Winter supplementation often focuses heavily on meeting protein and energy requirements of cows and tends to leave mineral nutrition as almost an afterthought. In reality, meeting all nutrient requirements, including energy, protein, minerals, vitamins, and water are equally important. Missing the mark in any of these five nutrient categories can have equally negative effects. In reality, all nutrients interact, and deficiencies in mineral nutrition can create deficiencies in availability of other nutrients, even if those nutrients are adequate in the diet.
During winter months, locally grown forages are typically the basis of cattle diets, and important considerations are the amount and availability of minerals in forages. Due to the drought, this year may be a very different situation with hay coming from different areas in the state or country. The amount of each mineral in the forage is based on mineral content of the soils they are grown on, which is highly variable because of variation in the geologic parent material the soils come from. Not only does this affect mineral status from one region to another, but it can be highly variable on a local basis, to the point that mineral content of forages can vary from one pasture to the next. Additionally, mineral content and availability are not the same thing, with mineral interactions playing a key role. Another key characteristic of forages that drives mineral availability is digestibility. Higher quality forages that have higher digestibility will have greater availability of the minerals they contain than mature forages such as dormant winter range, crop residues, or CRP hay.
Due to drought conditions and ranchers having to utilize alternative forages, the mineral program that has worked in the past may not meet the mineral requirements of the animals this year. With forage sources coming from different areas, the forages, protein supplements, and water need to be sampled and tested for mineral content, then compare the mineral supply to livestock requirements, and formulate a supplement to overcome specific deficiencies and interactions. Additional feed and water testing and monitoring of animal responses are needed to fine-tune the formulation. While this involves a considerable amount of up-front effort and expense to sample and measure mineral content, it has several potential advantages, including improved cattle performance, reduced mineral costs by avoidance of excess mineral feeding, prevention of interactions/antagonisms, and prevention of toxicity.