nutrition is one of the least understood components of the bovine
diet. I consider mineral supplements to be an indispensable
management tool that the American cattle person must learn how to use
in order to maintain the productivity of his/her herd and avoid
unintended, expensive losses. Next to implementing a well managed
breeding program, compensating for mineral deficiencies created by
depleted soils and other environmental factors is probably the most
important responsibility we have for keeping our livestock healthy and
reproductively sound. If we, as cattle producers, do not
understand the logistics of mineral nutrition then we are at the mercy
of the trained consultant working for a big mineral company, a feed
store manager (who may not even own a cow), the veterinarian who
charges by the hour, or perhaps just as bad the fallacies of our own
ignorance. In any event, more often then not we don’t get the
proper mineral nutrition into our animals that it takes to put an end
to the health and performance problems that take away profits
(mastitis, cow pox, ringworms, foot rot, parasite infestation, ecoli
scours, retained placenta, reproduction, pink-eye and many other).
The key to mineral nutrition is
not only bioavailability but also balance in the ration.
Minerals that are fed in the correct proportions for your particular
environment will provide
the support your animals need to stay healthy and reproduce abundantly.
properly balanced mineral supplement can virtually eliminate most
health problems including Ecoli scours in baby calves and diarrhea in
the adult animals. Early shedding of the winter hair coat come
springtime is very important and closely associated with reproduction
ability and good health. Both are affected and can be
greatly improved with proper balanced mineral nutrition.
cows probably suffer more from mineral deficiencies than beef animals
because of the pressure put on them to produce great volumes of
milk. Most dairy cows are in confinement and living in a
Minerals are Essential for Healthy Livestock
by Geardy Fry
It has been my experience that, for the most part, it is a low or slow
immune response resulting from inadequate or imbalanced mineral
nutrition that causes low pregnancy rates, high levels of mastitis, and
high bacteria cell counts in the milk. Taking away a cow’s
ability to find and choose her own food, keeping her confined - unable
to move freely - or circulate toxins out of her body and instead
bringing her every bite she consumes to where she stands, requires a
very keen artistic knowledge of animal biology and a very keen artistic
eye to watch her for symptoms associated with mineral deficiencies
and/or other nutritional imbalances that come with confinement
management if one is to keep health problems at bay.
was during the mid 1970’s that a large majority of my young calves came
down with Ecoli scours and it was near devastating. I had
to find out why and how to prevent it in the future. I learned
through the trauma of that sickness the critical importance of minerals
in the bovine diet, the role they play in the health of my cows and
their calves, and whether I could continue to take the losses or find
the solutions and continue to support my family.
began the search for answers and through the process of educating
myself about mineral nutrition. I learned what the essential
minerals were and the amount of each that was required to keep my
animals healthy. I studied the list of contents on many different
mineral bags and taught myself how to convert parts per million (ppm)
into milligrams per ounce (mg/oz.) and how to convert percentages (%)
to milligrams per ounce. These are the various units of measure
for the minerals that are listed on the tag or label of the mineral bag.
is my intent here to share with you what I’ve discovered regarding
minerals and what amounts of each is necessary to promote and sustain
the health of our cattle. Many of these minerals are actually
inorganic metals and are called micronutrients because they are only
needed in small, minute amounts. Regardless they are needed in a
“big way” to keep the endocrine, digestive, reproductive, immune and
other animal biological systems functioning properly.
when you look at the tag on a mineral bag you will notice that the
calcium and phosphorus amounts are given as a ratio. Common
ratios are 1.5-1, 2-1, or even 1-1 calcium to phosphorus. There
really are many different mixture amounts used in the mineral
formulation and in some areas where the soil phosphorus is known to be
in the high side, there could be very little or none of this mineral
put in the mix.
do require salt and it is normal for cows to consume about 2 ounces a
day. Adding salt to the mineral mix is a common way to control or
limit over consumption.
Some people will buy mineral and salt separately and then mix the two
together pound for pound. That concoction will have very little
value to the animal. A typical 50# bag of mineral is designed to
be fed at the rate of 2 to 4 ounces per animal/day. Each ounce
supplies specific amounts of the many different minerals and is to be
fed at the recommended rate to achieve the desired response.
