Extension Education : Providing Consistent Mineral Supplementation on Range and Pasture is
by Dagan Montgomery UW Extension Educator
It’s the time of year when most cattle in Wyoming have been turned out on the mountain, range or pasture. The bulls have likely been set to work, and for many ranchers, the season’s focus now moves to the hay meadows and irrigation ditches.
However, as many know, there are still important tasks to keep up with concerning the beef herd, including general health checks, pasture moves, predator monitoring, water and fence maintenance and pulling bulls once breeding is over – the list goes on.
One aspect of summer herd management many know to be important, yet sometimes gets tiresome, is providing mineral supplement consistently and effectively.
Providing the right mix of minerals
Both macro minerals and trace minerals are essential to animal performance, production and overall herd health.
Macro minerals – magnesium and phosphorous, for example – are critical for things like bone development and growth, while trace minerals – copper, iron, zinc, etc. – are needed for immune system function and enzyme activity.
Data from the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) shows many range forages are deficient in one or more essential minerals, which is why producers offer supplements.
The amount of each mineral needed by grazing cattle can vary by stage of production.
General requirements are available from several sources and are usually based on the most recent “Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle,” referred to as NRC.
To see what minerals the forage on a ranch or allotment is deficient in, forage samples can be taken to help tailor a supplement to best fit a herd’s needs.
However, studies from the U.S. Department of Agricultureʼs Agricultural Resarch Service centers have shown mineral concentration can vary quite significantly across the year and under differing conditions.
It can be costly to have a custom mineral mix prepared or mixed into other feed. Therefore, it is common to purchase a pre-mixed, free-choice mineral supplement for more generalized use.
There are many options available, and the way a producer plans to feed mineral will help them decide if a block, tub or loose mineral will be the best fit for their operation.
The type of feeder a producer uses will also affect how and what they feed.
It is recommended they use at least a simple feeder, as mineral placed directly on the ground can lead to wastage and may harm the soil. Covered feeders further help reduce nutrient leaching from rain. Individuals can also purchase weatherized mineral, which is better able to withstand rain and wind.
Feeder height should be low enough to allow all animals, including calves, to reach the supplement if desired.
Where producers place the supplement will impact how it is utilized by their herd. Often, premade supplements will recommend placing close to water, shade or other loafing areas to ensure cattle are consuming the product.
However, when grazing on a public allotment, it is important to be aware of any regulations stating how far mineral sources must be from riparian areas and other features. Even on private land, one may not want cattle to congregate around mineral sources in sensitive areas.
Encouraging correct amount of mineral consumption
As for how much to feed, this again will be determined by formulation and the form of supplement provided.
Most free-choice mineral supplements are intended to meet animal needs when consumed at around two to four ounces per head per day. If possible, try to keep consumption as close to recommendations as possible.
Some cattle will really take a liking to mineral supplements and will overconsume, which leads to unnecessary cost. Cattle that don’t eat their share may become deficient in one or more minerals critical to performance.
The main reason cattle are attracted to mineral is their taste for salt, which almost all mineral mixes contain. For issues with cattle not consuming enough supplement, studies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) have shown adding salt to a free-choice mineral can increase consumption to a point.
Other substances like molasses are often added to increase palatability even further.
At a certain level, adding any more salt will limit mineral intake as they get their fill of salt quicker, which can be used in cases where cattle overconsume.
Many ranchers will place all the mineral needed for the herd for a week or so in the pasture in one or two feeders and find most or all of the mineral is gone within a few days.
This is often because more aggressive cattle with a taste for mineral will overconsume and prevent more submissive animals from getting their needed amount.
Feeding mineral gradually in several feeders, at least one feeder per 25 to 30 head and in multiple locations can alleviate competition. Feeding in this manner also helps assure an adequate supply of macro minerals, like magnesium and phosphorous, which cannot be stored in the body and require a more consistent intake.
Feeding mineral requires trial and error and will differ from operation to operation.
For help developing a mineral supplement program for a herd, consult a nutritionist or local Extension educator.
Dagan Montgomery is University of Wyoming Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension educator. He can be reached at email@example.com.