MINERALS are important building blocks of functional life that aid in countless bodily processes. When the body in question is a 1,500 lb. beef cow, she may need supplemental minerals during several crucial periods throughout the year, according to Kansas State University Research & Extension beef specialist Chris Reinhardt.
"Speaking specifically about the beef cow herd and production beef cows, they require macro minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, sodium, chlorine, potassium and magnesium," Reinhardt said. "They also have requirements for trace elements."
These trace elements include, for example, copper, zinc, selenium, manganese and cobalt, Reinhardt said. Some of these minerals are stored in the liver or other tissues during times of plenty for use during times of deficiency.
"We need to be aware of the mineral balance in the forages a cow might be consuming, and we have to be aware of the demand that cow has for those minerals," he said.
Reinhardt outlined several scenarios where a cow may have different needs.
"Calcium is being drawn out in milk during lactation. Copper and zinc are used heavily for reproduction, during the gestation and during immune challenges. The needs of the cow change throughout the year, and the supply of minerals available changes tremendously throughout the year as well. Our job, as producers, is to make sure we are matching what the cow has access to with what her needs are," he said.
"The first step is to assess the needs of the animal," Reinhardt said. "For instance, a gestating cow requires different levels of calcium and phosphorus than does a lactating cow."
During peak lactation, producers have to ensure that the cow has access to adequate macro and trace minerals, he said.
"The second step of developing a strategy is assessing what is available to the animal," he continued. "For example, we've had abundant rains throughout Kansas and much of the western U.S. In the spring, when we have adequate rainfall to produce abundant, lush forage, the forage alone is adequate in phosphorus to meet most of the needs of a lactating cow. However, as that forage matures into summer months, phosphorus content will decline to well below the needs of a lactating cow."
This is where producers need to intervene and ensure that adequate provisions are made not only for calcium and phosphorus but also for many of the trace minerals, he explained.
To determine the mineral content in the available forage, Reinhardt said producers may initially want to have forages analyzed for mineral content. Then, producers can work with their veterinarians or beef nutritionists to determine a supplement that fills the gap, he said.
According to Reinhardt, many producers use the "one mineral concept," where they buy a mineral that meets most of the animals' needs most of the time. When the cattle eat it adequately and predictably, the producer simply leaves the mineral out year-round. During times of the year when the cattle's needs may be lower, such as in spring, when there is ample high-quality forage available, they may eat only a little or none of that one mineral.
"As the grass quality declines, you will notice an increase in the consumption of that mineral," Reinhardt said. "In the fall or winter, when we are supplying supplemental feeds such as soybean meal, distillers grain and good-quality hay, the cattle may go back to a period where they may not be eating a tremendous amount of mineral."
Another option is to use different mineral formulations during different times of the year, he explained.
"If you're feeding wet distillers grains and high-quality hay, you may have a need for calcium and trace minerals but not a tremendous need for supplemental phosphorus," he said.
Deciphering mineral labels
Mineral labels are subject to law that states that if a mineral ingredient is included in a product, there are certain items that must be included on the tag, which is the first place producers should check, Reinhardt said. Pay close attention to levels of phosphorus, calcium, salt, potassium, copper and selenium.
Adequate selenium is important in beef cattle diets, but it is highly regulated by the federal government, because it is toxic to humans and livestock at high levels. Because soils and forages in parts of the U.S. have low levels of selenium, it is important that producers make sure cattle are getting adequate selenium.
If copper is included in the product, it must be at a guaranteed minimum level on the label. There are many areas of the U.S. where copper is deficient in the soil and in the forages during various times of year, so Reinhardt said producers should make sure to have a formula that works well with the geography.
K*Coe Isom and The Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University recently unveiled an agreement to work together and with the beef industry to provide educational and communication resources on sustainability topics. The partnership will focus on two key areas.
The "Online Sustainability Education & Training" project will add beef sustainability training for producers as an option they can access on BCI's existing beef quality assurance platform. Producers will learn the latest research on animal care, environmental, economic and community/worker engagement issues.
The partnership will also host a Beef Sustainability Knowledge Summit, which will provide a vehicle for bringing multiple stakeholders together to share the latest academic research, market trends, consumer communication ideas and best practices within the key categories of animal care, economic, environmental and worker/community engagement issues related to the beef industry. The purpose of the summit will be to advance education, communication and dialogue across the entire value chain.
"In the coming decade, the food and agriculture industry will be facing significant challenges: shifting consumer preferences, natural resource scarcities, increasing demand for protein in emerging economies and more extreme weather events. All of this adds up to an unprecedented level of market risk," said Sara Harper, director of sustainability and supply-chain solutions at K*Coe Isom.
"Together with (Kansas State) and working with others in the industry like the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, we're creating new opportunities for beef producers to add to their knowledge on topics that we believe could significantly help them manage against these future risks," Harper added.