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Mineral Supplementation on Summer Pasture

By: Halsey Shaheen, BSc, AAg, Regional Livestock Specialist

May 2017

Cattle will be heading out to pasture in the coming weeks, making it a good time to review the mineral and vitamin program for your herd. A proper mineral and vitamin program is key to ensuring the health and productivity of the herd. Deficiencies in minerals or vitamins can lead to reduced animal growth, lactation, reproductive efficiency and immune response. Most pastures do not contain adequate levels or ratios of macro and trace minerals, therefore providing mineral and salt to livestock during the grazing season are very important.

The most common form of supplement is probably the blue salt block, however this alone will not meet all of the needs of livestock, even on summer pasture. Mineral supplements are usually categorized by the calcium to phosphorus ratio, 1:1, 2:1 or 3:1. It is important to remember that legume forages such as alfalfa tend to contain higher levels of calcium than grass forages. Generally, calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2:1 is adequate; meaning twice as much calcium as phosphorus. This will depend on the animal’s stage of production and whether grass or legumes are their main source of feed.

Trace minerals are required in much smaller amounts than the macro minerals, but that does not decrease their importance. Once the appropriate type of mineral has been determined, you should consider the levels of trace minerals that are being supplemented. These could be provided in the mineral package, or supplemented as part of an additional trace mineral salt. When feeding multiple supplements, it is very important to read all labels to ensure the level of any minerals do not become toxic.

Intake is as important as quality of mineral and vitamin supplements. When on pasture, free-choice feeding of minerals is often the most manageable way to provide mineral supplementation. Intake is usually higher with loose supplement rather than blocks or tubs, however free-choice intake can be highly variable and should be monitored. The label will provide recommended intake levels, allowing you to calculate how many days it should take for the cattle to go through a bag. Mineral intake varies throughout the year and with the stage of production of the animal. Often intake will increase in spring and early summer when forage is lush and lactation peaks. If cattle have been without mineral for a period of time, over-consumption is common but should normalize after a couple of weeks. Toward weaning, mineral intake will usually taper off. If consumption is inadequate, there are a few things you can do to try and increase, or maintain, intake, as outlined below;

  • Mix loose mineral with salt, dried molasses, or protein supplements.
  • Provide small amounts more frequently, to keep the mineral supplement fresh.
  • Use mineral feeders that protect the supplement from weather and defecation to prevent caked or contaminated and therefore less palatable mineral.
  • Situate feeders in locations where cattle tend to congregate, and ensure there are enough for all cattle to have sufficient access; one feeder for 50 animals.

Mineral requirements vary with many factors such as stage of production and feed and water composition and quality. Intake is as important as quality of the mineral supplement, especially with seasonal variations in mineral intake. Read the label of your mineral supplement to ensure it is providing what your livestock need, and that they are eating enough. During summer months when cattle are grazing fresh forages, vitamin supplementation is not usually required due to the high content in fresh forages, unless grazing poor condition pasture. Consulting with a nutritionist before making any changes to your feeding regime is advised. Tailoring a mineral and vitamin program to your operation can help move your herd production from good to great!

For more information on minerals for livestock on pasture, contact your local Regional Livestock Specialist or the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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