The proper balance of protein, energy, vitamins and all nutritionally important minerals is needed to make a successful nutrition program. Nutrient balance is the key to any effective nutrition program. 

Minerals and vitamins account for a very small proportion of daily intake in cow diets and can be overlooked due to misunderstanding the importance of adequate mineral nutrition and because of the cost of supplementation. However, proper mineral and vitamin nutrition contributes to a strong immune system, reproductive efficiency, and weight gain. Mineral deficiencies often go undetected since visible reductions in performance are not visible immediately. In fact, visible signs such as decreased bred back percentages may not show up till the following year. Even though forages may be green and lush providing adequate protein and energy, most all forages are deficient in one or more trace minerals. 

As our knowledge of minerals grows, we are finding out that minerals may limit production in better-managed herds to a much greater extent than generally recognized. The most limiting factor in an operation dictates productivity. In many operations, the mineral program is the most limiting factor. In many grass pastures, phosphorus is frequently the most limiting nutrient. Whereas, in small grain pastures such as wheat or oats, calcium and/or magnesium are frequently more limiting. 

Forage surveys have suggested that the trace minerals, copper and zinc, may be limiting nutrients in many situations. In national and Oklahoma forage surveys (~6,300 samples), the average copper and zinc levels were 6.2 and 23.4 ppm, respectively, as compared to suggested requirements of 10 and 30 ppm. In forage samples (1,113 samples) collected by Britt Hick, OSU Extension Area Livestock Specialist over the last several years in Oklahoma and Texas, only 14.6% provided adequate zinc and 39.4% were adequate in copper. Cattle cannot perform to their genetic potential even if you meet over 100% of their protein and energy needs but fail to meet their mineral needs.

These surveys suggest that nearly all forages are deficient in one or more minerals and that there is a widespread occurrence of deficient levels of copper and zinc for beef cattle grazing forages. This is further complicated by the fact that the availability of minerals may be affected by the distribution and form of mineral in the feedstuff, as well as interactions with other minerals or dietary components that inhibit absorption or utilization of a given mineral.  Research has shown that mineral deficiencies in ruminants fed forages often result from low availability rather than low concentration of a given mineral. Just because minerals can be found in plants does not mean they are available to the animal. Soil mineral level, soil pH, climatic and seasonal conditions, plant species and stage of plant maturity all factor into mineral content and bioavailability in forages. For these reasons, it is important that cattle be on a good, balanced mineral program to optimize performance. 

Feeding a trace mineralized salt block is not a complete mineral program. The high salt content (often 90 to almost 100 percent salt) limits consumption substantially. In addition, such salt blocks generally contain extremely low levels of trace minerals. Salt blocks are cheaper and if cattle only consume a very small amount of it that makes it even cheaper. However, they are not more economical because cutting costs by feeding trace-mineralized salt instead of a complete free-choice mineral supplement can cost you quite a bit in the long run. In summary, adequate minerals should always be available in any operation. Recognize the role minerals play in good health as well as fertility and growth. Frequently, the first thing a producer cuts from his program during tight times is the mineral program. Cutting the mineral program is never recommended since minerals are important in maintaining reproduction and performance.  Cutting minerals out of a feeding program may reduce cost in the short term but will reduce returns and effectively increase cost over the long term. Some researchers would suggest that marginal deficiencies in minerals probably are more costly to producers than are the added profits from feed additive such as ionophores.

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