The importance of feeding vitamin and mineral supplements to your cattle herd

In the winter months, cattle producers across the United States work on herd maintenance. For many, this means providing cattle the right vitamin and mineral supplements to avoid deficiencies and to increase profitability.

Andrea Murray, along with her husband Matt and their sons Braxton and Breckon, live near Kingfisher, Okla. Together, the Murray family owns and operates a diversified Gelbvieh and Balancer seedstock operation and commercial cow/calf herd.

Murray’s operation has grown tremendously over the years, currently running about 300 head of momma cows. Murray said total herd health is vital to her program.

“We feed a free-choice vitamin and mineral supplement year-round along with salt. In late fall and winter, we provide protein licks enhanced with vitamins and minerals. We use a variety of kinds and brands of supplements,” Murray said.

Beth Kegley, a professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas, focuses a large amount of her work on the nutrition and management of beef stocker cattle.

“Always provide at least a supplemental salt because no pasture meets the animal’s salt requirements,” Kegley said.

The advantages to feeding supplements are endless. Murray said feeding supplements is irreplaceable and impacts the success of her family’s operation. Vitamin and mineral supplements help her cows perform at optimum levels.

To prepare for winter maintenance, Kegley recommended feeding Vitamin A and E supplements because they are usually abundant in green grasses. If cattle have not had access to green forage or are going into the winter months with a primary diet in hay or other dry forage, cattle could develop a deficiency in Vitamins A and E. “To me [feeding supplements] means the mother cow can maintain better body condition scores, enabling them to breed back more timely. It also indicates that she can pass the needed nutrients onto her unborn calf in order to give birth to a healthier, stronger calf and maintain that healthy calf with an abundant and rich milk supply,” Murray said.

Kegley said all counties have extension offices that are willing to work with producers to find cost effective methods for feeding supplements to cattle.

Murray suggested checking the descriptions on feed bags because they often offer a guaranteed analysis, ingredient list and feeding instructions if the needed supplement for your herd is already identified.

The winter months can be hard on both momma cows and their calves. As the season approaches, it is essential to be cautious of calf loss due to weak or immune-depressed calves and the possibility of cows achieving first post-calving estrous at a more rapid rate.

Murray said that by feeding supplements year-round, herd health and body condition scores (BCS) will be better maintained, even in the winter months.

Another useful tip for winter herd maintenance that Murray offered includes administering an injectable antiparasitic and a calf scour preventative vaccine.

Additionally, the Murray’s feed stockpiled hay forage in the wintertime to make up for lost standing forage. The family has even sent forage samples to be tested for Total Digestible Nutrients and protein. Murray said this testing helps her family better understand their feed sources so they can provide an adequate nutrient-rich diet for their cow herd.

Like in any operation, profitability is a goal for the Murrays, and it is “all encompassing,” Murray said.

“Fertility, mortality, and efficiency are all factors in the equation of reaching a profit and the size of the profit. All these factors can be managed in some regard by routine vaccinations, vitamin and mineral supplements, and adequate cow herd diets,” Murray said.

In addition to their cattle operation, the Murray family farms around 2,500 acres of wheat and sesame. Murray has been active in the beef industry since she was born, and she started a herd of her own in the fall of 2001.


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