Does your herd need mineral supplements?

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Working full-time alongside his father at Dairy Farm in Mobberley, Cheshire, Strategic Farmer Ian Norbury has been looking at ways that he can make his beef enterprise more resilient for the future, by reducing costs while producing a high-quality product.

Ian farms 250 acres with 45 suckler cows, a mixture of Angus and Simmentals. He also has 25 pedigree Aberdeen Angus cows, sells breeding bulls under Mobberley Angus and finishes all other stock (selling deadweight). At the end of 2017, as part of his work with Strategic Farm consultant James Hadwin, Ian blood-tested his herd for mineral deficiencies, something he had not done previously.

“We hadn’t looked at blood tests for mineral deficiencies before and we had been using mineral buckets for the last few years. When we got the results, it showed us that our herd were not deficient in any minerals and we discussed changing our mineral programme,” said Ian.

Detecting mineral deficiencies can often be difficult as symptoms, including poor growth and reproductive performance, can be associated with other diseases. An effective diagnosis may include clinical signs, soil analysis, forage analysis, feed or blood analysis. If mineral deficiencies are found, routine supplementation is advised, with continuous monitoring of levels to ensure that animals are not receiving more minerals than necessary and keeping costs down.

“Before 2016 we were using mineral licks across the whole herd and pre-calver buckets four weeks before calving. By February 2017, we had stopped all licks and we bolused cows with high iodine and everything else with general-purpose minerals.

“Mineral licks cost us £2,800 in 2016, which works out around £20 per cow, and we spent £621 for the boluses at the start of 2017, which is approximately £4.60 per cow. By blood checking we realised that the mineral content for the cows meant we didn’t need to continue to use mineral licks and now we’ve managed to save money. It’s been a big change for us but it all seems to have gone well this year.”

Since reducing mineral supplementation, Ian has taken part in a study by Edinburgh University to look at the level of minerals and proteins in the milk that is being passed on to the calves. This has also been monitored through blood tests. Testing took place four to six weeks before calving, two weeks before and finally when calves were one week old. All of the results have shown sufficient mineral levels, demonstrating that the additional minerals would not have been needed this year.

“I’d definitely recommend blood testing before spending additional money on minerals. When I think back to the amount of time and money we spent buying in and moving mineral buckets, it makes me wonder if it was really necessary. Now that I’m testing, if there is a problem, I can target the right mineral deficiency instead of trying to tackle them all,” Ian explained.