Measuring the consequences of mineral deficiencies in cow-calf operations can be difficult. Weight gains, which are off a few pounds usually go unnoticed, reduced milk production can't really be measured in beef cows, and the cow that is limping must have stepped on something causing her sore foot. Reproduction losses may not readily be noticed either because most all the cows had a calf, even though some were a month and a half or two months later than expected. Any of these sound familiar? Lack of sufficient mineral(s) may be the problem.
Minerals are generally divided into two groups 1) macrominerals, those required in larger quantities and expressed as a percentage in a ration, and 2) microminerals, ones required in small quantities and listed as parts per million or mg/kg of dry matter in the feed.
Think about this. If you have one open cow, or animals not calving on expected calving dates, due to insufficient minerals in the feed, you could have easily paid for many bags of minerals with the loss you have incurred. One calf not born; ($1000-$1500 lost, plus feeding momma all year), one calf twenty-one days late; (a calf gaining two lbs./day would be 42 pounds x $2.00 per pound = $84 lost) per missed heat cycle.
Mineral supplementation should not be done haphazardly though in cow-calf operations. Producers need to monitor mineral consumption regularly to be sure cows are consuming proper amounts. Directions on each product's bag should indicate how much each animal should consume in a given amount of time. Making this calculation for a seven day period (often times 2-4 oz./head/day), and feeding that amount once each week, is one way to help monitor intake. Over consumption of minerals is not good either, it greatly increases cost, can be detrimental to good animal health and excess minerals excreted through manure and urine may cause problems in soils and groundwater.
Producers should be aware that all mineral company mixtures are not the same. Not only does the price and maybe analysis of the mixture in the bag change, but an important factor is the form of mineral used in the mixture. Sulfate, chloride, organic, or chelated forms of minerals are more expensive, but are typically absorbed at a much higher rate than oxide forms of the same mineral. Providing higher quality products may be cheaper in the long run when stresses of production must be overcome by our livestock. Some producers even go one step further and fine tune their mineral mixture based on their hay sample analysis and/or if there is a known mineral deficiency in their local area.
It is much easier and more cost effective to proactively manage cattle to prevent mineral deficiencies than trying to pinpoint production problems caused by deficits. Adequate minerals and nutrition should not be overlooked. You are paying for it one way or the other! Proper minerals and nutrition just makes "cents", actually dollars, and several of them for the understanding producer.