Adding additional salt will decrease daily intake and dilute the
mixture thus reducing the effectiveness (benefits) of the minerals for
your cows, bulls and calves.
pH of the water that your animals consume is important and can have
negative consequences if it is too low or too high.
The ideal range for water pH is between 6.3 and 7.2. An easy way
to check your water pH is with Litmus paper. If your water has a
high pH, is high in iron, sodium or other minerals, your cattle may not
drink all that they require to stay adequately hydrated. The
chemical effect of water that is high in iron is that copper becomes
bound and unavailable which most definitely creates health problems.
the ideal world, cattle would get the correct amounts of all the
required minerals from the grass and forages they consume. But
for many reasons, from environment (and uterine environment) to
genetics to management, our cattle do not get the minerals they require
to maintain health and a high reproductive status and therefore must be
supplemented accordingly. Lush green grass and legumes growing
from a living, fertile soil will provide many of the nutrients
(minerals) that cattle need to meet the demands we place on them and as
such should not need the level of supplementation that they would
require at other times of the year or when pasture growing conditions
change from favorable.
has determined the mineral dietary requirements for cattle and the
information below lists these minerals and what amounts the identified
author has determined to be necessary for a cow to consume each day to
remain healthy, reproduce and thrive in their environment.
following values are not intended to be a specific formula that will
accurately match your animals’ needs. Because conditions are
different and unique to each farm/ranch, the following information is
presented as a guide to help you understand and recognize the role
minerals play in the health of your livestock. Notice how some
minerals affect others.
can experience mineral deficiencies as well as mineral toxicities and
often times the physical signs are similar. When you learn
how to identify both deficiency and toxicity signs and know their
affects, you then realize how to adjust your mineral program so that it
will support the highest levels of health and production in your cow
following information that is in italics font comes straight from the
book Mineral Levels In Animal
Health: Diagnostic Data written by Robert Puls. The book is a
master piece for learning how to manage your cattle’s health. It was
published by Sherpa International, 1062-256th Street, Aldregrove, BC
V4W 2J3. Phone/fax 604-856-7534.
lethargy, trembling of hindquarters and weakness of legs with broken or
weak bones after prolonged deficiency. Subclinical hypocalcaemia
can occur – stillborn calves and retained placentas may result.
fever is one of the major calcium deficiencies that plague the dairy
osteopetrosis, vertebral ankylosis and degenerative
osteoarthritis. May reduce fat digestibility. Metastatic Ca
deposition in skeletal and cardiac muscle.
requirements for calcium range from 7500 to 8500 milligrams per/day.
mineral will be in the 12% range. That 12% percent = 3408 milligrams
calcium per ounce.
feed intake and milk yield, unthriftness, lethargy, reduced growth
rate, impaired reproduction (silent heat, low fertility) and bone
abnormalities. May increase metritis and reduce immune response.
Marginal deficiency signs resemble those of Cobalt deficiency. Sever
deficiency causes pica (chewing on wood or other unnatural
objects). Phosphorus deficiency reduces performance more quickly
dietary phosphorus in relation to calcium results in weak bones, downer
cow syndrome and urinary calculi. Maximum tolerated dietary level
approximately 1.0% regardless of calcium level.
Dietary requirement for phosphorus is approximately 4000 milligrams per
mineral will be in the 6% range. That 6% = 1488 milligrams per ounce.
Signs and Effects:
or faded hair coat, reduced growth rate, or diarrhea if molybdenum
induced. Sudden death with no prior signs if pure copper or Fe
fertility in cows and semen quality in bulls. Retained
placenta. Increased incidence of abomasal ulcers. Inability
to suckle, incoordination, stiff gait, opisthotonus or lateral
recumbancy in new born and young calves. Improper bone development,
heal cracks, sole abscesses, foot rot or impaired keritinization
manifested as coarse hair. Cardiovascular disease and reduced immune
response. Cattle may have extremely high or low copper status
without showing any signs of toxicity or deficiency. Erythrocyte
superoxide dismutase activity declines with deficiency but less rapidly
than serum copper.
