6/20/18: Modernizing your cow-herd mineral program

Spring calving is in full swing, has just wrapped up or will soon be behind us. In an effort to keep thinking multiple steps ahead, one should be giving their cow-herd’s spring/summer mineral program some thought now to determine what can be done to help maintain optimal cow reproduction with early breed back rates while still maximizing calf health and growth performance. We only get one calf per cow a year, so any missteps in achieving cow reproduction and calf growth goals means it will be a long time before corrections or improvements can be made. 

 

We talk mostly in the fall and winter about setting the cow up for producing a good, healthy calf come spring and making sure she has enough body stores to enable her to rebreed on time. Looking beyond this stage, when cow-calf pairs are now out grazing fresh pastures, we need to shift our attention to other nutrients and management practices that can help us get the most from our forage programs. 

For the most part, early season pastures provide an abundant supply of energy and protein to meet cow requirements. Some high-producing cows that are early in lactation might be an exception to this rule, but these types of cows are likely not well-matched with the forage base provided. We typically start focusing on our mineral and vitamin programs when moving from spring into summer. Lush, fast-growing pastures have the potential to cause grass tetany due to poor magnesium availability and increased requirements, especially for older, heavier-milking cows. Additionally, forages high in potassium possess the potential to produce antagonists that can interfere with magnesium absorption. Mark Robbins wrote about this in greater detail recently. We will soon be moving through these growing conditions and can then focus more on lactating cow requirements. 

Summer mineral programs

When most thoughts turn to a summer mineral program, how many of you start to think about bags and mineral feeders? It makes sense. Historically, that is what has been done, and our minds are more than likely to drift in that direction. Consider thinking a little more deeply about some different summer mineral options that can really help you to stay on top of your herd’s nutrition program without the fuss and potential losses that are involved with a dry granular mineral delivery. Take CRYSTALYX® low-moisture block mineral supplements, for example. There are many benefits that are inherent to the low-moisture block delivery when compared to bagged mineral. 

One of the biggest advantages of a CRYSTALYX mineral supplement is the palatability and uniformity of intake across all cattle within a pasture. Many of you are familiar with the research that has convincingly demonstrated that over 90 percent of cattle frequent a CRYSTALYX mineral supplement when compared to only around 60 percent of cattle presented with a bagged mineral program. 

Fact: If your cows don’t eat the vitamin/mineral supplement, they can’t realize the additional benefits of the supplemental nutrition being provided. Reaching this many more cattle within a herd helps to ensure that nearly all cattle receive added nutrients for optimal performance. It should be, hands-down, the main reason that producers look to CRYSTALYX for delivering their summer mineral program.

And the benefits don’t stop there. There are a great deal of manufacturing processes and ingredients that are involved in creating a weatherized bagged mineral that won’t blow away in the wind, wash down the creek in the rain or simply turn to stone after a downpour. What better weatherproof mineral can you present than what already comes with CRYSTALYX? 

The difference is that CRYSTALYX isn’t fazed one bit by the wind or rain; cattle will simply slurp down any moisture that accumulates on the surface. And what could be more appealing to a bunch of cows than a good old consumption-regulated, molasses, low-moisture block? There are often a host of different intake limiters, encouragers and regulators associated with bagged vitamin/mineral products. There is no need for these when cows want to consume your vitamin/mineral supplement because it is encased in a highly palatable, uniformly blended, dehydrated molasses block that keeps intake in check. 

Let’s not forget about how minerals and vitamins are encased in a dehydrated molasses matrix. This has a huge benefit when separating, or virtually eliminating, the reactivity that minerals can have with vitamins. We have consistently observed almost no vitamin degradation with CRYSTALYX products when measured up to and over one year in length. This is certainly not the case with bagged minerals. Harmful oxidative reactions begin to take place once the ingredients are mixed together and start the process of destroying vitamin potency.

One thing to remember when managing intake with CRYSTALYX mineral formulations is that the number of head per container needs to be scaled up when compared to protein formulations. Follow label recommendations, but generally more cows per container — such as 40 to 60 head per barrel — should be considered to arrive at a 4-ounce intake. This compares to our typical recommendation of 20 to 30 head for protein products, which are typically consumed in the 0.5- to 1-pound daily intake range. 

Mineral feeders: Who needs them? 

Upfront equipment cost is one thing to deal with, but continued maintenance expenses just never seem to go away. Bulls are always looking for some sort of recreational equipment to bust up, and feeders are common targets. There are a wide variety of creative feeders for providing loose mineral. Some make it sort of a puzzle for cows to figure out how to access the mineral, which can really make you question just how many cows are courageous or creative enough to put their heads into these feeding stations. CRYSTALYX supplements come with their own container and, if you request them in the degradable BioBarrel®, you don’t even have to go out and pick them up. They just degrade away into the environment — it doesn’t get much easier or environmentally responsible than that.

Did someone say fly control? 

This is simply a no-brainer when putting your grazing management plan together. CRYSTALYX supplements such as IGR MAX™, ROLYX® MAX, Mineral-lyx® with ClariFly® or Blueprint® 6% Phos with ClariFly® are all great mineral options that provide the added benefit of fly control during the summer months. 

Expenses and risks associated with flies abound. These can include reduced calf weight gain, the spread of diseases like pink eye or anaplasmosis, and irritated cattle that mob together, further propagating disease transmission and reduced animal performance. Because of this, adding fly control to your summer mineral program is an absolute must. It is also important to keep in mind that feed-through fly control additives like those listed above are only effective when consumed. Having consistent intake across the herd therefore equates to having consistent fly control. When using alternative supplements that aren’t consumed correctly, it will translate into compromised fly control.

If I have not convinced you by now to take a fresh look at how you provide vitamin and mineral supplementation to your cow herd, then I encourage you to stop by your nearest CRYSTALYX dealer to get the full scoop on how our mineral and fly control products can add value to both your cow herd and calf crop, thereby increasing your operational returns. When technology has arrived that can take us light-years ahead, we need to adopt it and make it the norm. Vitamin and mineral delivery on-pasture is as easy as finding the right CRYSTALYX product that meets your cows’ needs. Trust me — once you make the switch, you will never go back!

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