Tips for improving mineral nutrition in gestating cows

February 7, 2023
Lance Kennington, Ph.D., beef cattle nutritionist with CHS, explains how a balanced mineral program supports cow health and calf development.

As spring calving season approaches, ranchers should assess their nutrition program to ensure cows are getting the minerals they need to develop, deliver and raise strong calves. Lance Kennington, Ph.D., beef cattle nutritionist with CHS, says a balanced diet that includes essential minerals is critical for optimal cow and herd performance.

Mineral balance critical for calving

Minerals are the foundation for a cow’s health, and they help support calf development and immunity.

“Calves are born without functioning immune systems, so they rely on their mother’s colostrum to transfer immunity. Vitamins, minerals, protein and energy are essential for immunoglobulin development, which are the structures that transfer immunity to the calf in the first 12 hours of its life,” explains Kennington.

The quality and quantity of immunoglobulins taken in through colostrum help determine how well the newborn calf is protected from pathogens.

Three tips to improve mineral nutrition

Kennington says minerals are essential to a cow’s diet, even when she’s not calving.

“Minerals are critical for many functions in the cow, including immunity, growth, lactation, tissue repair, rebreeding and digestion. Cows need proper mineral intake throughout the year to help them put on body condition and recover from birth, produce milk for the calf and maintain pregnancy,” he says.

Kennington offers three tips to improve mineral nutrition:

1. Test forage for trace and macro minerals

Test forage for mineral antagonists, including sulfur, iron and molybdenum, that can interfere with mineral absorption and utilization.

“Your nutritionist needs to know what is in the ration to recommend a mineral program that fits the operation and cow herd,” says Kennington.

2. Test water for antagonists

Water can also contain mineral antagonists, which interfere with absorption.

“If you have moderate salt levels in your water and high salt content in your mineral, you won’t get a consistent mineral intake. The cows won’t want to eat, so they could become mineral-deficient,” says Kennington.

High sulfur levels in water can also negatively affect mineral nutrition.

3. Monitor mineral intake

Keep a constant supply of mineral in front of cows and accurately monitor their intake so adjustments can be made.

“If the cows aren’t eating it, the mineral program isn’t doing you any good. The most important message is to feed the right mineral at the right time in the right amounts,” says Kennington.