Terrific tips on how to get the most out of a nece$$ary input
By Gilda V. Bryant
Minerals are an expensive investment for cow-calf, stocker and commercial feedlot producers. Commonsense strategies keep minerals fresh and viable, whether they are stored in the barn or an outdoor feeder. Commercial feedyard managers make sure their cattle get all the nutrients they need, with a minimum of waste.
In cold, wet weather minerals may either dissolve or become so hard cattle cannot eat them. Additionally, rain leaches water-soluble components, including calcium, phosphorus and salt from loose minerals. Wet minerals often develop a metallic or bitter taste, which animals find unpalatable. After a rain or snow, ranchers should clean out the feeder and replace the product.
Many mineral companies sell weatherized minerals, and that protection is more expensive. Weatherized products fall into several categories. One has a coarse particle size that resists wind, and allows rain or melted snow to flow out between the granules. Another type is coated with oil or fat to repel moisture. For windy areas, minerals treated with tacky ingredients, such as oil or molasses, cause small particles to stick together, becoming too heavy to blow away.
Protect minerals from windy or wet conditions with a mineral feeder cattle cannot flip over. It should also have a trough with good drainage and overhead protection from rain and sunlight, which damages vitamins and other additives.
Randy Rosenboom, Beef Specialist with Kent Feeds, Inc., suggests ranchers use a trough that is deep enough to protect loose minerals from wind. Consider offering smaller mineral amounts during inclement weather to prevent waste. Rosenboom also recommends a low profile, wind resistant feeder with a heavy, rubber flap. Ranchers can stake this feeder style to the ground.
“The wind doesn’t catch the flap, so rain cannot get in [the feeder],” Rosenboom explains. “It may take training for cows to figure out something’s in there, if they’ve never been exposed to [this type of equipment]. Tie up the flap for a few days so they find the mineral. They’ll figure it out.”
Rosenboom reports that since minerals are expensive, producers tend to buy the cheapest product. They should figure what the mineral costs per ton, as well as the recommended feeding rate to determine the best buy. For example, a cheap product with a high daily intake may cost more in the long run than an expensive mineral with a lower daily intake.
STORE IT RIGHT
One strategy to keep minerals effective is proper storage. Jeff Hill, Ph.D., Beef Business Manager with ADM Animal Nutrition™, recommends that producers keep these products out of the weather, especially loose minerals.
“Keep them dry and as far away from extreme temperatures as possible,” Hill advises. “Because [bagged minerals] have a fine particle size and oil or molasses is added, those bags will physically freeze if it gets really cold . . . it’s like a sack of concrete. If you let them thaw out, and drop them to break them up, they become loose minerals again. Keep them out of direct sunlight, which breaks down vitamins, and potentially Direct Fed Microbials and live yeast, or insect growth regulator (IGR) fly control.”
Tubs may degrade or dissolve in rain or snow depending on the manufacturing method. Cooked tubs contain around 50 percent molasses that is boiled to remove moisture. Dry ingredients such as minerals are then added and mixed before pouring the mixture into a plastic tub. Cooked tubs pull moisture from the air and from a cow’s tongue. After a rain or snow, cattle drink water collected in the tub, and the product is still effective.
Another poured tub, also known as a chemical tub, uses molasses as an ingredient however, instead of cooking to remove moisture, the manufacturer adds a chemical agent to harden the mixture. This type of tub tends to be water resistant. A pressed tub is composed of dry nutrients hardened under pressure. If they get wet, water can soften the tub, causing producers to lose intake control, at least temporarily. Generally, a cardboard or paper tub is not protected against wet conditions.
The standard square 33.3-pound pressed blocks are more resistant to environmental conditions than loose minerals. Although they withstand windy conditions, some softening may occur with extended precipitation.
“My rule of thumb [for feeding loose minerals] is to put out a weeks’ worth of product,” Hill explains. “The cattle should eat it all. If they eat it in less than seven days, don’t refill the feeder. That’s one way to help control over-intake, and also minimize adverse weather affects by keeping product fresh.”
Injectable minerals must be stored properly, as well, not too cold or too hot in order to avoid degrading key ingredients. Always read the product label/insert.
Most mineral companies run promotions on their mineral products to encourage producers to stock up. Hill recommends ranchers store no more than two months of inventory in a dry, covered facility. By having a smaller inventory, producers can make sure cattle receive a product with effective vitamins and other additives.
“The other thing people don’t always think about going into winter is we’re feeding protein or energy products,” Hill says. “They can be commercial products with a mineral composition in them. Know what you’re feeding. There may be some products that you don’t really need to feed with minerals or the type or level of mineral supplementation can change. If you’re feeding mineral in excess of what the animal really needs, it’s an extra cost you don’t need. Understand what your animals are consuming.”
IN THE FEEDYARD
Millions of cattle are fed in commercial feedyards annually across the United States. Kendall Samuelson, Ph.D., P.A.S., Assistant Professor of Feedlot Nutrition and Management at West Texas A&M University, says the majority of feedyard nutritionists examine the base ingredients in the ration. Once they know the amounts of available minerals in steam flaked corn, distiller’s grains or corn gluten feed, they can determine the minerals needed to meet the National Research Council (NRC) requirements for beef cattle.
Minerals for commercially fed cattle come in several forms, such as liquid, pellet or dry meal. The majority of American feedlots provide liquid mineral supplements, which allows nutritionists to offer a higher mineral concentration in receiving diets with a minimum of waste. Incoming calves usually have a low feed intake, and the higher mineral concentration meets their requirements. Feedyards may also add extra vitamins and trace minerals to boost calf immunity.
Liquid minerals are circulated in liquid tanks, thoroughly mixing the ingredients, and tanks may be heated to prevent freezing when temperatures drop. The liquid is pumped into the mixer or feed truck, along with the dry ration and delivered to the bunk. Dry supplements are either commercial blends or mixed in-house, and are often stored in an overhead bin before they are added to the feed truck.
Trained feedlot personnel determine required feed, mineral, and other ingredient amounts. Large numbers of animals guarantee a quick turnaround time, so ingredients are always fresh.
“Smaller facilities, such as research feedyards, don’t typically go through a large amount of minerals each day like some of the larger commercial facilities,” Samuelson explains. “Some of these locations purchase commercially formulated minerals in 50 pound bags so they open only what they need. Unopened bags can be stored on a pallet, off the floor to avoid moisture, while any open bags can be stored either in a plastic tote that can be sealed, or in a trash can that has a lid to keep those minerals dry and contained.”
Samuelson advises feedyard managers work closely with their nutritionist to keep daily operations simple so it works logistically within that system. She says, “At the end of the day, we still need to consider what our system and our people have the ability to do with a diet. Keep that in mind when you’re going through formulations. While the ultimate goal is to meet our animals’ nutrient requirements to the best of our ability, we also need to maintain efficiency, minimize waste, be aware of costs, and weigh the needs and abilities of our facility and staff.”