Beef producers shouldn't overlook proper mineral intake as part of an overall feeding plan, according to a Purdue Extension specialist.
Ron Lemenager, a professor of animal sciences, said minerals are becoming a more important issue as feed options have changed.
"I think we pretty much had minerals taken care of when everyone was feeding corn and hay," Lemenager said. "But then it changed and we introduced by-products like distillers dried grains, corn gluten feed and soybean hulls, which changes our supplementation strategy."
If minerals such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium are out of balance, a cow could have problems with immune function, reproduction, digestion and metabolism, and onset of puberty, among other issues.
"Minerals are involved with pretty much every metabolic process in the body. Animals do not perform without them," Lemenager said. "If you don't properly provide them, it can cause problems."
Lemenager said the right combinations of forage, feed and supplements can minimize the amount of minerals necessary in some cases. He added that the composition of feeds in different areas would require different strategies.
Producers should be familiar with a few key issues involved in mineral management:
• Bioavailability: Lemenager said animals do not absorb certain forms of minerals. Many minerals in the oxide form, such as copper oxide, do not deliver the copper a producer might intend.
• Antagonists: Some minerals work against others. For example, mineral supplements high in iron or zinc may counteract the ability of an animal to absorb copper. In those cases, additional copper may be necessary.
• Chelates: Animals absorb these organic forms of minerals better, but they are more expensive. Lemenager said the cost could be worth it if the animal is stressed or severely deficient, but may not be worth it in other situations.
• Delivery methods: Lemenager said loose minerals and blocks are effective, but controlling how much an animal consumes can be difficult with those methods. Blocks can also be hard on the animal's tongue. Mixing minerals with other feeds can better ensure proper consumption.
In general, producers should develop a mineral strategy, understand how to read and interpret a feed tag, and know how the minerals will interact once ingested.
More information on proper mineral management is available in Lemenager's article, "How do you know if you're feeding the right mineral?" on pages 18-20 in the winter 2011 edition of Indiana Beef Magazine. Other beef resources can be found at http://www.thebeefcenter.com.