While the majority of cattle producers provide minerals and vitamin supplements during winter and spring, most do not provide mineral supplements once pastures are green and growing. This practice can cut production costs in the short run; however, it can be very costly in the long run.
Minerals and vitamins are a very small and yet extremely important part of cattle nutrition. Minerals and vitamins play vital roles in reproduction, immunity and growth. The end result is cattle that don’t grow or reproduce as quickly or efficiently as they could.
Minerals are loosely grouped into two categories: macrominerals and trace or micro- minerals. Macro-minerals include: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sulfur and salt and are needed in relatively large amounts in the body. The trace minerals include: cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc and are needed in very small or “trace” amounts in the body. The vitamins that are typically supplemented are vitamins A, D and E. I will go into greater detail on a few key nutrients that are more likely to be deficient in summer forages.
Phosphorus. Phosphorus is vitally important for growth, milk production and fertility. Cattle on summer pasture are often at least marginally deficient in phosphorus. Cow requirements for spring calving herds are much higher early in the grazing period through breeding. During this period supplemental phosphorus is critical. Phosphorus supplementation should continue even after breeding since forage phosphorus levels decrease steadily as forages mature. Common deficiency symptoms include breeding problems such as reduced conception rates and reduced average daily gains.
Copper. Copper is vitally important for fertility and immunity. Many US soil types are marginally to severely deficient in copper and thus most cattle need copper supplementation. Inadequate copper levels will result in decreased conception rates, early embryo deaths, decreased ability to respond to immune challenge and faded hair coats.
Selenium. Selenium is also important for reproduction and immunity. Selenium supplementation can help prevent retained placentas, uterine infections, and white muscle disease. Most of the soils in the US are marginal to deficient in selenium so selenium supplementation is also vital.
Zinc. Zinc plays a role in the maintenance of skin, hooves, the gut linings, and the lining of the reproductive organs. Deficiencies will result in decreased fertility, skin problems, hoof and joint problems, and decreased average daily gain due to decreased nutrient absorption.
Vitamin A. The precursor for vitamin A is typically abundant in green growing forages, but is low in mature or drought-stricken forages. Also, cattle under stress (weaning, lactation, transportation, etc.) have a higher vitamin A requirement than normal and can benefit from supplementation. Inadequate vitamin A will result in stunted growth, reproductive disorders, runny eyes and increased susceptibility to diseases such as pinkeye.
While most cattle can survive on the levels of minerals and vitamins in available forages, the vast majority of cattle are not receiving what they need for high levels of production. An important point to remember is that the mineral content of forages are limited by the mineral make-up of the soils on which they grow. If it’s not in the soil, it can’t get into the plant. And while soil types vary, no one soil type provides optimum levels of all the minerals needed by cattle. In fact, some soils are severely deficient in some minerals (selenium or copper for instance) or have an overabundance of a mineral that interferes with the availability of another mineral (for example, high sulfur levels interfere with copper and selenium uptake and utilization). For this reason, it is commonly recommended to provide free choice mineral and vitamin supplementation to cattle at all times.
You may think that you are giving them what they need if feeding salt or trace mineralized salt as a supplement during summer months. While cattle do need salt, salt blocks or trace mineralized salt blocks will not meet all of the nutritional needs of cattle. Trace mineralized salt blocks are mostly salt (typically 92 to 98% salt) and contain relatively low levels of trace minerals. Because of the high salt content, consumption of these blocks will be very low; resulting in poor intake of needed trace minerals. Additionally, these blocks do not contain the macro-minerals or vitamins needed by cattle. A complete mineral/vitamin supplement will provide necessary macro- as well as trace minerals in addition to needed vitamins.
One should think of mineral and vitamin supplementation like an insurance policy. By maintaining high quality pastures for your cattle, you can meet the majority of your cattle’s nutritional needs, but by providing free choice access to a complete mineral & vitamin supplement you can make sure that ALL of the cattle’s nutritional needs are being met.
SWEETLIX® CopperHead® Supplements are an excellent source of high quality minerals and vitamins to insure your cattle’s nutritional needs are met this summer.