Digging out lots of uneaten rock hard cattle mineral from a feeder, throwing it away, and putting out more loose mineral is a wasteful and expensive practice. Fortunately, most mineral waste is easy to stop, and those saved dollars can be used, somewhere else on the farm.
Barring any mineral waste for the moment, just consider how much it costs to feed a 350-head operation their daily allotment of minerals for an entire over-winter period of six months (November 1 –May 1). Although, natural feedintake by beef cows is based on many factors, there is one sound target for feeding mineral to beef cows.
The rule: Each beef cow should consume one-half 25-kg bag of cattle mineral per winter.
Based upon this rule, a person feeding 350 beef cows should purchase about 175 bags of mineral over the course of the winter. On average, about one 25-kg of commercial cow mineral will be consumed by this herd, each day. Since it costs about $35 per bag for a well-formulated cow mineral containing most of the supplemental macro-and trace-minerals (plus vitamins), the total winter feeding bill should be $6,125.
Hypothetically, if as little as 15 percent of this purchase is wasted in one form or another, it would cost this operation, nearly $1,000 more to over-winter beef cows.
There are three major areas of mineral waste that can afflict any operation and all points are preventable:
1. Over-or under-feeding mineral to the beef herd.
2. Feeding a cattle mineral formulation in which its mineral levels exceed the nutrient requirements of the cows, or contain costly ingredients without a clear justifiable purpose.
3. Relying on improper or broken-down mineral feeding stations.
On the first point, many people fill and re-fill mineral feeders without realizing how much mineral, the cows actually consume. By under-feeding mineral, the cows may not be meeting their essential mineral (and vitamin) requirements, and by over-feeding it, while may not be life-threatening, it is waste.
The recommended intake of most commercial beef mineral is 50 –100 grams (two to four ounces) per head per day. A person could also follow the above simple “bag rule” for cattle mineral feeding, because it works out to about 70 g/hd/d!
For producers, who wish to keep tract of the exact amount of mineral that their cattle consume on a daily basis, and adjust it within these given guidelines; the calculation to determine cattle mineral intake is a straightforward procedure: 1. count how many cows and estimate how much total mineral is to be fed to them; 2. fill each mineral feeder with one bag of mineral; 3. come back a few days later; 4. estimate the amount left in each feeder, and 5. do the following calculations.
(7 feeders (for 350 cows) x 25 kg mineral) –(about 1/3 of the mineral leftover) = 117 kg
117 kg/350 cows/3 days = 111 g per head per day.
4 ounces (divide grams by 28) per head per day.
At the beginning of the winter season, this mineral consumption by beef cows might be higher than the normally listed on the mineral feed label. However, as feed quality on pasture (re: swath or chaff) decreases or cows are switched to more hay-based diets, free-choice mineral feeding tends to adjust itself. Some producers mix salt with their purchased mineral, in order to either increase or decrease cow mineral intake. It is common to mix 1/3 salt with 2/3 mineral, and feed it, accordingly.
It is also recommended that mineral feeders should be located where cattle will make frequent visits. Moving mineral stations closer to water sources generally increases mineral intake by cows, while moving feeders farther back from the water will often decrease mineral intake. It is always a good idea to have enough mineral feeders for the whole herd; one standard recommendation is one feeding station for every 30 to 50 cows.
Lastly, mineral feeders should be checked often; some beef specialists suggest producers visit them every 3 to 4 days, while others say a weekly trip is fine. It seems that the more visits made to a mineral feeding site by producers, the better the chances of achieving optimum mineral intake and less mineral wastage by cattle. For example, cattle tend not to eat leftover hardened mineral or may over eat fresh mineral, when feeders have and are fully stocked, once again.
The second area of mineral wastage is feeding an over-formulated cattle mineral to beef cows. This reason is similar to over-consumption of mineral by cows with the exception that the cows should be eating the correct amount of mineral. Over-formulation of specific macro-and trace-minerals is often based upon erred opinion or usually is a matter of choosing an inappropriate mineral for the beef cows that does not tightly compliment the nutrient content of the forages being fed to the beef cows. Sometimes it encompasses both issues.
Case-in-point is promoting phosphorus (P) as the “breeding mineral.” Granted, it is well accepted that phosphorus is important during a cow’s pregnancy for a successful calving season and for future re-breeding. However, years of research has never quite demonstrated that phosphorus fed in excess of a cow’s NRC (National Research Council) requirement is advantageous to health and reproductive performance.
In most beef diets, additional phosphorus goes unnoticed, but such excess P adds several hundreds of dollars to the cost of a tonne of cattle mineral, because dicalcium phosphorus is one of the most expensive ingredients in commercial cattle minerals. Producers are best to choose only well-balanced cattle minerals (including phosphorus) that best match all their cows’ mineral needs.
Preferably, their optimum cattle mineral choice is fed at its recommended level in a suitable mineral feeder.
A good mineral feeder that is easily accessible to all cows, but protects its precious contents from the effects of water, wind, and sun-