signs and Effects:
anorexia, frequent recumbancy, abdominal discomfort, jaundice and
decreased milk production. Hemolytic crises, hemoglobinuria and
hemoglobinaemia. Tolerable copper excess may impart oxidized
flavor to milk and reduce sulphur available to rumen flora with
consequent reduced productivity.
absorption from diet decreases as animal matures – 90% at birth to
<10% at 50 days.
requirements for copper range from 150 to 250 milligrams per day.
minerals may be 2500 PPM. That 2500 PPM is 71 milligrams per ounce.
Signs – Severe:
muscle disease, diarrhea, muscle stiffness, sudden death due to cardiac
failure with no prior signs of sickness. Occasionally recumbancy
particularly in parturient cows - similar to milk fever syndrome.
Signs – Marginal:
placentas, abortions, weak, stillborn or lethargic calves often unable
to stand or suckle reduced fertility, cystic ovaries, metritis, delayed
conception, erratic, weak or silent heat periods and poor
fertilization. Reduced growth rate, reduced immune response
apparent as pneumonia, scouring, foot rot and mastitis etc.
signs - lassitude, inappetance, dyspnea and death. Blind staggers
or Alkali Disease, loss of hair, cracked or deformed hooves and
lameness. Current research indicates blind staggers may not be caused
by selenium. Toxicity of the selenium accumulating plants (Astragalus
Sp.), may not be due to Selenium but other organic toxins in the same
dietary requirement for selenium for the cow range from 4 to 6
milligrams a day.
3 milligrams per helping/day of selenium is allowed by law.
Purchased mineral is commonly close to 26 PPM. That 26 PPM is 0.73
milligrams per ounce.
failure; suppressed estrus, stillbirths, abortions, gestation period
extended by up to 9 days, hairless or weak calves, retained
placenta. Goiter, reduced milk yield, foot rot, respiratory
diseases, mastitis and actinomycosis are prevented or respond to EDDI
excessive salivation, hyperthermia, coughing, nasal and ocular
discharge, bronchopneumonia and abortions. Individual animals
show apparent inability to metabolise and excrete EDDI.
Iodine requirements range from 25 to 28 milligrams per cow/day.
minerals that contain iodine commonly have 3 to 5 milligrams per ounce.
Some manufactures have higher amounts and it will be labeled in PPM.
signs occur in calves, whereas subclinical deficiency is more likely in
adults. Weak hoof horn with increased susceptibility to
interdigital dermatitis or foot rot. Reduced conception rate,
severely impaired spermatozoan maturation. Reduced feed intake
and growth rate. Lethargy. Reduced immune response.
Parakeratosis. Zinc is essential for normal wound healing and
synthesis of collagen in bone.
in adult cattle is uncommon. 2.0% zinc in dairy feed has killed
mature cows. Zinc at 6-8 PPM in drinking water may adversely
affect cattle. Pancreatitis occurs with > 1600 PPM dietary
zinc. 500 PPM zinc in milk replacer or 1.5-2.0 grams of zinc
per/head/day for 30 days is toxic to preruminant calves. High
zinc intake interferes with calcium metabolism. 120 milligrams of zinc
(as oxide) per kg of body weight for 3 days can cause hypocalcaemia.
calves are more susceptible than adults. Excessive bawling,
increased milk replacer consumption, diarrhea and polyuria followed by
pica, then reduced appetite, submandibular edema and emaciation.
