While mineral needs may vary based on geography, there are a few basics to know when it comes to keeping beef cattle in top shape.
Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University, says there are a few macro minerals all cattle need.
She says the calcium to phosphorus ratio must be adequate to promote strong bone growth. Other macro minerals include magnesium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine and potassium.
“You need those in a higher concentration,” Walker says, adding it is always best to check with a nutritionist before settling on a mineral supplement.
She says magnesium will help protect against grass tetany, which can often become an issue during periods of drought, which has plagued many cattle-producing states this summer.
Producers should be careful not to overfeed sulfur. Walker says sulfates can end up in the water supply, which can cause polioencephalomalacia.
She says cows should be able to self-regulate their consumption of sodium chloride.
Potassium levels can be deficient in some forages, and Walker says it can leech out of dormant forages. She recommends having all forage tested to determine mineral levels before deciding on a supplementation strategy.
“In the summer, we can get a relatively simple mineral package to the cows,” Walker says. “If you have to feed minerals, make sure everything is tested first.”
Trace minerals include cobalt, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium and zinc, she says.
Mineral levels could vary within a field, says Grant Dewell, Extension beef veterinarian with Iowa State University.
“There really is no generic recommendation when it comes to mineral supplementation,” he says.
For example, Dewell says some areas are high in selenium, which can prove toxic to cattle.
Another thing to monitor is iron levels in the water. Dewell says iron can tie up minerals like copper, preventing cows from getting copper levels they need.
“If that’s happening, you may need to supplement copper at higher levels,” he says, adding sulfur may also tie up minerals.
Molybdenum will also tie up copper, Dewell says.
“I would recommend routinely testing forages and water and use that to help determine any supplementation,” he says.
Walker says in most cases, salt or mineral blocks should be sufficient for cows. However, calves will not lick a block long enough to get much mineral.
“If they need it, you are going to have to feed it,” Walker says. “You can usually add a mineral package to a creep feed.”
She adds that producers should closely follow label recommendations when using a mineral supplement.