Most all cattle are out to pasture now and fortunately most of the intermountain high plains area has received great moisture and although the pastures are slow in getting started, it appears we are starting off with a great grazing season. Many are making decisions on proper mineral supplementation.
Before addressing this subject I would like to bring you up to date, at least to my knowledge, on the Human Society of the United States or HSUS and the National 4-H Conference situation. As you will remember the National 4-H group under the USDA made a mistake and invited HSUS to present a program to our 4-H youth at a national conference. It is my understanding that HSUS handed out some very biased information that told the youth the various ways that they could encourage others to become vegetarians and how to take action to promote their cause. The publication also gave procedures that could be used to attack the "factory farms."
Many in the industry, including myself, were very vocal in demanding an apology from the National 4-H leadership to the livestock industry. Most felt that was the least they could do and denounce any recognition that HSUS is a credible and unbiased source of information. They have chosen to neither apologize nor to respond to those that have requested information. They did say the complaints received went to an information gathering service. I guess it should be no surprise that our comments and concerns went unanswered and one might ask if even considered. It seems to have a familiar ring as other issues that are raised to the federal level.
I do have some good news however. Enough people raised concerns at the local and state level that our university Extension directors from 12 states in the north central region, which are mostly agriculture states, sent a letter to secretary of Agriculture Vilsack requesting an apology. As I would have expected, to my knowledge they have not received a response at this writing but my hat is off to the extension directors for taking this step and supporting the livestock industry in their respective states. As I have stated before I have reservations in writing about this incidence because I would not want to do anything to harm one of the best youth programs in the United States, 4-H and I will continue to give my strongest support for the excellent program at the local and state level. The overall program nationally deserves our support as well as they do so many great things and we have been told they have a procedure in place to avoid making the same mistake again.
Back to mineral supplementation. I am constantly amazed to see the tremendous differences in annual costs of mineral from one operation to another. Some report annual costs near $5 while others are in the $40 range. Obviously costs are only one side of the issue as one must ask, "Does the more costly mineral program produce high enough performance to pay for the additional cost?" In some incidences, "mineral" costs include additives that aid in fly control, ionophores that may improve performance or antibiotics that may aid in control of pinkeye or perhaps foot rot.
When horn flies go uncontrolled, cow performance is decreased and controlled studies show weaning weights can be reduced up to 25 pounds. The question then becomes which is the most economical way to control horn flies. On a side note, house and stable flies have tended to be a bigger problem the past several years and although some will argue the insect growth regulating chemicals (IGR) have some impact on the house and stable fly, the label indicates horn fly control. Rabon does have some beneficial effect on controlling house and stable fly development in the manure patties however this often is not the only place for larva development. The house and stable fly are very difficult to control. Permectnins and other insecticides have excellent knock down effects, however, have very little residual so the fly population return very rapidly.
Of the minerals considered, phosphorus is the major element considered in range cattle. Even though the calcium requirement is higher in most all summer grazing programs the available calcium in the forages will be adequate. The two trace minerals of most concern are zinc and copper.
Fortunately most forages in the intermountain high plains area are relatively high in all minerals during the earlier growing period. The cows' requirement for phosphorus, on a percentage basis is somewhere around .2 percent. Many analyses of good quality cool and warm season grasses up through July will be near or exceed .2 percent; thus meeting the cows' requirement. This is why several cow-calf producers only provide salt during the spring and early summer and appear to have good reproductive performance. Studies in western Nebraska where steer gain was evaluated, phosphorus containing mineral supplements did not improve performance over steers only offered salt.
As the grass starts to mature then often analysis will show the phosphorus will decrease below the cows' requirement as well as does zinc and copper. Therefore mineral supplements containing relatively low levels of phosphorus (4-6 percent) with some added zinc and copper may be beneficial in the later grazing season.
It is important to monitor level of intake. In areas where the mineral levels in the water and/or forages are high intake may be lower than desired while on the other hand in some areas over consumption may occur adding considerably to the cost. Most commercial mineral supplements will contain ingredients such as yeast culture or in some cases flavoring agents to enhance consumption. In cases where very unpalatable mineral sources such as magnesium oxide is used these ingredients are needed, however in other cases they are not needed for adequate consumption. If supplements are grossly over consumed then either blending with higher levels of salt to control intake would be advisable or perhaps only feeding the quantity desired for them to eat and not replenishing until the time for the next indicated amount for the consumption desired. As indicated earlier in some cases mineral programs may have other ancillary benefits especially horn fly control, so uniform and adequate consumption is necessary for good larvae control.
These thoughts are presented to aid the producer in trying to keep mineral costs down and yet obtain good performance. High intake of high priced minerals will not do any harm to performance, however often times research conducted in the high plains area is lacking to show economical returns.
I hope the rains continue and the grass stays green and plentiful all summer.