Don’t take shortcuts in feeding minerals

Mark Williams of Loomis believes minerals are overlooked on most cow-calf operations. Not his.

“I believe they are one of the most important factors, especially for reproduction and rebreeding,” says Williams, who operates Rock Falls Ranch — a cow-calf operation and 1,000-head, custom heifer development center — with his wife, Rosie, and the help of daughter Taylor, 18, and son Tyler, 25.

With 300 registered Angus and 120 commercial cows, Williams estimates he’ll spend $6,000 to $7,000 on salt and minerals annually.

At a glance

• Minerals are worth the investment for this cattleman.

• They are important for reproduction and rebreeding.

• Position salt and other minerals at various locations in your pasture.


But Williams knows that minerals are worth the investment — after learning from his own mistake.

“About three years ago, I opted for a mineral program that was cheaper and with a different company than I use now, because with 400 cows, the cost of mineral adds up. But I learned that our rebreeding rates were not as good, and the condition of the cows didn’t look as good. One year of a bad mineral program cost me.”

Today, he works with a reputable mineral and feed company and says the reproduction and rebreeding rates among his cow herd have bounced back.

Year-round effort

Williams recognizes the importance of keeping minerals in front of his cows year-round. Beginning about May 1 and through the summer, he offers a mineral mix that includes chelate (also called organic) minerals and provides fly control. While the mix includes some salt to enhance palatability, Williams also feeds salt free-choice via mineral blocks. After the first hard freeze in the fall, when all the flies have died off, he continues to offer salt blocks, along with a mineral mix with 12% phosphorus and 12% calcium, until May arrives again.

Williams, who grew up on a ranch and earned an associate degree from the University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture in Curtis in feedlot and cow-calf management, says, “I believe cattle won’t eat more mineral than they need, but they can’t eat it if you don’t have it out for them.”

Thus, his advice to other cattle producers is to “make sure you have enough mineral feeders, and make sure they have mineral in them.” If your mineral tubs are empty every time you go out to the pasture, you may not be doing something right, Williams suggests.

For the custom replacement heifers he develops, Williams makes sure mineral supplements are offered, as well. He feeds ground cane, ground alfalfa and wet distillers grains, and uses a liquid protein that has chelate minerals and salt mixed directly in it. Williams says this “works tremendously well” compared to feeding salt and minerals free-choice in the development lot.

Know your minerals

Williams says it is also important to know your minerals. “Ranchers tend to drive to the feed store and throw in a few bags of mineral, but you need to pay attention to what kind,” says Williams.

Rick Rasby, UNL animal science professor, says, “A mineral supplement is a supplement, and a supplement is meant to fill a gap or gaps where what the animal is eating or drinking doesn’t meet their nutritional needs.”

Rasby offers these suggestions for making your mineral management choices:

• “Salt is the one mineral that should always be supplied and available to cows free-choice.” Rasby says that range cows will consume 0.05 to 0.1 pound per cow per day — adding up to about 20 to 30 pounds of salt per year.

• Magnesium oxide supplementation is necessary if cattle graze pastures where they have experienced grass tetany, says Rasby. But that may be easier said than done. Because magnesium oxide is not very palatable and has been characterized as having a bitter taste, livestock are sometimes unwilling to consume it at recommended levels, making free-choice supplementation of magnesium oxide challenging, he says. Feed companies have added intake stimulants to encourage magnesium consumption. And, it is important to offer sodium — from salt — which facilitates magnesium utilization.

• Phosphorus is also a mineral required by beef cattle, but it has become increasingly expensive. By his calculations, Rasby suggests phosphorus be supplemented from prior to calving through breeding season, but it may not be needed as part of the mineral supplement the remainder of the year for cows in Nebraska. Rasby adds that if you are feeding or supplementing ethanol coproducts, phosphorus is likely not needed in the mineral supplement.

• Lastly, Rasby points out that the 1996 National Research Council for Beef Cattle suggests there are at least 17 minerals required by beef cattle. Additionally, soil mineral profiles and forage maturity can impact minerals that need to be supplemented. There are minerals that interact with one another and, therefore, affect their utilization. All of these factors need to be considered when developing a supplementation strategy for each individual operation.

Gordon writes from Whitewood, S.D.

A smart strategy

One strategy that Mark Williams believes in when offering salt and mineral is to move it around the pasture to help provide better grazing utilization. He still offers some salt and mineral around the water sources in the pasture because that is where cattle hang out, but moving it to different sites in the pasture will encourage grazing use in those areas, too.

Williams is also a firm believer in working with a qualified nutritional provider. “It may cost you a little money, but you’ll earn that back in the advice you get,” he says.

And Williams isn’t afraid to always look for better methods. As an example, this year he offered premixed mineral tubs to try and get more consistent intake of minerals on a daily basis from his cows.


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CRITICAL COMPONENT: An adequate supply of minerals is important for Mark Williams in his cow-calf operation and his heifer development center.

This article published in the November, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.