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Balancing Mineral Needs

published: April 11th 2016
by: Travis Meteer
source: University of Illinois Extension

Have you ever watched a person walk a tight rope? The balance and precision that it takes to make it from one side to the other is incredible. Focus and attention must be combined with talent and practice. If any small thing goes wrong… balance can be lost and the goal of making it across is gone.

Mineral nutrition is a balancing act too. It is very delicate and much more fragile than other nutrition tasks, such as meeting protein and energy requirements. Minerals must be provided to the animal in a BALANCE. When minerals are not balanced, problems can arise. Low levels can lead to deficiency. High levels can lead to toxicity. Matter of fact, high levels of one mineral can cause a deficiency in another.

Sources of Minerals in the Diet

Minerals enter the animal primarily through feed, water, and supplementation. While it is easy to understand that your mineral feeder full of mineral supplement is a source of mineral, many times cattlemen ignore the minerals that are available to an animal in the feed and water.

In order to better understand what minerals you cattle are ingesting you should test your feedstuffs and even your water source. If you are certain mineral imbalances are affecting you herd, you can discuss this with your local veterinarian and they can draw blood or take liver biopsy samples to identify mineral deficiencies.

Mineral Interactions

I personally believe this is a problem in many cattle rations and many times is holding cow performance back. Producers that are trying to push performance higher need to take a look at what may be causing mineral interactions in their cattle diets.

Mineral interactions can result in one mineral restricting the bioavailability of another. Thus, reducing the amount of that mineral absorbed by the animal. This can lead to deficiency. Another way to put this is an excess can cause a deficiency.

One of the most common mineral interactions in beef cattle is the interaction between calcium and phosphorus. Generally, calcium and phosphorus levels are recommended in a ratio (Ca:P). Ideally, a ratio of 2:1 is targeted. Cattle can handle slightly lower Ca:P ratios, however when the ratio becomes inverted, or more phosphorus is provided than calcium, steer cattle can be at risk of urinary calculi (also known as water belly). A prolonged period with a Ca:P imbalance in young cattle can interfere with bone growth and decrease overall performance.

Certainly the Ca:P ratio is important to monitor. Many corn do-product feeds are high in P. In cases of high levels of Ca and P in the diet, other mineral requirements for magnesium, manganese, iodine, sulfur, iron, and zinc will all increase. Remember the key to proper mineral nutrition… balance.

The relationship between copper, iron, molybdenum, sulfur, and zinc is another crucial mineral interaction. These minerals can all influence the bioavailability of each other. High levels of zinc, iron, molybdenum, or sulfur can all interfere with copper availability. Copper deficiency is one of the most common mineral problems across the country.

Do you have hard water? Are your cornstalk bales dirty? Did your hay field get flooded before you cut and baled it? These are all likely suspects for more iron in your cattle rations. Iron is really good at reducing the availability of crucial trace minerals.

Are you feeding distillers grains or CCDS? These feedstuffs are higher in sulfur. High sulfur levels in the ration will bind trace minerals, especially copper. Cows that suddenly have red tinged hair coats are likely experiencing copper deficiency.

Selenium deficiency is a problem in Illinois. Selenium and Vitamin E are generally used in conjunction to supplement against Se deficiency. This is because both Se and Vit. E work along the same lines in the body to prevent hydroperoxides. Administering Se and Vit. E together is a good supplementation strategy to combat Se deficiency.

Solutions and Summary

Producers can utilize minerals that incorporate organic forms or chelates to help resolve major issues with mineral interactions. Injectable minerals are also a potential solution. However, the key is to know what is deficient and how that deficiency is occurring. Your vet will be able to test for deficiencies. Getting rid of an excess will be much more economical than purchasing expensive minerals.

When formulating your mineral nutrition program it is crucial that you are aware of these mineral interactions. Understand that feeds and water can be playing a major role in mineral nutrition of your cattle. Excess can cause deficiency. Consult your nutritionist or Extension specialist for more information on mineral nutrition.

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