Exposing Four Cattle Mineral Myths

Nutrition : Minerals

Kent Tjardes, Ph.D.

Field Cattle Consultant

“It’s too costly.” “My cows won’t eat it.” “We don’t need it where I live.”

These are just a few of the common objections to providing cattle with mineral supplementation. But are these objections fact, fiction or somewhere in between? Is a misconception holding your cattle back from unrealized potential?

Here are four common mineral misconceptions debunked:

Myth: Cattle mineral costs too much

We often focus on the cost of feeding a free-choice mineral supplement, but we should also figure out the cost of not feeding mineral. The impact on cattle performance can quickly stack up.
Four cattle mineral myths
Research shows that providing cattle with an organic trace mineral source can lead to cows that breed back sooner, have higher conception rate,1 have enhanced reproductive performance early in the breeding season,2 improved calf average daily gain2,3 and reduced disease incidence in calves.4

An investment in mineral is an investment in the performance of your herd. Trace minerals for cattle may be required in small amounts, but the effect they have on herd performance shows that the little things can add up to make a big impact.

Myth: My cows won’t eat mineral, or they eat too much mineral

On the other hand, overconsumption can occur when a mineral isn’t well-balanced. One example is a phosphorus imbalance. Because phosphorus is an expensive mineral ingredient, it’s common to see minerals with a lower phosphorus level. However, cows crave phosphorus and will overconsume it until they are satisfied.

A palatable, balanced mineral can help cattle consume at target intake levels. Finding the right mineral can take a small time investment, but one that’s worth it.

You can also control mineral consumption through management. If cattle are under-consuming, place mineral feeders or tubs closer to loafing areas and water sources. If cattle are overconsuming, move mineral sources further away from these areas.

Myth: My herd is too small or large to control intake

Small herds often mean smaller, confined pastures. In these situations, cattle may eat mineral out of boredom and could overconsume. It can be helpful to evaluate different mineral forms. For instance, you may look at using a cooked tub mineral instead of a loose mineral to help control intake.

Large herds often mean more spacious pastures. If pastures are too large and mineral sources are limited, cattle may not encounter mineral sources on a regular basis. It’s important to use the appropriate number of mineral feeders for the number of cattle. One feeder for every 20 to 30 head is ideal.

Myth: We don’t need mineral in our area

You might think you don’t need mineral because you have great grass quality, but remember grass quality can change drastically from month-to-month and year-to-year. As grass dries down, mineral levels can shift dramatically. Grass also becomes higher in lignin as it dries down, and mineral availability decreases.

Just because you don’t see any signs of mineral deficiency doesn’t mean it’s not there. Typically, trace mineral deficiencies don’t cause visible signs in cattle. However, unseen signs such as poor calf immunity, reduced weight gain, and lower reproductive efficiency can have a large impact on your herd’s productivity and profitability.

It’s also important to remember that a forage test showing you’re meeting basic mineral recommendations does not mean you’re meeting cattle mineral requirements. Recommendations and requirements are two different things – it’s important to meet requirements.

The right cattle mineral hits two birds with one stone

Providing a mineral supplement not only ensures you’re doing what’s best for your cattle, but it can also deliver added convenience benefits. USDA research has shown that 82 percent of cow/calf producers use fly control, but only 14.5 percent of those producers are taking advantage of a feed-through form.5
By using a mineral with fly control, you’re hitting two birds with one stone. It’s easy because you set out your mineral, your cattle consume it and you don’t have to gather cattle up to treat them for horn flies every month.

Other convenient mineral formulas are designed to address challenges associated with fescue forages and grass tetany. There are also formulas designed to cover any season.

If you’re not currently feeding a quality mineral, it’s time to reconsider. A closer evaluation may show surprising benefits left on the table.

Purina® Wind and Rain® Minerals are expertly-formulated and balanced to maximize trace mineral absorption, paying dividends through optimized herd performance. See the impact on your cattle with a 90-day mineral trial.

1 Zinpro Corporation, TB-B-5019, 2004.
2 Zinpro Corporation, TB-B-5012, 2004.
3 Zinpro Corporation, TB-B-5017, 2002.
4 Marques, R. S., R. F. Cooke, M. C. Rodrigues, B. I. Cappellozza, R. R. Mills, C. K. Larson, P. Moriel and D. W. Bohnert. 2016. Effects of organic or inorganic cobalt, copper, manganese, and zinc supplementation to late-gestating beef cows on productive and physiological responses of the offspring. J. Anim. Sci. 94:1215-1226
5 USDA. 2008. Beef 2007-08, Part I: Reference of Beef Cow-Calf Management Practices in the United States, 2007-08. USDA-APHIS-VS, CEAH. Fort Collins, CO. #N512-1008