Herd health and vaccination programs tend to get most of a producer’s management focus. But mineral nutrition has an important role in herd health as well. As we approach fall, this is the optimum time to make certain calves are getting extra nutrition at the ranch so they go on to perform well at the feedlot. And, heifers and cows need special attention through the fall and winter to ensure a healthy calf crop and better breed back next spring. Here are some guidelines:

Minerals For Calves
Proper calfhood vaccinations and mineral nutrition at the ranch go hand in hand. Here’s why: Montana Extension beef specialist John Paterson often cites a Colorado study that showed among calves that were preconditioned about one-third were still getting sick at the feedlot. Paterson attributes that to poor mineral supplementation.

Specifically he says, “The reason we often see sickness in feedlot is probably due to lack of mineral management starting in the cowherd. Trace minerals can have a significant carry-over effect on feedlot performance and health of calves.”

Thus, he says mineral supplementation is an important focus at the cow/calf level to enhance fertility, fetal development and the calf’s future disease resistance. Paterson adds, “A nutrition program is important from conception through the feedyard so the animal’s genetics can be fully expressed.”

For trace minerals, he says copper, zinc and phosphorus are the big three. During drought, vitamins A, D, and E may also need to be supplemented.

Because some of these minerals can have secondary interactions that limit nutrient uptake or interact with soil micronutrients that cause toxicity, Paterson advises working with a nutritionist to develop a balanced nutrition program that optimizes production.

e adds, “Trace minerals by themselves won’t cure all morbidity problems. Producers still need to consider vaccination programs, genetics, and environmental factors as well.”

Additionally, parasites can be a factor that suppress appetite and the immune system, so be certain parasite control is part of the health program at the ranch.

Cows’ Needs
For cows and heifers, minerals play a key role in enhancing fertility. Although beef cows only require 3 to 4 ounces of trace minerals in their daily diet, that little bit of supplement helps ensure proper nutrition so that cows will rebreed and produce a healthy calf every 365 days.

Paterson says the availability of free choice minerals is especially critical in the three months leading up to calving and then immediately after calving, when the cow has increased energy and protein requirements.

For instance, a spring calving cow’s phosphorus and calcium requirements are high during the winter due to fetal development. Zinc and copper have also been shown to be an important part of the cow’s diet just prior to and after calving. Thus, trace minerals are especially important during the last 90 days before calving and then through the breeding season. Providing trace minerals prior to weaning can also help produce a better immune response and weaning weights among calves.

Paterson suggests that to provide minerals cost-effectively and to the best benefit of the cow-calf pair, mineral supplements need to be utilized in a well-balanced program that matches the forage base, which varies in nutritional content during the growing season. Thus, an occasional forage analysis should be conducted on your ranch for the major minerals – calcium, phosphorus and magnesium – and the trace minerals – copper, zinc, sulfur and manganese. Getting a water quality analysis is also a good idea.

Phosphorus will likely be the primary mineral needed because its content in forages varies greatly during the year. For example, a higher phosphorus mineral is needed in the winter because phosphorus is generally lower in dried winter forages.

Paterson also suggests including a vitamin supplement because forages are often deficient in Vitamins A and E.

Mineral requirements and maximum tolerable levels
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