Cattle Feeding Basics: Vitamins & Minerals

Cattle need a range of vitamins and minerals, depending on herd-specific factors. Here are some tips for determining your animals' nutritional needs.

by Ashleigh Krispense
PHOTO: AlfRibeiro/Adobe Stock

Over the last few months, we’ve taken a closer look at various necessary requirements for a proper feed ration in cattle, including roughage, protein and energy. In this article, we’re focusing more on the vitamins and minerals your cattle need. Just like humans, cattle won’t grow as efficiently or productively if they lack the correct vitamins or minerals in their feed ration.

Learning to meet the nutritional needs of your animals can be greatly beneficial in helping them to grow efficiently. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consider working with a professional nutritionalist to balance out your feed ration. 

Nutritional Needs

Local cattleman Todd Krispense has been raising cattle for years. While calcium, phosphorus and potassium are just a few of the macronutrients that cattle need in their diet, he pointed out that those needs will vary depending on what it is they’re currently eating. 

For example, he shared that cattle on grass will require a different kind of supplement than cattle in a pen. He also noted that there is such a varying difference between the ethanol or grain byproducts that can be fed in a feed ration (such as distiller grains) that the needed supplements can also vary based off of what you’re already feeding. 

One example of a calcium source in a feed ration is ground-up limestone rock, he shared, while both calcium and sodium can be found in salt. If you want to avoid purchasing supplements, he advises educating yourself on natural alternatives and sources.

Know Your Herd

As with other areas of care and maintenance, the feed rations of your cattle will vary depending on the animals themselves. For example, small calves will have different needs than larger feeder steers. Lactating cows (cows currently producing milk) will have different needs than dry cows, and so on. 

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It’s important to know where to source the various vitamins and minerals for your cattle. As Todd pointed out, at some point you might be limited on what you have access to because of your location, weather conditions or even economics. Even if you have access to a particular feed, you might not be able to afford whatever price they’re asking. 

Krispense pointed out that in different areas across the country the native grass can be higher in different nutrients. If you have the opportunity and need for some extra input, consider getting some of your feed tested and consulting with a semi-local nutritionist for advice somewhat specific to your area.

When it comes to cattle on grass, Todd shared that there are other plants mixed in along with the grass in a pasture, known as forbs, which not only help to encourage grass growth but are very beneficial to cattle. Specific plants can be higher in certain nutrients than others. If their body craves it, cattle will go eat those plants. 

Sources of Vitamins & Minerals

Supplementing grass cattle is helpful to fill in any holes in their diet and can be done in the form of mineral blocks that the cattle come lick; protein pellets or cubes; protein tubs; or even a granulated mineral put in a mineral feeder. Like a human taking a small vitamin, Todd shared that cattle don’t generally eat a large quantity of the supplement, but it can still be important.

For cattle that are deficient of a specific mineral or vitamin, he shared that, if the deficiency becomes severe enough, they tend to all have a similar, mostly depressed look. Different deficiencies can cause slightly different symptoms but still serious results.

For example, he noted that a lack of potassium can cause cattle to become very lethargic, but too much potassium can also be dangerous. For a majority of deficiencies, however, symptoms can include a lack of appetite, depressed look, poor hair quality and a lack of energy.

While some bigger operations mix their own feed rations, if you’re just looking to feed a handful of cattle and don’t want the hassle of figuring out your own mix, local feed mills or feed stores often have a pre-mixed feed that can be purchased in 50-pound sacks. These can be a good option for a smaller herd and much more convenient!

For someone interested in the more technical side of things, look for a local nutritionist to explain your situation to and seek guidance from. If you’re not sure which way to go yet, consider finding a trusted local rancher or cattleman to learn from.

Happy feeding! 

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