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Livestock Nutrition: Minerals & Forage

Livestock Nutrition: Minerals & Forage

Ideally, all nutritional requirements of livestock would be satisfied by available forage. Real-world livestock management presents a variety of nutritional challenges, one of which is meeting a herd’s mineral needs. Mineral nutrition is the foundation of animal health and determines how effectively forage is used. While forage conditions are easy to see and deservedly receive the highest priority, mineral conditions are harder to assess and therefore easier to overlook.

There are as many approaches to livestock mineral nutrition as there are elements on the periodic table and the success of a mineral program depends on a given situation. Variables that contribute to overall mineral availability include forage composition, water source(s), geological features, and soil quality. An understanding of these factors can inform a farm’s approach to mineral supplementation.

A good starting point for livestock mineral supplementation includes a salt source and a source of stable, bioavailable, and balanced trace minerals. The following options can be blended or offered free-choice as the foundation of a mineral program:

  • Naturally mined, unprocessed sea salts - in addition to sodium and chloride these contain many naturally occurring trace minerals. Redmond Ag and Sea-90 are both excellent sea salts. As a naturally occurring complex, the minerals in these sea salts are inherently stable.
  • A calcium-based trace mineral - these act as a rumen buffer and often contain additional minerals in forms that support toxin-binding and enhance feed-conversion. Redmond Conditioner is a calcium-rich, Montmorillonite clay from ancient volcanic deposits and an excellent complement to sea salt.
  • Kelp - Thorvin Icelandic Kelp provides essential vitamins and an abundance of organic trace minerals in forms that complement sea salt and Montmorillonite clays.

This basic mineral program is often all that is required for optimal animal performance. In situations that require more supplementation, this will be a great starting point.

The summer slump is often a stressful time for livestock, fields, and producers, but it also means that the milder weather and increased forage of fall are on the horizon. Assessment of the conditions of your animals and pasture, as well as anticipating their needs will inform your management decisions for the coming season. For forage-based operations, this means that milk production, weaning stress, breed-back of open females, and target weight gains all depend primarily on the nutritional quality of pasture plants, which in turn depend on the mineral and organic profiles of the soil.

Late summer and fall seeding should include a diversity of plant types and species that offer adequate protein, energy, and fiber, as well as minerals with high bio-availability to help sustain animals through lean winter months.

High-yielding, cool-season grasses that provide high-quality forage for fall grazing and winter stockpiling and also function well as green manures include:

  • Cereal grains (rye, oats, triticale, wheat, etc.)
  • Italian/annual ryegrass
  • Perennial grasses (tall fescue, orchard grass, perennial ryegrass, etc.)

Legumes provide quality forage and fix nitrogen from the environment, making it available to other plants. Cool season legumes include:

Brassicas are often overlooked but they provide high-quality forage, break up compacted soil, and effectively mine minerals that are often inaccessible to other plants. Cool season brassicas include:

In order to meet the unique needs of your farm, you may want to create your own custom seed mix including some of the species mentioned above. Many seed suppliers offer mixes designed for a range of pasture and animal needs. “Organic NitroMax CC1” (Albert Lea) is a blend of organic oats, organic field peas, and organic tillage radish that is designed for maximum green manure production and can be hayed or grazed in the fall. “Organic Summer Max” (Albert Lea) varies but can include cowpeas, soybeans, sunn hemp, millet, sorghum-sudangrass, oats, buckwheat, and sunflower (please call to confirm the current blend). This soil-building and grazing mix also attracts wildlife and beneficial insects.

Increasing plant diversity is an essential component in optimizing pasture health and livestock performance, ensuring production goals and performance well through winter. 

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