Value of mineral supplements questioned for cattle

Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Veterinarian Eric Bailey with the University of Missouri Extension Service encouraged producers attending the Barry County Soils and Crops Conference in Cassville to reconsider a big emphasis on mineral supplements for cattle as possibly unnecessary. Murray Bishoff/

State veterinarian cautions effort expensive, unneeded

Whether or not feeding extra minerals to cattle or dairy cows serves a valuable function is an ongoing question for cattlemen and one raised by state beef specialist veterinarian Dr. Eric Bailey for the Barry County Soils and Crops Conference, held Jan. 9 in Cassville.

Sounding like a skeptic approaching a health fad, Bailey said scientists have been unable to recreate mineral deficiencies in animals to even study how it works.

“Grazing nutrition is very imprecise,” Bailey said. “Mineral additives are not a guarantee [to avoid problems]. One in 25 cases I see are mineral related. Bioavailability makes a nice marketing pitch. The science isn’t settled.”

He urged producers to look at their practices, where they might find themselves overdoing good intentions. Giving cows four ounces of minerals a day adds up to 91.25 pounds in a year, or two bags per cow. More than two bags used may be adding unneeded expense.

Animals store macro minerals in their bones, while the minor minerals are stored in the liver and blood. It’s unknown, he noted, how long it may take for an animal to manifest a mineral deficiency.

Some parts of the country promote problems. Excessive iron in the forage or ground can bind with copper and create sickness. An area with a deficiency in Selenium has been known to cause muscle failure at birth, but that’s rather rare.

Some have suspected that cows seen eating dirt and wood suggests they are trying to ingest a missing nutrient. Bailey said research animals have been known to select a palatable but poor-quality diet in preference to an unpalatable nutritious diet.

“They could just be bored,” Bailey said. “I never wake up and feel I have a need for chromium. I see more problems with protein and energy deficiencies than from mineral deficiencies.”

Bailey found little to recommend in mineral fortified protein tubs, which he said contained only trace minerals and sold for twice the price of regular tubs. Most only serve as protein supplements, something most animals are not missing.

Bailey found more concern about providing minerals if a specific area, such as southern Missouri, found itself moving into a drought period. Research by a number of land grant universities recommended no wholesale change. The biggest point he stressed was to provide minerals consistently, looking at it as an insurance policy.

According to statistics from southern Missouri, producers tend to spend $46.68 per cow per year on protein and mineral supplements. That represented less than 6 percent of the $848.07 spent in operating costs per cow.

“Our problem is we’re spending too much on our cows,” Bailey said. “Hay and machinery costs are the problem, not protein and minerals.”

Additional information is available by contacting Bailey at 573-884-7873 or by email at

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