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Minerals are essential for heifers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Douglas – After selection of bulls and a focus on heifer development, Scott Hirsch of Zinpro says that too many people neglect proper mineral supplements.

“There are a lot of decisions involving the mineral program,” Hirsch says. “Not one program will fit all situations, and producers have to look at their program and analyze their feed and water.”

Hirsch continues that there are few management steps that can give greater return than a solid mineral program, and producers can determine what kind of program to use by evaluating production goals.

Production goals

Hirsch first notes that producers should identify production areas for improvement.

“There is always room for improvement,” he comments. “Do I want better breed-back? Do I want to improve semen quality? Or should I look at health and immunity?”

Minerals, he says, can address each of these problems. 

“Working with a mineral representative can be helpful,” he adds. “They can take samples and give you lots of information.”


In establishing a nutrition program, Hirsch says water is often overlooked, particularly in times of drought.

“The drought will shrink water tables and condense the concentration of total dissolved solids,” he notes. “The concentrations could have a big impact on animal performance.”

For example, sulfur concentration has been problematic, with reports of more than 2,000 parts per million of sulfur in some water sources.

“There are simple tests than can be done,” he says, “and I recommend that all ranchers do them.”

Selecting the program

When looking at minerals, Hirsch notes that some producers may choose to use a year-round program, while other may opt for strategic mineral use.

“Strategic supplementation means I am picking a window to supplement,” he explains. “The biggest use is pre- and post-calving.”

One of the most important parts of a mineral program is balance.

“The role of trace minerals is very important,” Hirsch says, “but out of balance, minerals can do more harm than good.”

Protein, for example, can impact cattle performance, whether too little or too much is used.

“Calcium and phosphorus have their own ratios. Magnesium, sodium, chlorine, potassium and sulfur are fed in gram quantities, whereas trace minerals like zinc, copper and manganese are fed in milligrams,” he continues. “They can have a huge impact on animal performance.”

Hirsch likens trace minerals to the keys of a truck. While they are a small piece, without the keys, the truck won’t go anywhere.

“Trace minerals are hugely impactful on animal performance,” he adds.


Minerals can impact a wide range of things, from weights to immunity. However, much of the data being used to figure mineral requirements is outdated.

“Our animal weights have changed,” says Hirsch. “From 1997 to 2000, we have improved overall weaning weights.”

At the same time, mineral recommendations have remained constant.

“Our contention is that we aren’t meeting animals’ requirements early enough,” he says. “We determined the levels necessary to keep animals alive when weaning weights were near 502 pounds.”

The result, he continues, has been mineral deficiencies across the board.


“Immunity is the first negative impact we see when minerals are deficient,” Hirsch notes. “We start seeing scours, coccidia or pneumonia in our calves, or animals won’t respond to our vaccines.”

Next, he says that reproduction starts to suffer.

“Our cows don’t breed back as well when they are deficient,” Hirsch says.

He continues, “It could take six months before we start to see clinical signs of deficiencies.”

A study from Fort Keogh in the 1970s showed that phosphorus impacts in rations weren’t seen until the third year of deficiency, when reproductive rates dropped 50 percent.

“Animals do a remarkable job of maintaining themselves as well as they can,” Hirsch said. “They can pull minerals from every reserve they have, so addressing mineral problems is not an overnight fix. It takes a while to get minerals back up to normal levels.”

Using minerals

In feeding mineral supplements, Hirsch comments that deficiencies can be caused from two different events.

“If we have a primary mineral deficiency, that means we aren’t getting enough mineral in our livestock,” he says. “Even if we do have a mineral program, the animals aren’t eating enough or getting enough.”

Even if minerals are used, producers must ensure intake is high enough to meet the needs of their stock.

“A secondary deficiency is caused by antagonists,” Hirsch explains. “These antagonists are things that tie up the minerals or make them unavailable to use.”

For example, during a drought, the lignin content of plants increases, which ties up minerals and makes them less available for animals to use.

“There are key interaction that we see,” he says, “and we have to pay attention to them.”

Additional benefits

By using a mineral program, Hirsch notes that benefits may be seen, in addition to increased health of cattle.

“Preconditioning programs do pay,” he says. “People look at preconditioned cattle and are willing to pay extra for those calves.”

For producers who keep good production records and are able to verify their calves, a mineral program can also be used as a marketing tool.

“It is worth marketing a nutrition and mineral program,” Hirsch comments. “Calves can pay for the effort.”

Hirsch presented during September’s Heifer Development Symposium in Douglas, sponsored by the Wyoming Business Council. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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