Timing is important when trying to provide the best mineral program for your cow herd and do it in the most economical manner.
After all, when spring calves are weaned in autumn, the cows pregnant with next year’s calf have relatively low mineral and vitamin requirements. As winter sets in, it doesn’t take long for their unborn calves to develop rapidly and by the last trimester of pregnancy, the once-modest mineral demands of the cows are challenging to achieve. Therefore, the “best” overwinter mineral program for them is one that closely supplements their respective requirements at any particular stage of gestation. Good mineral feeding management and knowing how much mineral to provide them, are also part of a cost-effective mineral feed bill.
“How much is cattle winter-mineral going to cost me?” is the first question many people (including this author) ask, before looking into a good mineral feeding program for their beef cows. The short answer to this universal question is: the current price of commercial “middle-of-the road” cattle mineral fed at 3.5 oz or 100 g per head per day for the entire overwinter gestation season should cost about 11 to 12 cents per head per day.
The biggest concern with buying and feeding such broad-based cattle mineral is that it may follow a “hit or miss” mineral program with the cows’ mineral (and vitamin) requirements. It tends to exceed (miss) the true mineral requirements for the cows during early gestation, match the nutrient requirements during mid-gestation (hit) and could fall short (miss) during the last 60 to 100 days of gestation, when respective mineral demands of the cows should be provided with a premium “breeder mineral.”
Let’s examine the value of feeding a sound three-tiered overwinter mineral program that closely meets the mineral (and vitamin) requirements of each stage of gestation (early, mid, and late) by feeding three well-balanced cattle minerals. We will calculate the financial results of this plan and compare it to the above one-mineral feeding program. Our comparison starts on November 1 after all spring calves are weaned, runs for 180 days and ends on May 1, which is the start of the calving season.
Four pieces of information necessary to conduct a fair comparison are:
Three-tier mineral prices: early gestation mineral = $20 per 25-kg bag, Mid-gestation mineral = $30 per 25-kg bag, Late-gestation mineral = $40 per 25-kg bag. Each respective matched mineral is fed for 60 days on a consecutive basis.
Standard or broad-based mineral’s formula is identical to the three-tier mid-gestation mineral = $30 per 25-kg, and is fed for the entire 180-day trial.
All minerals are fed at 100 grams per head per day.
Equation to determine daily mineral feeding costs: # days x bag cost/kg x feeding rate (180 days x $30/25 kg x 0.100/day).
The economic results of this trial show that the cost of the three-tier feeding program costs $21.60 per cow compared to the one-standard mineral program, which costs $21.60 per cow!
It’s only a matter of coincidence that the overwinter costs of both mineral programs are identical. Although, actual purchase prices for commercial mineral were used in this exercise, one can easily plug in their own mineral price quotes. Regardless of most commercial prices entered, the variation between these two programs should not deviate by more than a couple of dollars per cow for the entire winter season. From our exercise, one might conclude that a more well-defined mineral program does not necessarily mean it’s going to be more expensive than a standard mineral program fed to the cows, all winter long.
Some producers might not want to feed all three minerals, and as a matter of convenience start to feed the standard $30 mineral for much of the winter and then switch to a $40 breeder mineral for the last 30 to 60 days of gestation. The cost of this more flexible program calculates out to $22.80 to $24.00 per cow for the winter. The nominal extra cost of $1.20 -$2.40 per cow for the entire winter is advantageous in two ways: (1) it allows the purchase of only two minerals and (2) assures a buildup of good mineral status for the entire gestation period and for the upcoming calving season.
A sound winter mineral program not only builds good mineral status in each beef cow, but also in each unborn calf. The developing calf fetus is totally dependent upon the availability of most essential minerals travelling through the placenta from its mothers’ blood. Subsequently, the fetus has a natural ability to concentrate certain trace minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, manganese, and selenium. It’s an instinctive means of post-calving survival, since colostrum and milk are such poor sources of these micro-minerals. Case in point: selenium status in fetal and newborn calf is only a reflection of the selenium status of its mother during gestation; white muscle disease in newborn calves is cited as the direct result of a selenium deficiency in freshened beef cows.
Technically, most cow and calf mineral deficiencies are large preventable as long as a well-balanced nutritious mineral is provided to the beef herd in the sufficient quantities and they will consume it. The general recommendation to meet these nutrient requirements is to feed commercial cattle mineral so that each cow should be consuming between 56 to 112 grams (re: two to four ounces) of salt-free mineral per day. If salt makes up at least 25 percent of this mineral, one should adjust suggested mineral intakes, accordingly.
Without using a calculator, another good mineral consumption rule of thumb is that each beef cow should consume one-half 25-kg bag of cattle mineral for a six-month (November 1 to May 1) winter. That means a producer that owns 200 beef cows should purchase about 100 bags of commercial cattle mineral by next years’ calving season, regardless of what type of cattle mineral program that is chosen.
It’s also a good idea to make sure that all mineral feeders are full of new beef mineral. Mineral feeders should never be allowed to go empty and cattle tend to avoid eating cattle mineral turned rock hard. Therefore, mineral feeders should be checked every three to four days and each filled with their favourite cattle mineral.
Cattle mineral put out on a routine basis into mineral feeders can easily help achieve the respective mineral and vitamin requirements of many pregnant beef cows during the winter. In most situations, it’s a cost-effective exercise to implement a well-balanced mineral feeding program that closely matches their increasing mineral demands as the fetus grows inside each cow. The profitable value of such timely mineral programs can be measured with a healthy freshened cow and her newborn calf born in the spring.
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]