by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS

Part 5

Hope everyone had a great and enjoyable New Year's celebration. Now that the holidays are past us we can focus again on what 2012 will bring. This article is the fifth and final installment of a series discussing supplementation options, considerations and strategies. Given the challenges that 2011 “enjoyed” every producer is looking for a bit of breathing room in the coming year. Hopefully this series has provided information that improves the understanding of feeding and supplementation. To reiterate much of what has been discussed hopefully several key factors are recognized:

1) Nutrition is a key management factor and affects virtually all other components – health, productivity, profitability.

2) There are a variety of methods to meeting the animal's nutritional requirements. Finding the right method or combination of methods that addresses the animal's requirements is cost effective and suits the individual producer's needs is the goal.

3) Long term production requires an attention to economics. An operation cannot last long in today's economy without at least breaking even.

4) The producer's goals must be recognized and addressed.

5) Starting with an understanding of base resources is step number one.

We could certainly add to this list but these 5, generally, are the basis of making sound decisions.

Completing the Nutritional Package

Over the last couple of months we have spent time discussing protein and energy nutrition as well as how each or both of these nutrients can be delivered. To these we have to add minerals and vitamins, other critical nutrients. In addition to these nutritional concerns we can also add a wide variety of nutritional additives and tools that can enhance performance and improve efficiency if used correctly – and most importantly, understanding that there are NO magic powders or silver bullets.

Minerals and Vitamins

Most producers understand that minerals are the foundation to a sound cow/calf program. I normally describe minerals and vitamins and the nuts and bolts that hold the car together. You can build the car (animal) and you can drive it (reproduction, growth, health), but without the nuts and bolts holding it together (minerals and vitamins) pretty soon the car begins to fall apart.

Mineral and vitamin nutrition may be the most complex of all the concepts the producer has to understand. The reason mineral and vitamin nutrition is so complex includes:

1) There are numerous nutrients that fall into this category.

2) They are involved in virtually every physiological system in the body.

3) They interact with one another. The presence, both deficient or in excess can create problems with the absorption or utilization of another.

4) Many are required in very small amounts and thus are hard to measure and deliver in appropriate quantities.

5) Absorption from the gastrointestinal tract (primarily small intestine) is a moving target and can be affected by a variety of factors.

6) Sources in a typical cow/calf production environment are numerous and variable. These include the forage base, water (very important and not well accounted for) and various supplements.

7) A great deal of misinformation is present for the producer and in many cases what is accurate is indiscernible from what is inaccurate.

Which Minerals and Vitamins are of Concern?

The true answer to this is “whichever ones are in short supply.” But in some cases we have to assess which are available in too great of a supply. For instance, research has shown that the absorption and utilization of copper is hindered by and excessive amount of sulfur, molybdenum, zinc and iron. We also know that varying amounts of each of these can have varying effect on copper absorption so the producer has to be aware not only of which minerals are short but which ones may be present in excess.

In general, the minerals and vitamins we normally concern ourselves with are:

Macro Minerals: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Chlorine, Sulfur

Micro Minerals: Cobalt, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Selenium, Zinc

Vitamins: Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E

Obviously there are many others that are not listed here. For instance, a great deal of research has been conducted the last few years on the effects of chromium supplementation. Use in monogastrics (pigs, chickens) has been well documented. Chromium's necessity in cattle diets has not been shown as effectively. There are also a long list of additional vitamins that are required by the body. The three listed are the most commonly supplemented. Cattle on a diet which includes a significant forage base generally do not require any of the B-Vitamins (Niacin, Thiamin, Riboflavin, etc.) since the microbial population in the gut generally supplies all that are necessary. However, in some circumstances some B vitamins might be useful. In situations where cattle are on a diet that is high in sulfur (there's the “S” word again), this can create a thiamin deficiency which can lead to neurological problems in cattle such as polioencephomalacia (PEM). In situations where S is high (high S forages, high S or sulfate levels in water, supplementing with higher levels of DDGs or Corn Gluten feed) it is helpful to provide supplemental Thiamin in the diet to offset this potential problem.

Mineral and Vitamin Sources

As mentioned above and as we have discussed previously, base forages are a primary source of all nutrients. When forages are green and growing, summer perennials are generally a good supply of most of the macro minerals. Some areas such as south Texas, however, are notoriously short of phosphorus. Forages such as winter pastures (wheat, oats, ryegrass, etc.) are commonly thought to be low in magnesium (or high potassium, low in phosphorus, etc) which can create grass tetany problems in mature cattle. If forages are in short supply and outside sources must be purchased and brought in this is a problem since the producer has little or no idea of what the mineral and vitamin content might be (or any other nutrient for that matter). There will be some there we just don't know how much.

