If you are curious about cafeteria-style mineral feeding and want to prove to yourself whether or not animals have innate nutritional wisdom and can balance their own minerals if given a choice — here is a program for you.
You will need a few separate compartments to contain the minerals used in this experiment. They can be as simple as a divided wooden trough or a couple of three-hole rubberized feed tubs. Either way, they should be protected from the elements.
1. Provide one separate basic mineral mix that is higher in Calcium than Phosphorus and another that is higher in Phosphorus than Calcium. Most mineral companies have basic mixed minerals with different levels of calcium and phosphorus. Legume forage diets are higher in calcium and need more phosphorus. Conversely, Silage based diets require more calcium. Both of these products usually contain a similar variety or other minerals. It is not necessary to withdraw any other mineral mixes you are currently providing free-choice.
The separate sources of Ca and P allow individual adjustment of the critical Ca/P ratio. The absorption and utilization of many other minerals depend on this relationship. (See Mineral Wheel)
2. Plain white salt should be available at all times. Salt is an extender in most mineral mixes. If separate salt is not available, animals may overeat the basic mineral mix for the salt and not the minerals.
3. Kelp should be available free-choice. If they lack trace minerals they may eat a lot of kelp. If kelp consumption remains high you may want to provide separate sources of some of the trace minerals. For example, Copper or Zinc can be missed with salt at levels of 1 to 2% but the mechanics of getting an even mix are daunting. At some point it may be easier and cheaper to consult commercial companies that provide a broad range of separate free-choice mineral mixes.
Some Other Options:
- If animals are eating dirt, provide a source of bentonite.
- For high producing dairy cows and feedlot animals being fed "hot" rations, provide a bicarbonate buffer to alleviate rumen acidosis.
- If your cattle are grazing lush spring pastures, provide some magnesium.
- Do not change your current ration.
If you have questions, please leave your contact information in the comment box.