Like us, cattle get the protein and nutrients they need from their feed and forage. Many times throughout the year, feed and forage just aren’t enough to get proper cattle nutrition. Mineral and protein supplements are like multivitamins for cows. Both beef and dairy cattle need mineral supplements throughout the year. Find out when you should supplement minerals, like magnesium and phosphorus, and the benefits of adding a supplement to your herd’s diet.
Minerals Your Cattle Need
- Salt (sodium chloride)
- Trace Mineral
Mineral supplements usually come in two forms, in a mineral block that the animals lick or loose minerals that can be added to feed or in a separate mineral feeder.
Supplement Seasons: When to Use Each Supplement
Some minerals might need to be supplemented each year because the mineral is lacking in your cattle’s natural forage and feed. Other supplements should be used to maintain health and may need to be used in certain circumstances.
I’ll go over some of the most common minerals your cattle could be lacking. If you want any more details, let me know in the comment section at the bottom of the page.
One more thing before I go through these, I do not claim to be an animal health professional. If you’re seeing any abnormalities in your cattle’s health, contact your veterinarian.
Most forages are low in phosphorus in late Summer and Fall. Phosphorus-deficiency is most common during the Winter and early Spring after cattle have been fed stored forages for winter. Some feeds have high phosphorus concentrations as well, so consider that when searching for a mineral supplement for your cattle.
When cows switch from indoor feeding to grazing on lush Spring grasses or small grain pastures, magnesium deficiency can be a real problem. Grass Tetany, a metabolic disease that can occur in beef and dairy cattle, is primarily caused by magnesium deficiency. Adding a Hi-Mag supplement, like NutreBeef Hi-Mag, during late Winter and early Spring is a good idea for both beef and dairy cattle.
Cows will consume about one ounce of salt per day. Most mineral mixes include salt to avoid overeating, so be sure to check the contents when buying mineral supplements. Salt provides for proper nervous and muscular system function. If cattle in your herd show loss of appetite or body condition loss, they may be salt deficient.
99% of a cow’s total body calcium is stored in its bones. Long-term calcium deficiency can cause bones to weaken and even break. During lactation, low calcium will reduce milk production. A heavy-milking cow requires two times more calcium than a non-lactating cow. Calcium and Phosphorus are required in the greatest amounts for cattle. The optimum calcium to phosphorus ratio is about 1.5:1.
Reduced fertility, increased postpartum interval, delayed puberty in heifers, and depressed immunity could all be signs of a copper deficiency in cattle. Copper deficiency is often seen in late Winter or Spring on rapidly growing grassy pastures.
Zinc is a very important mineral for cattle. It helps with immunity, skin, and hoof health, and male reproduction. Your cows can only store a limited amount, making zinc supplementation extremely important. Zinc and Copper absorption work hand in hand. The Zinc to Copper ratio should be kept at approximately 3:1.
A deficiency of Selenium causes white muscle disease (like muscular dystrophy) in newborn calves. It can also cause calves to be weak at birth and makes them more susceptible to diseases, like scours. It should only be fed in a complete mineral, as it can be very toxic. Just be sure your mineral supplements contain adequate amounts of Selenium to avoid any trouble.
Summer is the best time to provide protein supplements. Cool-season grasses are too low in protein to keep up with foraging cattle. July and August are probably the most critical months. Signs of protein deficiency include lowered appetite, weight loss, poor growth, depressed reproductive performance, and reduced milk production.
The most cost-effective way to hold loose mineral is in a mineral feeder. They’re heavy-duty containers that keep the mineral out of the bad weather while allowing full access to your cattle.
Ground feeders & wind vane mineral feeders are two of the most common designs. If you prefer one to another, let me know in the comment section.
This Tarter Small Bull Mineral Feeder is a very common design of ground feeder. It has 3 compartments and is made of heavy-duty material. There are anchoring holes so you can stake it into the ground and avoid spilling.
In these feeders, cattle lift the lid with their heads and munch on some minerals. Once they’ve had their fill, they back up and the lid simply falls back into place. The material is strong enough to withstand animals and the elements but light enough to move to any location.
Wind Vane Minerals stand off the ground. As you can see from the image of the Tarter Mineral Feeder, these feeders have a covering that rotates with the wind. This feature keeps your mineral from being ruined by the weather. Plus, the wide base prevents tipping.
Keep Those Cows Happy!
Happy cows mean a happy farm!
If you raise cattle, how many do you have? What supplements do you use? Let me know in the comment section below!
For more articles on livestock, visit our Livestock Category. You’ll find more great reads there!