There are options when it comes to mineral supplementation. The most common methods are loose mineral, mineral blocks, including mineral in-feed with other supplemental protein or energy, or injectable minerals. All of these can be effective mineral supplementation strategies.
Providing loose mineral is the most common. In most cases, bagged mineral is placed into a feeder and cows have free access to the mineral at all times. Salt is generally used alongside loose mineral to control intake. When intake is above the targeted goal, offer salt to help slow the amount consumed. When mineral intake is low, remove or decrease salt offered to increase consumption of the mineral. Placement of the feeder can also influence intake. Locating the mineral feeder closer to the water source and more in line with the daily path will help increase mineral intake. Farther from the water and more out of the path would likely lower intake.
It is well known that not all cows consume loose mineral. Many times palatability is an issue. In the case where mineral consumption is below desired levels, a block or tub may help increase intake. These products generally use grain byproducts as a delivery method for a mineral package. Pressed blocks and tubs will have low, more consistent intakes than most loose mineral. These products are more expensive due to the added manufacturing costs. Blocks and tubs are convenient. Unfortunately, you pay for that convenience. Other disadvantages include: hard to customize, may not contain needed supplement levels, and some targeted at protein supplementation may contain NPN levels you will want to monitor consumption on. If you choose the convenience of a mineral block or tub beware desired mineral levels may not be achieved, you are paying for a convenience product, and you may just be buying an expensive protein block.
Incorporating the mineral into a supplemental feed or top dress is a good supplementation strategy. This method helps ensure consistent daily intake, limits overconsumption, and can allow for customization to best fit your feedstuffs. Working with a nutritionist to formulate a supplement to be direct-fed will eliminate many of the common mistakes made in mineral supplementation. This method can help you avoid additional cost and allow flexibility of mineral levels. Not all areas are equipped with feed companies/COOPs that provide this service. This is the main limitation with this strategy.
Injectable mineral supplements are the best method of ensuring the mineral is absorbed by the animal. If you are experiencing mineral imbalance and are not having success with oral mineral supplements, injectable minerals will quickly be your go-to. Injectable minerals are able to by-pass the challenges the digestive tract of animals pose to mineral absorption. Injectable supplements are recommended at certain times of the year to help accompany an oral supplement program.
It is important to monitor your cattle and mineral intake to accurately appraise your program. Any one of these strategies can work for your operation, but likely a combination is best. Investigate these different supplementation methods with your nutritionist, feed sales rep, or extension educator to see what best suites your cattle operation.