One of the most frequently asked questions I get from cow/calf producers is whether they should use chelated minerals. Chelated minerals are trace minerals that have been attached to an organic compound such as an amino acid.

Oddly, the answer is "yes" and "no." It's "yes" if the producer has a specific problem - breeding, scours, foot rot, grass tetany, weaning, calving, or uses other practices like AI or embryo transfer. It's "no" if the animal is fed a balanced diet and does not encounter any stress factors or specific problems.

When asked to consider using chelated minerals, many producers say "I will just feed more of my regular (inorganic) mineral." This does not work. Research shows that twice the level of the sulfate (inorganic) form of copper or zinc will depress the response from the mineral.

In addition, high levels of one mineral may tie up another mineral - iron and molybdenum may tie up copper. In water samples, I use a maximum of 400 ppm to determine if there is enough excess sulfate in the water to tie up copper.

With inorganic minerals (sulfates, carbonates and oxides) the availability (solubility) of the mineral varies a lot. Generally, the sulfate form is more available than the oxide form.

Some of the most positive responses I've experienced in clients' herds are improved reproductive performance, increased immune response and prevention and treatment of foot problems.

* Research reports indicate that up to 25% more viable embryos/flush, higher conception rates, and fewer services/conception may be obtained with chelates. These results are more profound when the cattle are on a poor-quality mineral program prior to receiving chelated minerals. Regarding the bull side, increased testicular size and improved semen quality and quantity have been reported.

* The immune response. Cows fed chelated minerals before calving are more likely to have calves with less scour problems and less sickness and death loss. Research shows that calves that get scours or pneumonia in the first 30 days of life will show the effects the rest of their life in reduced longevity, more health problems and reduced performance.

Weaning, especially this year with the possibility of light calves coming off dry, dusty pasture and being on the short side of feed, is another important time to use chelated minerals in the diet. The positive response of the immune system will make the vaccination program work better and improve overall health.

* It's an accepted fact that zinc-methionine aids in the improvement of hoof quality and the prevention and treatment of foot rot. In areas with continual foot rot problems, the use of zinc methionine is recommended.

One place where chelates should be used but rarely are is in areas where losses from grass tetany are a problem. Producers still use 10-14% magnesium oxide or sulfate to prevent grass tetany when a chelated magnesium would do a much better job.

"It costs too much" is the common response. I say, "What is a cow worth this year?"

When the situation calls for it, I recommend including chelates at 30% of the total mineral package. In times of extreme stress or if other situations warrant, the level of chelates may be increased to 60-70% of the total.

In most cases, chelates do not need to be fed all year. A practical program is using chelates one to two months prior to calving and continue their use until breeding season is over or it is no longer feasible to put mineral on the range.

Before a decision is made to use chelated minerals, we must first analyze the nutritional program and what the producer is trying to achieve. In some instances, we just need to get the producer on a mineral program.

Maximum production is not always economical. If there is a problem that may be eliminated or reduced by the use of chelates, then I will incorporate the specific chelated minerals I feel will do the job - not just a blanket approach.

Remember, there is a place for chelates but not every place needs chelates.

David Wieland is a nutrition consultant based in Shepherd, MT. He also publishes a subscription newsletter. Contact him at 406/373-5512 or e-mail at dwieland@mcn.net.