Supplementing the herd with important vitamins, minerals and proteins before calving and through breeding has been research-proven to improve a cow’s body condition and conception rates and the overall health and survival rate of the calf.

In a commercial beef herd, profitability is determined by several factors, including the total weight of calves sold, cost of maintaining the cow herd, percentage of cows bred that wean a calf and price received for calves. The most critical time to influence these factors are the two months prior to calving and through breeding.

A cow’s nutrition during this critical stage of production has a direct impact on the eventual calf’s health and survivability – and the ability of the cow to rebreed in a timely manner.

The cow has three basic functions to perform during this time. First, she must provide nourishment to the fetus, which is growing at just under 1 pound per day. The cow must also have proper nutrition for developing high-quality colostrum, for calving and for sufficient milk to nourish the calf.

Restricting nutrient intake to the cow during this stage of production can be detrimental and result in reduced calf birthweight and survival percentage; dystocia or calving difficulty, with around 6 percent of all deaths being a result of dystocia; reduced immune system function of the calf, which has been shown to reduce survivability to weaning by 20 percent; an increased postpartum interval (PPI) or the time from calving to the cow conceiving; reduced conception rate (percent that get pregnant) during the following breeding season; reduced milk production and reduced calf weaning weight.


As you may already know, a cow’s major nutritional requirements are water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. In many cases, beef producers do a good job of providing adequate water, energy and protein but lack in providing essential macrominerals (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, sodium chloride and trace minerals – cobalt, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, iron and zinc).

Generally, the most commonly deficient vitamin in beef cattle is vitamin A.

It is important to remember, however, that the most important nutrient is the one missing or deficient, and in the case of nutrient imbalances, there can be more than one.

For example, magnesium and the trace minerals copper and manganese are all co-factors in the cow’s energy-producing metabolic pathways, and deficiencies in these minerals can limit energy production and utilization at the tissue level.

If the cow or heifer is nutritionally deficient during late gestation, the condition can have long-term impacts on the calf’s performance.

Research by the University of Nebraska with heifer offspring from cows grazing a dormant range showed that in areas where protein was deficient in the forage, protein supplementation to the pregnant cow in late gestation resulted in heifer offspring that were heavier at weaning, pre-breeding, first pregnancy diagnosis and before their second breeding season as well as had greater pregnancy rates and calving 21 days earlier than heifers from non-protein-supplemented cows.

These recent studies clearly show there are areas where many beef producers lose productivity in ways that are never measured in normal production settings.

One way to provide herds with the essential nutrients they need for optimum reproductive performance is through supplemental feeds in addition to forages.

Beef producers often overlook mineral nutrition because forages are relatively inexpensive on a price-per-pound basis compared with minerals. But producers can benefit from learning to think in terms of cost per day, not cost per ton, when determining which feeds to use.

For instance, if a mineral is $1,200 per ton, it seems like a lot of money, so producers tend to purchase the cheapest mineral possible. However, at a 4-ounce-per-day intake, a high-quality breeding mineral only costs $0.15 per day.

($1,200 ÷ 2,000 pounds = $0.60 per pound × 0.25 [4 ounces = 0.25 pound] = $0.15 per day

The cost of really good mineral nutrition is only $54.75 per animal per year (365 days × $0.15 per day). Well, does that pay? Let’s assume the price of a feeder calf is $1.85 per pound. If the cow’s nutritional status is insufficient, and she does not breed on her first estrus, it will be 21 days before she can breed.

Normally, calves should gain approximately 2.5 pounds per day from birth to weaning at 205 days. Remember that most operations wean their calves on one day. Therefore, losing 21 days on a calf’s age costs around 52.5 pounds (21 days × 2.5 pounds per day).

At $1.85 per pound, that’s $97.12, or $42 more than the cow’s mineral nutrition cost for the entire year.

In addition, when feeding a mineral that can improve the digestibility of forage, producers can keep additional dollars in their products. Supplementing with dry distillers grains (DDG) or corn in late gestation or early lactation can be important to keep cows in a body condition range of 5.0 to 5.5. However, the cost of the supplementation and the time spent supplementing should be taken into consideration.

The best recommendation is to feed cows a mineral that improves the digestibility of the forage the cow consumes herself throughout the year, take advantage of improvements in body condition throughout the summer and fall, and improve her nutritional status through improved mineral nutrition.

Mineral supplementation may not replace all of your winter supplement needs; however, it will reduce energy and protein supplementation costs and the average number of days from calving to rebreeding while increasing the total pounds of calves weaned and whole-herd profitability potential, leaving producers more time to focus on management.  end mark

Kevin Glaubius provides nutritional field sales support, leadership and training at St. Joseph, Missouri-based BioZyme Inc., and has more than 26 years of industry experience with expertise in nutrition and management in cow-calf, stocker and feedlot cattle. Email Kevin Glaubius

PHOTO: Supplemental feeds help provide optimum reproductive performance for cows. Photo provided by Biozyme.