Ensure your cattle are nutritionally ready for performance by evaluating your forages and getting the right mineral to your cattle.

April 1, 2024

4 Min Read
Mineral nutrition in a changing environment
Submitted by Cargill

A lot has changed in the cattle business over the last 30 years – from genetics to forage varieties and grazing management practices. During this same time, markets have become more volatile and production costs have risen, requiring successful producers to adapt rapidly to remain profitable. Much can be learned from the history of the cattle business and experience of previous generations, but practicing continuous improvement in performance and efficiency will be the key to survival into the future. Nutrition remains the largest cash expense for cow-calf producers, so it is a great place to focus when trying to improve efficiency.

The cattle business prides itself in tradition. While this can be a remarkable thing, when it comes to nutrition, not everything needs to be done the same way it was done 30 years ago. During the last 30 years, our industry has produced 150 more pounds of carcass weight per cow, mostly through genetic improvement. Something often forgotten is that our nutrition program needs to adapt to more productive genetics to maintain performance, which is why Cargill revitalized its Vigortone brand for more versatility and targeted nutrition. In a good forage program, protein and energy needs are often met through grazing. But most forages do not supply adequate amounts of minerals for our more productive cows. Mineral nutrition plays a large part in a cow-calf producer’s most economically relevant traits – reproduction and health. Continuously evaluate your nutrition program and monitor performance to find out what works best.

Understanding where you are today

It might be unclear where to start when you’re ready to evaluate your current nutrition or mineral program. First, look at your current production compared to your goals. This is where data collection becomes critical. Knowing your cows’ body condition score (BCS) at least three times throughout the year (calving, breeding and pregnancy check) can help you begin to quantify opportunities for improvement. The next critical measure is knowing your current output. For this, measure the pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed, or percent calves weaned per cow exposed to breeding.

Implementing adjustments for tomorrow

Once these performance parameters are measured, you can start managing for improvement. When evaluating most nutrition programs, it is always best to start by measuring what the forage base is providing. This not only includes protein and energy, but also macro minerals. Oftentimes, if the forage or supplement provides adequate phosphorus and calcium, you can save money on your mineral program without sacrificing performance. Outside of macro minerals, most forage is deficient in zinc, copper, selenium and iodine. It is also important to study antagonists in your operation to know what sources of trace minerals need to be used. Common antagonists from forage and water would be sulfur, iron and molybdenum. Even if you are on a good mineral program but failed to account for antagonists, deficiency can still be a problem. Antagonists can be easily overcome by using the correct source of trace minerals. However, identifying the problem in a timely manner can be the largest obstacle.


Outside of good protein, energy and mineral nutrition, look for opportunities to continue to improve productivity. Many new technologies are available that provide a positive return on investment by increasing feed efficiency, weight gain or reducing performance losses due to environmental stressors like internal and external parasites. Most of these technologies can be incorporated into a free-choice mineral program, but I encourage you to evaluate these new technologies to make sure they provide a positive return on your investment. More often than not, these products can dramatically improve your bottom line, but make sure the product fits your needs and is well researched. Dig deeper and make sure your nutrition program is delivering the nutrients your cows need to maximize performance with a mineral brand such as Vigortone.

Just like everything else in the world, mineral nutrition has changed over time. With better tools and technologies at your disposal, you have more control than ever before to ensure cattle are getting the nutrition they need. You no longer must rely solely on “how it’s always been done,” and can optimize cattle performance with more information about your forage, cattle and nutrition at your disposal.

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