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Factors Affecting Mineral Requirements of Beef Cattle

The importance of proper nutrition, including protein, energy and mineral requirements can not be overlooked in a successful cattle operation.

The beef cow has a number of factors that influence her ability to maintain weight, produce milk, reproduce in a normal and systematic time frame, and avoid metabolic diseases. Energy and protein levels must be adequate for the production level desired. If inadequate, the feeding of minerals may not be the major concern.

Once the energy and protein requirements are met, mineral will become an important factor influencing all other aspects. Weight gains, milk production, reproduction, and immune system responses are affected by her mineral requirements, both in macro and micro nutrients.

Mineral Composition

Most cattle minerals are made of the same basic ingredients. What differentiates one mineral from another, and affects price as well, are the different levels of those important minerals that are guaranteed to be included by the manufacturer. While in the past, primary attention has been paid to only the calcium, phosphorus, and salt content, the importance of trace minerals and their affect on the overall productivity of the beef animal is now recognized.

Trace minerals come in several forms, with the significant difference being the "biological availability" of these important trace elements. Biological Availability has been defined as "that portion of the mineral that can be used by the animal to meet its bodily needs." It is very important that the producer appreciates the importance of bioavailability of the trace minerals in his mineral as this will affect weight gains, milk production, reproduction, and the maximum expression of the immune system.



Calcium is important to the development of bone. A calcium deficiency can delay uterine involution after calving, cause small corpora lutea, cystic ovaries, and increase retained placentas. An excess in calcium can decrease breeding efficiency by "tying up" phosphorus essential to the breeding success of the animal and can cause testicular degeneration in bulls. Minerals should be on a 1:1 to 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio to achieve the correct balance.


It has been said that the greatest discovery in beef cattle nutrition occurred when the importance of phosphorus was realized. It is one of the most important minerals to consider in maintaining normal reproductive functions. Phosphorus deficiency can decrease the overall breeding efficiency of the herd causing delayed onset of puberty, depressed fertility, decrease ovarian activity, and small corpora lutea. Weak and stillborn calves can also result from phosphorus deficiency.

Since phosphorus is the most expensive of the macro minerals, it is important that your mineral have the correct level. This insures not only that there are adequate levels to meet the cattle's requirements, but also that you are not "over purchasing" and spending more than is needed. In recent research done by several universities, it has been found through liver biopsies that a very high percent of cattle showed better than average phosphorus levels using minerals containing 10% phosphorus. With the knowledge of this research, it is now being recommended that all producers look closely at the phosphorus level and not over spend on unneeded phosphorus.


Salt is the one mineral that always needs to be supplied to cattle and is the only mineral that cattle have nutritional wisdom to actually consume at a level that meets dietary requirements. Salt is used to control consumption in most minerals.


Trace mineral supplementation is gaining more importance every day. The seven trace minerals most likely to influence reproduction and weight gains in cattle are: copper, selenium, cobalt, iodine, selenium, zinc, and manganese. Deficiencies of these important trace minerals can occur and will affect reproductive performance or related important economic production parameters. Other trace minerals such as iron and molybdenum can be important considerations, but seldom from a deficiency standpoint. In both cases, excesses can have an impact on the animal most notably by their negative impact on copper utilization.

The importance of a good trace mineral package cannot be over emphasized. These "micro-ingredients" provide various nutritional minerals that can make a large difference in the productivity and efficiency of any mineral.

Many minerals contain inorganic trace minerals (oxides or sulfates) as their source of trace minerals. While these products are effective, the use of a chelated or sequestered trace minerals (polysaccharides) has proven to be even more effective as their "bioavailability to the cattle increases." This "bioavailability" of the trace minerals is most important to the cattle producer. Dr. Jerry Spears, a nationally known beef cattle nutritionist from North Carolina University, is a leader in performing nutritional studies on the effect of different trace minerals in the ruminant diet and what effect this has on their reproductive system. In a study done by Dr. Spears on trace minerals he concluded "that the use of certain organic trace mineral complexes or chelates in ruminant diets has increased performance (growth and milk production), carcass quality and immune responses and decreased somatic cell counts in milk compared with animals fed inorganic forms of the mineral. Trace minerals sequestered as amino acid or polysaccharide complexes have the highest biological availability and also have a higher stability and solubility. These mineral forms also have a lack of interaction with vitamins and other ions and are effective at low levels."


