Sometimes, it's the little things that are overlooked. When looking at the big scheme of things for cow-calf producers, minerals are the littlest things, but they can have a major impact on the producer's bottom line, says the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Mineral supplementation is the most cost-effective beef cattle management practice available. It can provide your cattle with the minerals needed to perform to their genetic potential.

When thinking about cow-calf nutrition, most often water, energy (TDN) and protein are the major concerns. They are important, but mineral deficiencies can lead to reduced rebreeding rates, reduced milk production, lower weaning weights, retained placentas, weak calves and poor immune functions.

All of these production factors affect a producer's bottom line.

Cattle require mineral supplementation during all times of the year. The required minerals are divided into major and trace minerals.

Major minerals include sodium, chlorine, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sulfur. Trace minerals are zinc, copper, selenium, manganese, iron, nickel, cobalt, molybdenum and iodine. Trace minerals are just as important as the major minerals, but they're called trace minerals because they are required in much smaller amounts.

Of all the major minerals, sodium is deficient most of the time. Supplemental salt or (sodium chloride) is nearly always required by the beef herd. The only exception is when water is high in salt or with forages that are grown on very salty soils.

Sodium and chlorine are major electrolytes found in body fluids, and there is little body storage. Because of this, cattle will develop deficiencies rapidly. They should have constant access to salt or a supplement containing salt. Trace minerals usually deficient in Arkansas forages are zinc, copper and selenium.

Zinc is a part of many important enzyme systems in the body, and its deficiency leads to depressed feed intake and growth rate, abnormal hair coat and skin lesions. An adequate zinc amount is also needed for normal immune response in stressed calves. The bodies of cattle won't store zinc well, and deficiencies can occur rapidly.

Zinc methionine, an organic zinc complex, has improved performance in feedlot cattle and in cattle grazing forages. Zinc methionine will also help overcome foot problems in cattle.

Copper can be stored in the liver, and levels build up rapidly when animals are fed high levels of copper. Copper deficiencies can lead to compromised immune systems.

Selenium deficiencies can cause white muscle disease in calves, which is characterized by stiffness and heart failure. The activity of selenium is related to vitamin E in that supplementation with either will help prevent white muscle disease. Marginal selenium deficiency can result in retained placenta, impaired fertility, silent heats and unthrifty weak calves with poor immune response.


George Davis and Tom Troxel are with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.