Supplement needs likely no different after wet year
Ranchers are always aware of the weather in their area, and Gerald Stokka, associate professor at North Dakota State University (NDSU) and NDSU extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist said Mother Nature can play a key role in the mineral needs of cattle. Despite the extreme moisture that plagued the area last year, Stokka said the mineral levels of forage should not have drastically changed. Stokka said producers should be aware of the condition of their feed, however, which can indicate a need for minerals. Some nutrients like fat soluble vitamins can be lost during the harvest process. He said when forage is rained on before harvest, vitamins like A and E can be leeched out. Even if not leeched out, Stokka said these vitamins can still degrade over time.
While changes in the values of feed can be seen based on an operation’s geographic location, there are some needs livestock possess that remain constant. Phosphorus, copper, zinc and selenium are all key minerals needed for productivity in cattle, Stokka said. Walker adds magnesium potassium and sulfur to the list of necessary minerals.
To help provide any of these important macro- or microminerals, Walker said ranchers have many options. Minerals can be provided in a tub, block, loose pellets or powder, or be incorporated into a feed ration directly, she said. “Minerals are critically important to livestock,” said Julie Walker, beef extension specialist at South Dakota State University. “There’s a fine art to creating the right mineral program.”
Walker said minerals are categorized into two groups – major or macro minerals and microminerals. Apt to their names, Walker said macro minerals should be fed in larger amounts while microminerals in smaller amounts.
Minerals in both groups need to be acquired by cattle in adequate amounts for cattle to function properly and efficiently, she added. From conception rates to growth, Walker said minerals are a crucial ingredient to the success of a cattle operation.
The supplemental needs of cattle vary greatly from ranch to ranch, as Walker said forage and feed stuffs serve as the main provider of minerals to cattle.
“Cattle do not always necessarily get the required minerals that they need from the feedstuffs we provide,” said Stokka. “Unless you know exactly what type of minerals your forages and grains provide, you in all likelihood will need to supplement something.”
To help eliminate this uncertainty and build a solid supplement program for their herd, Walker encourages ranchers to test their feed. She said this test can be performed on harvested forage or grass and will reveal which nutrients are lacking or in abundance in the feed.
Ranchers can consult a nutrient requirement table based on the type of animal they are feeding (feedlot calf or breeding female) and make their decisions for supplementation on the knowledge from the table and the feed analysis. Walker said analysis of feed should be performed once or twice a year to avoid problems with the nutrient needs of their herds.
Stokka said ranchers might notice their animals’ mineral requirements are not being met during the wintertime, when less green grass is readily available.
“There are always some indications when those minerals are in short supply,” he said. “The cow herd will tell you when things are out of balance.”
Cattle typically react in a certain way when a particular mineral is not being provided in a balanced manner, he added. For example, low rates of copper can lead to diarrhea, pneumonia or low fertility, Stokka said.
On a much broader scale, Stokka adds insufficient mineral consumption can lead to a herd lacking growth, showing decreased levels of conception and an overall decline in general health. By keeping an eye out for changes in their livestock, ranchers can see if additional supplementation needs to be provided along with their forage rations, Stokka said.
In cow-calf operations, Walker said tubs and blocks are typically utilized. This can be problematic as she said ranchers just have to “cross their fingers” and hope the cattle come up. While tubs may be slightly more costly than blocks, Walker said they are a better option in providing higher levels of minerals to cattle. These tubs also often come with ingredients capable of enhancing the cattle’s desire to consume them.
With his own cattle herd, Stokka said he prefers to utilize lick tubs. He does admit this option comes with an added expense but said the combination of convenience and effectiveness makes the investment well worth it.
Some vitamins may have leeched out slightly if forage was rained on before being baled, but otherwise, Stokka said the nutrient requirements of cattle have likely not wavered from their typical needs at this time of year. He encourages ranchers to check their mineral tags and purchase fresh minerals for their cattle to help provide the best care to their livestock.
Stokka said ensuring minerals are provided is another step of animal stewardship he and his fellow ranchers believe is a necessary part of caring for their herds.
“We want to make sure the animals are getting what they need,” he said. “It’s a level of husbandry that most ranchers I know don’t want to skimp on.”
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