Pneumonia, ocular signs, bloat and cardiac errhythmias may occur,
terminating in tonic-clonic convulsions, nystagmus and lack of
sensorium. Increased incidence of arthritis and milk fever may
occur in adults.
requirements for cows range from 1200 to 1600 milligrams per day.
minerals that contain 3000 PPM will have 85.22 milligrams per ounce.
minerals with 1.9% zinc will contain 539.6 milligrams per ounce.
linked to silent heat, reduced conception, abortions, reduced birth
weight, increased percentage of male calves, paralysis and skeletal
by reduced appetite and growth rate, anemia and abdominal
discomfort. Abortion and cystic ovaries may be associated with
excess manganese. Manganese is excreted in bile at rate of 12.7 umol/kg
requirements for Manganese range around 1200 milligrams per/cow/day.
minerals that contain 2500 PPM will have 71.02 milligrams manganese per
Signs and Effects:
trembling, frothing at mouth, hyperaesthesia, tetany, incoordination,
convulsions and death. Death is often sudden with no prior
signs. Sub-clinical hypomagnesemia may reduce food intake and
adversely affect milk yield and heart function. Magnesium appears
to play a role in activation of vitamin D. Hypomagnesemia reduces
calcium mobilization in steers, non-pregnant lactating cows and cows at
dietary magnesium reduces feed intake, retards growth rate and produces
diarrhea and emaciation. BUN and serum creatinine levels become
greatly elevated, and serum calcium is reduced.
dietary requirements for cows range from 5,000 to 10,000 milligrams per
minerals that contain 5% magnesium contain 1420 milligrams per/ounce.
for Converting % to Milligrams per Ounce (mg/oz.)
The mineral bag label list the Phosphorus to be 12%.
1. 12% X 284 (conversion factor) = 3408 mg/ounce
The percent X 284 (conversion factor) = mg/ounce
the feeding instructions call for 4 ounces./head/day than 3408
milligrams/ounce X 4 ounces would equal 13632 milligrams of phosphorus
- the amount your cows would consume a day with that mineral.
for Converting PPM to Milligrams per Ounce (mg/oz.)
Tag on mineral bag indicates the selenium content to be at 26 PPM per
26 PPM X .0284 (conversion factor) = 0.7384 mg/ounce.
the feeding instructions call for 4 ounces/head/day than 0.7384
milligrams/ounce X 4 ounces would equal 2.95 milligrams - the amount of
selenium your cows would consume a day with that mineral. Do you
think their systems would be deficient, adequate or toxic with this
amount of selenium?
you starting to get the idea why it is so important to read and
Here is a summary table for the mineral
requirements discussed above.
Mineral Requirements for a Cow
7500 to 8500 mg/per/day
1200 to 1600 mg/per/day
5000 to 10,000 mg/per/day
Often times it is necessary to buy
individual minerals and add additional amounts of them to a mix
already put together in order to get the required amounts up to where
they need to be. The content of the mineral in that
“individual” mineral bag is typically given as a percent.
needing to add extra: Calcium - look for Calcium Carbonate with a
content of 38%.
and Phosphorus – look for Dicalcium Phosphate with the content of 21%
calcium & 18% Phosphorus or Mono Calcium Phosphate with the content
of 18% calcium & 21% phosphorus.
– look for Copper Sulfate with a content of 25.2%.
– look for Magnesium Sulfate with a content of 31.5%.
– look for Zinc Sulfate with a content of 35.5%.
should now be able to read most any mineral bag label or batch mix tag
that a mill prepares and determine, using the formulas above, what
amounts of each mineral your cattle are taking in assuming they
ingest the recommended daily amount. The last point I wish to
make is that some sources of minerals are more biologically available
then others and certain minerals are antagonistic to others which means
one may counteract the effect of another. Start with the
information presented here and I am confident you will see favorable
now you have the basic information that helped me go from overwhelming
sickness in my herds to the virtual elimination of several diseases, to
the return of sustainable profits. It was a challenge for me then
and I challenge each you now to educate yourself, to learn about
mineral nutrition and animal health and reproduction. If you
train yourself to recognize the signs caused by mineral imbalances
(especially mineral deficiencies) that your livestock exhibit then you
too can take action and significantly minimize the occurrence of those
illnesses that rob us on a daily basis. © 2006
NOTE: Many cattlemen are
finding it increasingly difficult to purchase individual minerals in
bulk. If this is your experience we suggest you contact LancasterAG in Lancaster,
Pennsylvania. They have very reasonable rates and do ship.
"Only be strong and very courageous,
that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My
Servant commanded you; do not turn to the right hand or to the left
that you may prosper where ever you go." Joshua 1:7