The role of zinc in reproductive function appears to be more pronounced on the male side than the female side. Research studies show that zinc deficiency in the bull causes impaired fertility through delayed testicular development, small testicles, and an alteration in the late stage of spermatozoa formation. In the female, it can cause decreased fertility through abnormal estrous behavior and cystic ovaries.

Zinc also plays an important role in the growth of stocker cattle through immune system functions and its secretion of important enzymes. Zinc also works as a "healer" in the hoof of the animal thereby reducing foot rot cases and problems associated with it.

Zinc levels of 2000 ppm to 4000 ppm is recommended in quality "breeder" minerals.


Copper is involved in numerous body functions such as: hemoglobin formation, iron absorption and mobilization and connective tissue metabolism -- usually via copper's involvement in enzyme function. In fact, one of the major effects of copper deficiency may well be its effect on enzyme systems reducing productivity via alteration of enzymatic activity in the body.

Specifically, it appears that copper may play a role in two key area - altered reproductive performance and immunosuppression.

In a number of research studies it's been clearly documented that a copper deficiency can have an effect on fertility. This has been evidenced by a reduction in first service conception rates, altered embryonic survival, and a reduction in overall pregnancy rates. The effect on fertility can range from very limited to very pronounced. In addition to its affect on fertility, research has shown that there will also be an alteration in reproductive behavior, or the manner in which cows show estrous activity. Semen quality, depressed libido, and testicular degeneration can also occur in bulls where copper deficiency occurs.

Perhaps the greatest effect of copper deficiency from an economic standpoint is its impact on the function of the animal's immune system. In incidences of copper deficiency, it appears that the immune system is altered in animals making them more susceptible to a variety of diseases. The incidence of scours has increased in calves born to copper deficient dams and there is documentation to show that abomasal ulcers shortly after birth is related to copper deficiency in the calves. Other studies show respiratory problems can occur as well.

Even in places where copper is available in adequate levels, excesses of other trace elements such as molybdenum and sulfur may "tie up" the copper and not allow it to become available to the animal.

Copper levels of 1000 ppm to 2000 ppm are recommended in most "breeder" minerals.


Selenium is an important trace mineral and can be both deficient and toxic within the same state. Selenium deficiency can affect production within a cow herd with an increase in the incidence of early embryonic death. Retained placentas, cystic ovaries, and the increased evidence of weak or silent heat periods may also be caused by lack of selenium. There is also evidence existing linking selenium deficiency to weak calves at calving time.

As with copper, there is evidence that a deficiency of selenium will alter the immune system function in animals making them considerably more susceptible to disease problems.

Because of the variance of pastures, it is best to know if there is a known selenium problem in your area when considering the correct level of selenium in your mineral.


The importance of the correct level of vitamins in any mineral in important. The three essential vitamins - A, D and E, - must be provided to your cattle to insure that their requirements are met whether that be for optimum weight gain for stocker cattle or reproduction efficiency for a cow-calf operation.

Natural Ruminant "Bug Builders"

The use of natural "ruminant bug builders" is also an important aspect of any mineral. Getting the most digestibility out of the feed nutrients is essential to the success of a ranching operation. Minerals that use a yeast culture and other natural ruminant "bug builders" allow any animal to get maximum digestion and availability out of native pastures or quality feed ingredients.


The use of approved medications have proven to assist in the overall performance of cattle minerals.

The use of Chlortetracycline (CTC) can play an important part in the overall rebreeding success of the herd. By using it at the "correct" times in the year, you will increase your conception rates, increase weaning weights and decrease weaning stress and the chance of anaplasmosis in your operation. Chlortetracycline will also aid in the preventing foot rot as well as bad eyes in the cow herd.

The use of Chlortetracycline (CTC), Rumensin, or Bovatec can increase weight gains and assist in the control of low level diseases, foot rot and bad eyes. The cost of these medications is very "cost effective."

For questions or additional information: Call Min Mix Minerals at 1-800-530-5442 or E mail at [email protected] or [email protected]