Supplementing diets with mineral feed is an important management practice for cattle producers.
Cory Hynes is a salesman for NutraAg, LLC, a feed supplier located at Versailles, Missouri. He says demand for mineral has been strong, although the supply side has had some ongoing challenges.
“Supply wise, there’s still issues,” he says.
Hynes says feed manufacturers have had issues getting enough raw materials to make the products.
“They’ve had issues getting salt, lime, amino acids,” he says.
For now, feed suppliers are working through the availability issues as best they can, Hynes says.
“It’s just kind of a wait and get through it thing,” he says.
The situation requires more planning ahead, although Hynes says these preparations have helped them continue to meet customer needs.
“What used to take a week could take two or three weeks,” he says.
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Hynes says strict COVID lockdowns in China and port closures have affected the global supply and the flow of mineral ingredients, and domestically, high fuel costs and labor shortages have impacted the supply as well. This has also affected the feed costs.
“The price of everything’s going way up,” he says.
Demand for mineral feed has remained robust among producers, he said.
Proper mineral and vitamin intakes are important to help keep functional cattle at their best, University of Nebraska Extension beef specialist Mary Drewnoski says.
“Minerals are key for a lot of processes in the body,” she says.
Kacie McCarthy, beef cow-calf specialist for the University of Nebraska Extension, says minerals and vitamins assisted with a number of functions, including the nervous system, growth and reproduction.
“They’re pretty essential for a majority of different functions within the body,” she says.
Minerals are divided into macro minerals such as calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, and micro, or trace, minerals such as copper and zinc.
Drewnoski recently authored a mineral feeding guide for the university, “Formulation Considerations for Mineral and Vitamin Supplements for Beef Cows.” She says magnesium is not typically deficient, but certain factors can interfere with its absorption and requirement supplementation, such as when diets are high in alfalfa or 50% distillers grains.
For calcium, the ratio to phosphorus is important. Drewnoski says if phosphorus exceeds calcium, it can cause “water belly” and other health issues.
“We try to keep the calcium and phosphorus for cows at one-to-one at a minimum,” she says. “For steers, it’s two to one.”
The need to supplement minerals can change depending on where cows are in their production cycle and the condition of pastures, with lower-quality forage being more likely to need help.
“As the forage matures, the likelihood that you’re going to have to feed mineral increases,” Drewnoski says.
When cows are lactating, they have increased energy needs, McCarthy says.
“Supplementing with a magnesium product is probably going to be important,” she says.
McCarthy says magnesium mineral mixes can be a little bitter, but adding in distillers or molasses will help with feed intake.
Drewnoski says if mineral levels aren’t right, it can cause herd health issues, with low immunity and sickness in calves usually being the first warning sign.
McCarthy says producers can work with local Extension specialists on mineral plans if needed, and testing can help show what forage might be lacking.
Producers can protect their bottom line by targeting the right amount of mineral feed consumption and avoiding overconsumption.
“The big thing for cost-effectiveness is managing the free choice mineral intake,” Drewnoski says.
Salt can help producers avoid cattle over-consuming minerals, she says. Cattle enjoy the salt in mineral, but if producers add salt, cattle will hit their salt requirement sooner and stop eating sooner.
In addition to salt, McCarthy says the placement of mineral feeders can also impact intake. If they are close to a water source or a loafing area for cows, it will increase intake.
Checking feeders, especially during rainy spring months, is another good idea.
“It’s important to check those feeders, that they don’t get watered down,” McCarthy says.
Vitamin A is a common supplementation need, but more so at certain times of the year, as it is not usually deficient in fresh green grass.
“Vitamin A is a really good idea in the winter,” but it’s not needed if they’re on greener grass, Drewnoski says.
As with mineral, vitamin deficiencies will likely first show up in calf health, McCarthy says.