Beef cows can’t live without minerals and vitamins, which are often deficient or biologically unavailable in many pastures. I routinely recommend cattle producers feed sufficient well-formulated loose cattle mineral on a regular basis. I find that most people will take time in choosing a commercial beef mineral that’s formulated to meet their cows’ respective seasonal needs, but some of the same people do not feed it properly.
Either they put it out on pasture and forget about it and/or don’t use a proper mineral feeder. Both failures are roadblocks to good cattle mineral intake. After buying cattle mineral, producers should calculate the right amount of mineral to be fed, poured in a clean durable mineral feeder and monitor/adjust mineral intake; all-encompassing assurance that the whole cow herd is actually consuming enough each day.
I use a standard recommendation that targets 80 to100 g (three to 3.5 oz.) of cattle mineral per day to prevent mineral and vitamin deficiencies from occurring in the first place and account for some natural variability. If salt makes up at least 25 per cent of this cattle mineral, then one should adjust proposed mineral use accordingly.
For example, a 200 cow-calf operator puts out loose mineral every three days; we can figure out the number of bags that are need by using the following calculations:
1. 200 cows x 100 g = 2000 g or 20 kg
2. 20 x 3 days = 60 kg
3. Each bag = 25 kg
4. Need 60/25 = 2 ½ bags
5. Put out 3 x 25 kg bags
It is also recommended that mineral feeders should be located where cattle make frequent visits. Moving mineral stations closer to water sources generally increases mineral intake by cows, while moving feeders farther back from the water will often decrease mineral intake. It is always a good idea to have enough mineral feeders for the whole herd; one standard recommendation is one feeding station for every 30-40 cows.
Feeders should be easily accessible to all cows, but protects mineral from the effects of water, wind, sunshine and the cows, themselves. I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of wooden boxes, oil drums cut in half, barrels hanging from trees, inverted tractor tires and even concrete or belt feed bunks to feed mineral to cattle. Years ago, I knew a cow-calf operator that had 100 beef cows and fed cattle mineral in one plastic children’s swimming pool. All went well until a cow put her foot through it.
There are literarily dozens of brands of mineral feeders available, which contribute to the good mineral nutrition of beef cows. Here are the three common types of mineral feeders that I often see on my travels from pasture to pasture:
- Three-compartment ground feeder (top of page): Durable heavy-duty plastic feeder with a fixed metal bar in the center to secure a weather-proof rubber flap. There are notches moulded into the base for security feeder to a truck tire (keeps feeder out of water and mud). Two bags of mineral and one bag of salt can be poured into the separate compartments. Metal bar may become loose over time, but can be replaced by a ½ – ¾” bolt. Rubber flap can be replaced easily when torn. I have seen mineral feeders of this type with a wick that is attached to rubber flap filled with insecticide.
- Moulded-barrel ground feeder (see below): Basically a durable plastic barrel with a large hole cut into its side, so a cow can get her head inside of it to eat mineral. A 22-24” tire can be easily slipped over it to stabilize it. It’s a simple one-piece feeder that effectively protects the mineral from weather. It holds two bags of mineral. I know of a 150 cow-operator that prefers this type, because he likes to see growing spring calves use it to get their first taste of mineral.
- Weathervane mineral feeder (see below): One of the first types of mineral feeders that I saw appearing on pastures, years ago. It protects cattle mineral from wind, rain and keeps mineral off the ground. However, they tend to tip over in strong wind, and are rust-prone. These feeders are not particularly durable, particularly when cattle want to abuse them, but some especially made to be “bull-proof.”
Regardless of mineral feeder choice, some producers might find mineral consumption by beef cows is often lower or higher amounts than originally calculated as above.
This article was originally published in the July 19, 2016 issue of Grainews