Vitamins/minerals critical for the cowherd

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Geni Wren Luke Miller, MS, ruminant nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting, Inc., Eagle, Neb., says cow vitamin and mineral supplementation is always a concern when it gets close to calving season and producers are planning the subsequent breeding season.

Vitamins and minerals play a key role in allowing for many of the physiological pathways cows need for fetal development, growth, immunity and other metabolic processes. Miller offers some strategies for vitamin and mineral supplementation during this pre-calving to pre-breeding time period:

  • Calcium is crucial for smooth muscle function, and calving difficulty, retained placentas, and prolapses are a few signs of a calcium deficiency. A cow’s calcium requirement increases by 22% from mid to late gestation, and by another 40% after calving.
  • Phosphorus works hand-in-hand with calcium for bone and tissue development as well as milk production. Research is showing that phosphorus availability in some forages is much higher than thought. Miller says typically a range mineral containing 3-6% phosphorus is sufficient for a gestating cow not consuming any by-product feeds.
  • Copper, zinc, and selenium play an active role in enzyme activation and function and are involved in the metabolism of energy and protein. Chelated copper and zinc are recommended to be used in breeder minerals and also when weaning or receiving high-risk cattle. Chelated trace minerals are more available than inorganic sources, but are also much more expensive, and using them together can be cost-effective. Miller notes that copper and zinc are absorbed at the same location in the small intestine; over-supplementation of one can cause an antagonistic effect of the other resulting in a deficiency.
  • Vitamin A supplementation has been shown to have a large impact on fetal brain development during mid-gestation. Weak, unthrifty, and blind calves are often a sign of Vitamin A deficiency during gestation.
  • Vitamin E plays a role in membrane development and disease resistance. It works along with Selenium as an antioxidant. White muscle disease in young calves is often a sign of a selenium and/or Vitamin E deficiency. Other symptoms of Vitamin E deficiency are weak calves and impaired suckling ability caused by poor development of tongue muscles.
  • Miller recommends paying attention to the manufacturing date of range mineral which often can be found on the tag, although sometimes it may be in code. Feeding a supplement that is 6 months old or older may not provide as much benefit as one only 1-2 months old or less.

Miller encourages forage testing for cow-calf herds and the development of a well-balanced ration to keep cows and their calves healthy.

Read Miller’s full recommendation’s in the November/December The Great Plains News Feed. For more information on winter cow nutrition and supplementation in the cowherd, view these articles:



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