by: Stephen B. Blezinger

There are literally an infinite number of ways to formulate a mineral supplement. With hundreds of ingredients at our disposal and well as countless combinations of forage sources and cattle classifications on these forage bases the variations are mind boggling.

I regularly get asked a number of questions as related to the statements above:

1) How good is my mineral supplement?

2) Is the mineral supplement I am buying the right product for my herd?

3) Why is my mineral supplement so expensive?

4) Do I need for my mineral supplement to be “weather-proofed?”

5) Does my mineral need to be “chelated?”

6) Should I be feeding salt with my mineral?

7) Why are my cows eating so much/so little mineral.

And so on and so on. All of these questions are very good. They also go to show that mineral supplementation is one of the most misunderstood components of the beef cattle nutrition program. Over the last couple of issues we've been talking about the “value” of the mineral supplement in the typical beef cattle nutrition program and how this value is interpreted. In many case the value of a mineral supplement is thought to be related to its cost. In some cases this is true. But not always.

A sound, basic mineral formula carries with it a basic cost. This is the combined cost of the nutrients it is delivering, i.e. calcium (Ca), phosphorus (P), magnesium (Mg) etc. There is a cost of the carrier which is included to help balance the formula, improve palatability (if a free-choice product) and make the product easier to handle. There is the cost of products use to modify palatability to cattle will eat more or less. There is the cost for products to help control dustiness or even resist moisture. There are bagging costs and transportation costs. And finally there are margins added to cover milling, production and handling and finally a profit margin.

But then the variables come into play. These variables will include things like addition of:

1) Medications – CTC

2) Dewormer

3) Ionophores – Rumensin, Bovatec

4) Fly Control – IGR, Rabon

5) Chelated or organic trace mineral sources

6) Yeast, bacteria, fungi, enzyme sources

7) Combinations of components as approved by law

8) Numerous others, each of which have a role or are believed to have a role in enhancing performance

Again, each of these components has a cost associated with it. The more “goodies” that are added, the more the cost will be. As we've discussed in the past, it's important to evaluate which of these additives truly enhance animal performance and produce a positive return on investment. Some are hard to evaluate under normal production conditions.

Let's start by taking apart a good basic mineral that might be found in any feed store. Then once we've evaluated the basics we'll look at turning the Chevy into a Cadillac.

A Basic Mineral Supplement

Your typical basic free-choice mineral tag will look something like the following:

Nutrient Supplies

Each nutrient specification is met or provided by one or more ingredients. For instance, Calcium (Ca) is provided largely by calcium carbonate (which is about 38 percent Ca), which may so be referred to as ground limestone. However, the sources of phosphous (P) such as monocalcium phosphate (MCP) and dicalcium phosphate (DCP) also provide some Ca to the formula. Since MCP and DCP (as well as other P sources) tend to be a primary, critical and more expensive ingredient, setting basic amounts of these ingredients to meet the P specification is one of the first things that take place during formulation of a supplement. Additional Ca is then added to meet the Ca specification.

Here's where a cost factor comes in. Calcium carbonate is generally the cheapest ingredient found in a mineral supplement. So in general, manufacturers will use all the calcium carbonate they can to help keep the cost down. Also it should be understood that products with a high Ca level may include these higher levels to help reduce cost, not necessarily to meet a Ca requirement in the animal.

Phosphorus cost over recent years has increased, driving mineral prices up substantially. This has resulted in two primary events. One, cost of mineral has increased (although it has come do some over the last year or so). Other mineral sources have increased in cost as well but the P cost has been a main driver of the overall product cost. Two, many nutritionists and mineral companies have gone back and revisited the amount of P that was being formulated into mineral supplements. Back in the late 60's and early 70's quite a lot of research was performed on P levels required by range or pasture cattle. It was found that P levels in cattle diets was a major limiter of breeding and growth performance and that forage, especially in parts of the country like South Texas, were very low in P. This began a focus on supplementing P to range cattle with good results. Since, during these earlier periods, P was relatively low cost, level in supplements grew until that point when the standard 12:12 (Ca/P) mineral became the norm even though in many cases this resulted in feeding of excessive P. As P costs increased, the feeding rates were re-evaluated based on more current research and knowledge. Subsequently P levels have decreased to more moderate levels.

Other Components

Additional Ingredients used to meet nutrient specs for a basic beef cow mineral include sources of potassium (K, potassium chloride), magnesium (Mg, magnesium oxide, magnesium sulfate), sodium and chlorine (Na, Cl, salt – more about this shortly). Along with Ca and P these are the main macro minerals, all of which are included in larger quantities in the mineral formula. In the case of high magnesium minerals, which are fed to cows on fresh, lush winter pasture (wheat, oats, ryegrass, etc.) to deter grass tetany, quite a bit of Mg is included in the formula. Since Mg is not very palatable, it is normally necessary to include grain and molasses as well as higher levels of flavoring to insure intakes will be adequate. Sulfur (S) is also commonly listed on mineral supplement tags but seldom is S actually added in the formula. Sulfur is generally contributed by other ingredients including many of the trace minerals which are added in sulfate forms.

Salt is normally added to free choice minerals at some level. Salt can be used as both an intake enhancer or depressant depending on the amount used. A normal level of salt, to provide for Na and Cl requirements does not have to be very high. Commonly you will see somewhere around 10 to 12 percent salt in a mineral. This level, combined with Ca and P at previously common inclusion rates provide what is known as the triple 12 or 12:12:12 mineral. There is still a lot of this sold but in many cases lower levels of P and/or salt are becoming increasingly common.

In some products it is not uncommon to see much higher levels of salt (20 percent +). Some companies will include these levels because they are trying to keep consumption levels down, because their customers feel like they need this level of salt (they don't) or simply as a means of keeping costs down. Salt is also a comparatively low cost ingredient. In minerals with high Ca and high salt, many times the sole reason is as a means of providing a cheap supplement which in many cases does not do an adequate job of meeting the animal's mineral requirements. On top of this, some companies will also use carriers such as ground rice hulls which are also very inexpensive but do not make for a particularly good product. Grain carriers such as dried distillers grains, wheat midds or other similar grain products or by-products make for a much better quality carrier and are also less dusty and more palatable in general.


Up to this point we've started talking about the macro mineral portion of the mineral supplement formula. As pointed out, there are a variety of ways seen already where the cost of these products can be manipulated or altered. An important point here is that, as with anything else, you get what you pay for. Products that are considerably less expensive have compromised something – nutrient levels, type of ingredient used, etc. And as such it is not uncommon to see performance compromised as well; either by the product in the feeder or by the animal to which it is provided.

In the next segment of this series we will go into other components and ingredients in the mineral supplement including trace minerals, vitamins, medications, additives, etc. Hopefully by the time we are done you'll have a much better understanding of your mineral supplement, what you need to look for and what cost levels should be expected.

Copyright 2014 – Dr. Stephen B. Blezinger. 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, by mail at 667 CR 4711 Sulphur Springs, TX 75482 or by email at [email protected] For more information please visit Livestock Concepts.

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