When the pocketbook gets thin sometimes the first thing to get scrimped is the livestock’s diet. We glean a little bit more from the hay, a little bit more from the field, and supplementing becomes less of a priority. Whether it’s time or money that’s running low, how long can the cattle really go, lacking some of those essential nutrients, and still produce?
Dona Funk, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, answers some of these questions.

What are the micronutrient needs of cattle?
“Many cattle producers know that there are several minerals that their cattle need like calcium, phosphorus and sodium. There are also several other minerals that cattle need in smaller doses, trace minerals or microminerals, that are as essential to the health and performance of an animal. These include iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, cobalt and selenium.”

How can you supplement in a cost-efficient way?
“Many of these minerals are supplemented through a free-choice mineral, but that may not be the most cost-effective way.  In order to ensure that each animal is receiving the proper amount, a trace mineral supplement can be added to a complete mixed ration or a supplement. This allows each animal to consume the needed amount without overconsumption, as long as there is adequate bunk space to allow each animal to consume the feed. Trace mineral supplementation can also be done using a self-feeding mineral free-choice but some animals will over consume the supplement while others will eat less than they need. Salt or highly palatable concentrates are usually added to these systems to encourage supplement intake, which increases cost."   

What are the results of not having the correct micronutrients in a diet?
"For example, copper deficiencies are fairly common among Missouri cattle that consume forages as a major portion of their diet. A copper deficiency can cause weight loss, bleaching of the hair coat and anemia. In regions of the state where vegetation supplies less than 5 ppm of copper, adult beef animals occasionally suffer from falling disease, sudden death due to heart failure and anemia. Another trace mineral, cobalt, is required for synthesis of vitamin B12 by ruminal bacteria. A cobalt deficiency can cause a decrease in appetite, followed by muscle wasting and anemia. Cobalt supplementation is important for beef cows wintered on low-quality roughages of all types."

What does salt do for a cow?
"Salt is the common form of sodium and chlorine supplementation. Both of these minerals maintain the volume and pH of the body fluids. Sodium is involved in muscle and nerve function, and chlorine is essential for removing carbon dioxide from the body tissues. Salt can easily be fed free-choice to cattle, but they will usually consume more salt than needed if it is not fed in block form."


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