Proper supplements are critical for successful operations 

A laser focus on the larger things in a farming operation can sometimes be all consuming. Producers may put what seems to be less important practices on the back burner. But attention to small details can make a huge impact. For instance, selecting the right mineral supplements for livestock can bring health benefits big and small.

Selecting Minerals

Typically, livestock specialists recommend three major minerals for livestock: calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Trace minerals such as zinc and copper are also important in an animal’s diet. 

However, experts warn shepherds to be wary of too much copper for their flocks. “For sheep, we have to be very careful because the requirements and the tolerance level where it becomes toxic is pretty close together,” Gene Schmitz, University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist, said. 

During the winter months, vitamin A is an important supplement for livestock. Though green grasses and forages have precursors to vitamin A, most winter forages and hay are deficient in the nutrient. 

In order to more accurately determine the type and quantity of minerals needed, experts suggest testing hay and other forages for protein and energy content. “If they are really doing it right, they need to be having their forages analyzed for nutritional value,” Alan Culham, director of operations with Katahdin Hair Sheep International, said. 

Culham recommends producers reach out to nutritional experts in their area to help them develop a mineral program that works best for their operation. 

Recommendations if Feeding Grain

In general, nutrition experts recommend cattle producers put out an all-purpose cattle mineral containing a ratio of 2 to 3 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus. For sheep, the ratio of calcium to phosphorus is typically 2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus, but this will vary from flock to flock.

However, the recommendation may differ for operations that utilize a lot of grain or grain byproducts such as corn gluten, soybean hulls or distiller grain. “Grains in general have a low level of calcium in them,” Schmitz explained. “So, the more we feed grain and grain byproducts, the more important it is for us to pay attention to the ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the diet.”

Producers may need to provide additional calcium to animals in these operations in order to correct the calcium to phosphorus ratio. 

According to Culham, some shepherds add bone meal or dicalcium phosphate to their rations in order to boost the calcium in their flock’s calcium intake.

How to Feed Minerals

In most cases, free choice mineral is the most convenient method of feeding mineral. 

Livestock experts suggest putting out mixed mineral and loose salt in separate locations. There will be times animals just crave salt and will seek it out instead of mineral. 

Loose mineral has other advantages to blocks of mineral. “I like loose product because over time if mineral intake gets a bit excessive, you can add in some salt and slow that up a little bit,” Schmitz shared. Another benefit to using loose mineral is the ability to mix it with feed or top dress the feed after it is poured into a trough or bunk.


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