How to Read a Mineral Tag

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Running stockers is a risky business. You can minimize that risk with a good nutrition and health program. But just how do you determine the best vitamins and minerals for your young calves? Just as you might stand in the supplement aisle of your big box store or location nutrition store reading labels, it is important to know how to read the tag on a mineral bag designed for stocker calves.  

“In my opinion, the most important ingredients to look for on a mineral tag for stockers on grass and wheat pasture would be chelated copper and zinc. Zinc, to help support the overall health of those calves and promote foot health and prevent foot rot, and copper because so many areas are deficient in that very important mineral,” said John Jeffrey, BioZyme® Inc. Feedlot-Stocker Business Development Manager. 

Although the ingredient content of the mineral tag is the most important part of the tag, it is just one component of the tag. Let’s examine a typical mineral tag from top to bottom. 

Product Name. Although this seems simple, it is important to pay attention to as many similar products may just have one or two words different in their names. For example, the Gain Smart® line for stocker calves has for product, two of which are Gain Smart Stocker and Gain Smart Stocker HEAT®.  Although the products would work for any stockers grazing grass pasture, there are other formulas designed for feeding grain – Gain Smart Balancer RU1600 – and for grazing wheat – Gain Smart Wheat – so it is important to pay attention to the name on the label. 

Purpose Statement. The purpose statement is required on all labels and must be followed. If the label on a mineral tag state that it is a mineral for beef cattle in the growing phase, then that is the species and the production phase it is meant to be fed to. Don’t try to feed it to lactating ewes.  

Guaranteed Analysis. This is a breakdown of the nutrients in the mineral. This is often the only thing salespeople will show a customer, but as the feeder you also need to know what other nutrients the animal is getting as to not miss anything important in the diet. The guaranteed analysis is useful in comparing nutrient levels and relative prices of products. However, it does not tell you everything, as the sources of nutrients are also very important. Don’t be fooled by only looking at levels. Ensure you understand the needs of the animal and the nutrient sources. Another tip is that the trace mineral ratios are often as important as any one nutrient level due to the interactions between trace minerals like copper, zinc, sulfur and other antagonists. These can easily make any level unavailable to the animal.   

Ingredient List. This is the most important part of the tag because it does include all ingredients in the mineral. Consider when comparing labels that feed regulations allow for the use of generalized terms. For example, it can be listed as plant protein products rather than soybean meal. Many companies like to use generic terms because it allows them the flexibility to reformulate without redoing labels when ingredient prices drop. This allows them to substitute other ingredients and hit the same guaranteed percent. One example of this would be creep feeds which are often fed as energy supplements. There is no guarantee for energy on the tag, and if you can’t see exactly what ingredients are being used, how do you know with confidence that the feed has more energy than the hay the cattle are consuming in the pasture?  

“Remember the ingredients listed first are those with the largest inclusion on the product, and further down on the label an ingredient is listed, the less of it there is in the product. Know what you are needing to feed your livestock and make sure it is in there at an ample amount when reading the label,” Jeffrey reminds. 

Understanding an ingredient list means needing to know the value of the ingredients used. A lot of information is available about different trace mineral sources and other ingredients. If you are not sure about the ingredients listed, reach out to a trusted nutritionist or salesperson

Feeding Directions. This is another important part of the tag, as it will direct you on how to deliver the product to your livestock. However, when feeding a free-choice mineral, it is often times an average over a specific production phase. Since calves can’t read or measure out 2-4 ounces per day, they will usually level out at that intake level as long as they are not deficient in a specific nutrient. If you feel overconsumption is happening, feel free to provide free-choice salt.  

Caution Statements. This is the fine print that should not be ignored. For example, if a mineral contains copper, it will likely advise against feeding to sheep. Heed this advice. It is typically in the producer’s best financial and operational interest to follow all label directions. 

Manufacturer Information. This lists who the manufacturer was or if the company marketing the product had another company manufacture the product for them, in which case it might list “manufactured by and for (the company doing the marketing.” 

Weight. Most mineral comes in 50-pound bags. The Gain Smart products comes in woven poly bags that are waterproof and recyclable. 

Manufacturing Practices Statement. This statement describes the manufacturing practices followed by the manufacturer that are good for the animal and for the environment. 

That’s a lot of information to decipher on a small mineral tag, but it is most important to know what your mineral is, what is in it and how to feed it to get maximum performance from your stocker calves.  

“One of the primary advantages of the Gain Smart mineral line is the precision prebiotic Amaferm® that it contains. Amaferm works to maintain the gut health, increasing the overall health of your animal. Healthier animals mean a reduced need to treat with antibiotics, often helping keep them in all-natural programs. Our customers benefit from the natural ingredients in Gain Smart, see faster, more efficient gains and typically treat fewer sick cattle,” Jeffrey said. 

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