More than 75 percent of fetal growth occurs in the last trimester, due in part to the rapid growth of a calf's tissues. For many beef producers the period of rapid development also coincides with extremely variable weather conditions that often include rain, wind, sleet and snow. These conditions not only put a drain on cows' energy stores, but may also have adverse effects on the quality of your mineral sources, says Greg Eckerle, Ph.D., beef technical consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition.
Minerals play a critical role in calf growth and development, particularly during the final trimester. Mineral deficiencies can lead to small or weak calves, decreased milk production, reduced or later conception, and poor immunity, ultimately leading to reduced weaning weights. The challenge is to overcome the elements to meet the needs of the cow and her developing calf.
"We often see mineral getting wet during the winter and spring months," says Eckerle. "In some instances, the moisture then turns a traditional mineral source into a hard, brick-like substance, one that you've paid for and that your cattle won't eat. In other instances, your mineral may still be in its original form, but the quality of that mineral has been quite literally washed away. It can be an economic drain and have a potential lifelong impact on the developing calf."
A balanced, weatherized mineral can be a solution to help overcome these challenges. Watch a video (http://bit.ly/1DGxB6t) demonstration of how weather can impact your mineral supplementation program.
Minerals in the home stretch, and beyond
"When we think about mineral supplementation during the final portion of gestation, we're trying to meet the demands of the maternal system," says Eckerle. "The maternal system has been put in overdrive trying to meet the needs of the rapidly growing fetus. An imbalance in any form of mineral may lead to a reduction in calf growth and development during this stage. For instance, copper and zinc play a role in immune function, so if a cow is shorted on copper and and/or zinc you could potentially see calf health issues later on."
The importance of mineral supplementation during the last trimester can't be stressed enough, but producers should keep in mind that this is just one period of high demand that a cow faces in a year.
"The cow is never just working for herself," says Eckerle. "She either has a calf at her side, is pregnant with her next calf or both. We need to be thinking about early-stage embryonic development, when many muscle tissues and organs are being developed, and provide the proper mineral nutrition to the cow necessary for that development."
Eckerle adds that you can't be 100 percent sure of what the long-term generational effect might be if mineral supplements are inadequate during these high demand timeframes.
"It's really important to keep mineral supplementation up long-term, even year-round, to help make up for the potential shortcomings that mother nature and forages might throw the cow's way," says Eckerle. "Minerals shortages in-utero can't be made up for after its feet hit the ground."
Not all minerals are created equal, and it's important to feed a quality, weatherized, balanced mineral to ensure that both your cow and her unborn calf are receiving the trace minerals that they need for increased performance no matter the weather.
Minerals are just one piece of a comprehensive cattle nutrition program. A high plane of nutrition during all three trimesters increases the probability of superior health and performance genetics passing to the calf.