Proper understanding of mineral supplementation can prove pivotal to herd health.

Laurentia van Rensburg, a technical mineral supplementation specialist and guest speaker for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s “Cattlemen’s College,” advised farmers on how to evaluate and compare different mineral products to find the right choice for your operation.

Van Rensburg, who completed her graduate work in animal sciences at the University of Kentucky, said that unfortunately, mineral supplementation is commonly reduced or eliminated from a herd’s nutrition plan.

“The problem with mineral supplementation,” she said, “is often that this is the first place ranchers look to cut or eliminate costs. But this needs to be weighed against the long-term impact on your herd’s health and profitability.”

She added that trace minerals are essential nutrients that are required on a daily basis and are a part of many metabolic and physiological processes directly tied to overall health.

“We know that cattle on average require anywhere between 17 to 22 different minerals. And while minerals are present in lower proportions than other nutrients, such as protein and fat, they do perform vital functions,” she said.

Van Rensburg outlined a number of those functions, along with the minerals that support them:

  • Structural – The composition of organs, body tissues and the skeleton are supported by calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P) and magnesium (Mg).
  • Physiological – Constituents of body tissues and fluids responsible for maintaining osmotic pressure, acid base balance and membrane permeability require sodium (Na), potassium (K), chlorine (Cl), Ca and Mg.
  • Catalytic – Kick-starters of enzymatic and hormonal systems, performed primarily by trace minerals. For example, regulation of lipid metabolism and synthesis requires copper (Cu), and zinc (Zn) is needed for spermatogenesis.
  • Regulatory – Ca promotes replication, regulation and cell differentiation.
  • Immunological – Studies have shown that Cu, manganese (Mn) and selenium (Se) assist in a heightened immune response, particularly in calves.

There are a number of mineral supplementation strategies available to herd owners. These can generally be classified under the following approaches:

  • Feeding – If the animal is fed a complete diet, in-food mineral supplementation via concentrate or premixes is usually the easiest and most inexpensive option. If it’s on a concentrate and forage-type diet with the concentrate fed to yield, it’s worth considering macrominerals in the “fed to yield” component and trace elements in the forage component. This ensures the macrominerals meet the yield while controlling intakes of trace elements and preventing oversupply in the higher producing animals.
  • Water – This method should only be used when the drinking resource can be controlled. This often requires fencing off streams and springs and should also include a dosing system to ensure a consistent content in the water.
  • Direct-to-animal – This can include drenches, boluses, injections and some forms of topical applications. The effectiveness and best route of these approaches depend on the element at risk and the system itself.
  • Boluses – These provide a long-term sustained release of mineral supplementation across the bolus’s stated lifespan. They are usually intended to meet the full required mineral intake as opposed to merely filling in possible mineral intake gaps. Due to this, oversupply and potential toxicity are a concern when using this method.
  • Drenches – Drenches are often very short-acting, providing a short-term response that can be useful as a starter dose for mineral supplementation.
  • Injections & Topical Applications – Injections are only available for a few elements, notably B12. Topical application is common for delivering iodine supplements.
  • Free Access – This approach to mineral supplementation includes mineral blocks, feeding buckets and molasses licks. When using this approach, farmers should note that intakes for these devices are variable between animals.
  • Field treatment – There are numerous pasture fertilizers and field treatment options for mineral supplementation. It’s important to remember that many plants do not absorb a number of the trace minerals, and therefore can be washed away if they are not consumed in a timely manner.

by Enrico Villamaino