveness of such trace mineral supplementation is not only based on their concentration in the overall diet, but their biological availability. Once they reach every cow’s digestive tract, the source of trace minerals should have a good absorption rate and once inside the cows’ tissues should be adequately retained and thus effectively utilized.

Aside from the macro-and trace-minerals levels from biologically available sources, we should never overlook the need to supplement essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E in both our standard gestation and pre-calving minerals. About 100,000 IU of vitamin A, 5,000-10,000 IU of vitamin D and 50-200 IU of vitamin E are often supplied to each beef cow each day of the winter season.

So “How much is this cattle winter-mineral going to cost me?” most people ask.

The universal answer to this unavoidable question is: the current price of commercial “middle-of-the road” cattle mineral (no salt) fed loose at 3.5 oz or 100 g per head per day is cost about 10-11 cents per head per day (re: salt provided extra). The switch to a breeder mineral with higher macro-, trace-mineral levels (from chelates) and vitamins for the second part of the winter should cost about 13-14 cents per head per day.

Therefore, the cost difference between the former standard mineral and the latter breeder mineral is about three cents per head per day. As mentioned, many people choose to feed a breeder mineral throughout the whole winter and given that they are spending an extra three cents for 90 days compared to a split-mineral program, their cost of feeding their cattle is as cited; an extra $2.70 per head during entire first half of overwinter feeding period.

PeterVittiisanindependentlivestocknutritionist andconsultantbasedinWinnipeg.Toreachhim call204-254-7497orbyemailat [email protected]

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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