Keep herds healthy using active mineral supplementation

Jan 30, 2009
by WLJ
Keep herds healthy using active mineral supplementation

Dave and Greg Danker learned early on that developing an efficient breeding program wasn’t going to be a snap. “Our early attempts at AI and estrus synchronization were pretty much a disaster,” Dave recalls. “Our conception rates were far below what we wanted them to be.” Part of the reason, he concedes, was a lack of experience with the techniques.

But the experience helped the two learn a lot about body condition and the need for adequate trace mineral levels in the herd. Today, the Danker brothers operate a 70-cow purebred Angus operation, Wakonda Farms, at Altenburg, MO, and they’ll tell you a critical part of their overall management plan is a good mineral program. They use a pasture mineral mix including calcium, phosphate, potassium, salt, magnesium and sulfur, and trace minerals (copper, zinc, selenium, manganese, cobalt, fluoride, iodine and iron). This mix is added to distillers grain at about a 1-to-1 ratio, improving palatability.

“Our goal is to get 6 to 8 ounces of consumption per cow per day,” Dave says. He puts out enough for three or four days at a time. When the brothers decide how much of a mineral mix the herd needs, they consider grazing and time of year. Cows here graze on fescue pastures interseeded with lespedeza and red and ladino clovers.

Available forages generally supply adequate calcium and phosphorus. But on hill-type soils on the eastern edge of the Ozarks, there is a tendency to be deficient in copper, zinc, selenium and manganese.

“Also, from late January through April, I increase the magnesium levels to head off grass tetany problems,” says Dave. He estimates mineral costs at 6.3 cents per cow per day—or $23 annually per cow. He considers that a worthwhile investment for a purebred cow worth $1,500 to $2,000.

The balanced nutrition and mineral program, along with heat synchronization, AI and early weaning (calves at 80 to 110 days) helped the Dankers reach a 93 percent calf crop born in a 30-day period.

With impressive results like that, shouldn’t everyone be on the program? No way, says K.C. Olson, a cow/calf nutrition and management specialist at Kansas State University. He explains that when it comes to minerals, there is no one-size-fits-all program. A blanket approach may even be excessively costly or toxic.

It’s true, minerals are critical for normal maintenance, growth and reproduction. But the requirements for individual animals vary by body size and physiological status, the mineral composition, and the amount and type of feeds cattle eat. One practical way to determine a herd’s mineral needs is by checking forage samples. Clip forage from areas where cattle have been grazing on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Submit the samples to a certified nutrition lab for analysis. Do this for two to three years.

“Each analysis may cost $25 to $35, so the annual investment could be $300 to $420,” Olson says. “But at the end of that time, you will have a database that thoroughly describes the variation in mineral concentration on forages those cattle are grazing.”

“To use this information profitably, customize mineral supplementation on a month-to-month basis,” he continues. “With this approach, mineral costs can be cheaper than with a onesize-fits-all program.”

When feeding minerals, remember cattle can build up reservoirs in fluids and tissues. And in times of need, they can draw upon this reserve. So instead of having minerals available all the time, feed at manufacturers’

Action authorized by Livestock Marketing Association’s (LMA) Executive Committee, including shouldering a major portion of the legal fees, has helped seven LMA member markets recover approximately $1.43 million from Agriprocessors, Inc., Postville, IA. The money is for livestock the markets sold to the firm, but weren’t paid for, before it filed a Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy petition last November. According to court documents, Agriprocessors was described as “one of the largest kosher meat and poultry recommended levels (usually 2 to 4 ounces per animal per day). If cattle consume a two-week supply of minerals in just a few days, do not supply additional mineral until the two weeks pass. Mineral toxicities are more common than deficiencies, adds Olson—especially when it comes to sulfur. Byproduct feedstuffs like corn gluten feed often have highsulfur content. Even water supplies in some areas can be high in sulfur.

At its worst, excessive sulfur can be toxic to ruminant animals; in less severe cases, it can reduce copper absorption.

Trace minerals such as copper, selenium, iron and zinc can also appear in some unexpected places—soybean hulls, wheat middlings, corn gluten feed, rice bran and distillers grains. Adding to the confusion, mineral content varies region to region.

Selenium, for example, is deficient in some areas and in excess in others. Iron content is often excessive in the Midwest.

All of this makes mineral management more than just an afterthought. A good mineral program is an actively managed mineral program. And, as Olson says, a hit-or-miss approach just won’t work. — Del Deterling, DTN