All of this goes to say that one of the first things we HAVE to do is take samples of the base forages and have these analyzed. There is NO better tool for facilitating any nutritional decision than forage or ingredient testing. Once you have the forage analysis data you have a starting point.

Additionally, and this concept is becoming more recognized for its importance, is water testing. Water sources can be a significant source of numerous minerals and should be accounted for. This is true whether cattle are consuming pond, well or community system water supplies. In parts of Texas where the drought had such an impact, as ponds dried up, suspended materials in the water increased in concentrations. Much of this suspended material included a mineral fraction that could create problems because of excesses of certain nutrients, again, such as sulfur which can lead to a variety of problems. In cases like this, water analyses can tell you if you need to adjust your mineral supplementation program or if you need to pull cattle off of a given water source altogether (assuming an alternative source exists).

Assuming you have a picture of your long term forage supply and water, the next step is to account for what minerals are available though whatever other supplements you are feeding. If you are feeding a commodity such as whole cottonseed, DDG, Rice bran, etc. you can do one of two things, have your supply analyzed like the forages and water, or simply go with book values. These are generally easily found on the internet but your best source is the NRC Nutrient Requirements for Beef Cattle. If you are using a commercial supplement, virtually any supplement will include a mineral and vitamin component as part of the formulation. The details of this may or may not be listed on the tag. If not contact your supplier and ask for a full mineral and vitamin breakout. Once you have this information you can contact your mineral supplier or a feed company or independent nutritionist to help you determine what type of mineral supplement you need to fill all the gaps.

An Important Consideration

Mineral supplement should be provided in a high quality, loose form. A white, yellow or red salt/mineral block does not provide adequate mineral levels if any at all. Additionally, mineral intake is variable and will depend on a large number of factors such as:

1) Mineral feeder placement and management.

2) The type and quality of mineral supplement provided.

3) Accuracy of formulation based on cows needs.

4) Availability and quality of other nutritional sources (forages, supplements).

5) Consistency of supply (does the producer keep the mineral supplement out constantly or are cow allowed to run out periodically and for long periods of time).

Also, understand that a herd of cows is a biological system and as such will vary across the population as to how they consume mineral. Intake also varies depending on the time of the year. In many locations intake will decline when pastures are in a rapidly growing vegetative state. Intake will increase as forage availability and quality declines.

One way to improve consistency of mineral intake is to provide the mineral along with other supplements. This might mean mixing an appropriate amount of the mineral supplement purchased along with whatever other supplement you are providing. It can also mean purchasing a supplement that is balanced not only for the protein and energy needs but for the mineral and vitamin needs as well. In many cases this is the most desirable since it greatly improves the consistency of intake from animal to animal. This can be done regardless of the supplement type although it is more difficult to accomplish this with liquid supplements since most liquids are not formulated to carry adequate levels of minerals such as calcium or magnesium. Typical forms of Ca and Mg insoluble in liquids and will settle out over time unless the liquid is formulated and manufactured properly to suspend these products.

Other Components or Tools that can be Fed or Supplemented

In addition to the basic nutrients that are provided in a typical supplement there are a wide range of nutritional tools or products (additives) that can be included. The exact product or combination of products or method of feeding may be dictated by different regulatory bodies so attention must be given to state and federal regulations. Some of these include:

1) Ionophores such as Rumensin and Bovatec – for improvement of feed efficiency and/or coccidia control.

2) Antibiotics such as Chlortetracycline (CTC) or Oxytetracycline (OTC) – improvement of feed efficiency, for treatment or prevention of respiratory disease, treatment of scours, reduction of liver abscesses, etc.

3) Estrus suppressants such as Melengestrol Acetate (MGA)

4) Internal and external parasite control.

5) Direct fed microbials (DFM) including both yeasts and bacterial and other microbial cultures for improvement of digestive tract function and reduction of stress effects.

6) Enzymes – for improvement of fiber digestion

There are other less well-known additives that can also be used in a variety of capacities to improve performance.


It's obvious that proper nutrient supplementation requires a considerable amount of study research. And it differs every year depending on circumstances. The producer first has to identify what methods work or what could implemented cost-effectively. The consideration has to be given to the base forage resources and what contingencies can be utilized if the base resource fails partially or completely. Finally, an assessment of the options has to be made to determine which are the most cost effective at that point in time and the foreseeable future. Learning and applying these steps can go a long way to improving your performance and profitability in 2012.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached by phone at (903) 352-3475 or by e-mail at [email protected] You can also follow us on Facebook at Reveille Livestock Concepts.

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