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Mineral programs can provide benefits to achieving cattle health goals

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“When we start looking at mineral programs, we have to look at what mineral program is right for our production system and what to think about when we purchase mineral,” said John McKinnon, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan. 

McKinnon noted that there are many choices for producers as far as the mineral formulations, including ratios, delivery system, concentration and composition. 

“A sound mineral feeding program is going to target the needs of cows as they move through the reproductive calendar,” he continued. “There are lots of choices and factors that we have to build into our decision when choosing a program.” 

Regional concerns

“One of the most important concepts we have to look at is what part of the country we are in,” McKinnon said.

The soil type of the region that a producer is in dramatically impacts what minerals are naturally available for livestock. 

“Depending on where we are, we could be dealing with different concentrations of minerals in the soil,” he noted.

McKinnon commented that some minerals, such as molybdenum, can influence the availability of trace minerals.

“We also have to know the quality of the water source,” he said. “We have to have our water tested.”

Forage testing is also important. 

“Finally, it is important to recognize when we are choosing a mineral that mineral requirements aren’t static,” McKinnon added. “Mineral requirements change with the cowherd, as well as with the stage of pregnancy, lactation and during breeding.”

Supplementing the cowherd according to their requirements during different times of the year is important.


McKinnon noted that often, two macrominerals that are supplemented include calcium and phosphorus.

“If we look at calcium, needs change through the later stages of gestation,” he said. “A cow’s requirements go from 20 grams per day for a 1,300-pound cow eating two percent of her body weight up to 32 grams in the third trimester and 40 grams or more of calcium post-calving.”

Phosphorus follows roughly the same trend at about half the requirement. 

“We often try to match our mineral with the calcium and phosphorus content of the feeds we are dealing with,” McKinnon commented. “We can’t sacrifice a feed test.”

Trace minerals

While loose mineral programs are often built around macrominerals, they also supply trace minerals, as well. McKinnon marked copper, zinc and selenium as important trace minerals to consider, also noting that iodine, cobalt, iron and manganese are essential, depending on the environmental conditions. 

“The trace minerals are required at very low levels, but if we aren’t supplying adequate amounts, we can get into fairly significant situations,” he said. “For our 1,300-pound cow, 120 milligrams of copper, 360 milligrams of zinc and 1.2 milligrams of selenium are required daily.”

When looking at trace minerals, availability is an important consideration.

“We can have interactions in the rumen where complexes are formed, rendering trace minerals un-absorbable,” McKinnon noted. “For example, molybdenum and sulfur can form complexes that render copper un-absorbable.”


“There isn’t an easy answer when we are choosing mineral,” McKinnon said. “We have to come down to the local situation and the requirement of cows.”

He also recommended that producers deal with a nutritionist or veterinarian in developing and appropriate mineral program.

Consumption is a common concern related to mineral programs, and McKinnon said, “We have a whole ranch of intake questions.”

“Sometimes producers say that their cattle are eating the mineral like candy,” he continued. “I often ask, when is the last time they had mineral? They might need to rebuild their stores.”

On the other side of the equation, palatability can be a concern. Too much phosphorus, for example, can cause a bitter taste. Additionally, flavoring agents can be added to influence palatability.

“The location of the mineral feeder also can have an impact on mineral intake,” McKinnon noted. “We can manage mineral intake based on location in the pasture, as well.”

Management of the feeder is also important. 

Exposure to wind, sun and moisture can lead to caking of mineral making it difficult to consumer for cattle, for example. Purchasing specially formulated minerals can help them to maintain their integrity in the elements.

“We really want to manage intake and keep track of it,” McKinnon added

Health implications

Mineral deficiencies can lead to a number of problems for cattle, including reproductive and growth concerns.

“With zinc deficiencies, we have reduced growth, feed intake and efficiency,” said McKinnon. “In bulls, we have reduced testicular growth.”

Skin abnormalities and lameness due to poor or weak hoof growth can also occur.

“A rough hair coat, depigmentation and off-color hair are very characteristic of copper deficiencies,” he continued. “Leg abnormalities, stunted growth and cardiac failure can also occur.”

He also noted that poor reproductive performance can occur, including late estrus and depressed estrus. 

Selenium deficiencies provide more obvious impacts. 

“If we see white muscle disease in calves, poor growth, lameness, reduced immune response and, in cows, increased incidence of retained placenta, that can indicate selenium deficiency,” McKinnon said. 

“Mineral deficiencies are real,” he noted. “If we want a productive, healthy herd, we need to make sure we are meeting the needs of our cows. Mineral deficiencies can have very real economic consequences.”

McKinnon presented during a webinar sponsored by Canada’s Beef Cattle Research Center. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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