by: Stephen B. Blezinger

Part 4

Supplement Formulation –

Understanding Costs

In the last part of this series we began a discussion on the various factors that influence costs. As we continue this discussion it is important to remember that as with anything: You get what you pay for. Also remember that, as was mentioned early in Part 3, there are literally an infinite number of ways to formulate a mineral supplement. Because this is true there are also many ways for mineral companies to manipulate the formulation and what shows up on the feed tag to make a product appear of greater value while charging a lower cost. It is up to the producer to learn how to tell the difference. In some cases this can be fairly challenging.

Getting What You Pay For – Or Maybe Not

I had a discussion with a client concerning different mineral supplements that he was reviewing and he mentioned something that I thought was pretty significant and that every producer should keep in mind. As he was talking to one mineral sales person and reviewing tags, the sales rep told him, “this mineral has everything in it that the cow needs.” My client said he thought about it later and realized, yes, this supplement has everything in it that the cow needs but are these various components in the mineral supplement at the proper LEVEL to meet her needs? Obviously there is a difference between a component being PRESENT and being included at a level that will meet the specific nutrient requirement, come close to recommended levels or be included at a level that is actually advantageous to animal performance. A specific example of this:

Many mineral supplements include chelated or organic (various descriptors) sources of certain trace minerals. For the sake of this discussion we'll simply refer to these types of trace minerals as “organics.” These normally include Zinc (Zn), Copper (Cu), Manganese (Mn), Cobalt (Co) and Iodine (I). Occasionally Selenium (Se) will be included in this form as well. The organic forms of these minerals are considerably more expensive than the typical inorganic forms (sulfates, oxides, carbonates) but are more available to the animal. They are also normally lower in the concentration of the mineral they are delivering when compared to their inorganic counterparts.

In today's market it's fairly common for most mineral and feed companies that manufacture mineral supplements to have at least a few products where at least a portion of the trace minerals are supplied by organic sources. The research says that organics trace minerals are more highly available to the animal compared to inorganic sources. So the reason for the inclusion of an organic trace mineral source is to increase the amount of trace mineral available to the animal in the supplement. Along with this organic inclusion and assumption that the availability of the trace mineral (s) of concern is increased comes an increase in the cost of the supplement. The point to be made here is that the actual amount of organic sources may vary widely between product and manufacturers. Obviously the manufacturers of the organic sources would like for nutritionists and feed and mineral companies to add as much as possible. Maybe going as high as 100 percent of the mineral specification of the product provided from that organic source. This obviously would increase the cost of the finished product dramatically. Although a few minerals companies have ventured out and manufactured a product or two with this level of organic trace mineral, they are fairly few and far between. Most companies will include the organics as a portion of the total trace element. Based on a lot of research and practice a common rule of thumb ascribed to is to formulate products that will include organics with a ratio of organics to inorganics at somewhere around 30 percent organics and 70 percent inorganics. This has seemed to work well and do a suitable job in meeting the animal's requirements under a variety of conditions. However, this ratio is not hard and fast and will vary a lot depending on a wide range of factors.

The main factors, in many cases, are cost and competition. The more organic source added to a given formula to meet a certain mineral spec, the higher the formula cost will be and therefore, the higher the product will most likely be sold for. Over the years, many producers have learned about the usefulness of organic trace mineral sources and will look for this in their supplement. As such many mineral companies work to provide this and a reputable company will work to provide this at a level that is effective (along the line of the ratio shown above). However, in many cases the producer will find the pricing of these products excessive to their individual tastes and will balk when presented with the price. This has resulted in many mineral companies reducing the actual amount of the organic source in the product to help reduce pricing. The reduction in inclusion rate is significant in some cases to the point where, while they can show the organic source on the tag, the actual amount in the product will have very little, if any positive effect on the animal's mineral status and performance. However, because they are showing the organic sources under the ingredient list on the tag, the producer cannot tell that the amount of organic trace mineral source is truly effective or is simply “tag dressing.” This is why I always advise producers, when encountering a product or supplement that is significantly cheaper, to ask, “Why is the price so much lower on this product?” Remember, in most cases you get what you pay for and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This same concept applies to other additives as well in mineral supplements. Take yeast for example. Many products will include a yeast culture as part of the formula to help with things like reduction of stress effects, improve rumen and digestive system function improve intake of the specific product and so on. This will also increase the cost of the product based on the amount added in the formula based on several factors. These may include:

1) Inclusion rate. The more added the more the cost of the finished product will likely be.

2) The exact yeast product used. Some products sold as yeast are yeast cultures and may have very little (if any) actual yeast cells in the yeast product make up (this discussion is a topic for a whole different article).

3) Concentration of yeast cells – in products that provide an indication of the actual numbers of yeast cells per unit of measure (normally per gram); a more concentrated product can be used at a lower level. Or it may be added at the same level and thus delivers more actual yeast to the animal.

4) Live yeasts versus “dead” yeast versus yeast cultures. The exact type and form the yeast product takes will affect the cost greatly.

Actual Mineral Specification – Tag Guarantees

When comparing various minerals in a given part of the world, a wide variety of mineral specifications/tag guarantees is common. This is where effort on the producer's part, beyond simply reading tags, comes into play.

To do this RIGHT a producer has to know what his forage base looks like in terms of mineral content. This requires sampling hay, pastures or other fed forages to develop an understanding of what mineral levels are readily available to the herd from these basic components of the nutritional program. This will take more than just sampling and testing a single forage sample. Forages will vary by location (pasture or field), cutting, year, moisture conditions, fertilization and so on. Developing a thorough understanding of the mineral content of the forage base will take analysis of multiple samples over a period of years. However, to get a start, the producer simply needs to take several sample of current hay supplies and/or pastures to begin developing a forage mineral database that can be worked from immediately and then on an ongoing basis.

Once some basis for comparison is developed the producer has a couple of options, he can purchase a mineral supplement that is available to him locally (local feed dealer or similar). To find the best match, this will require collecting and comparing feed tags, costs, etc. Another option would be to have a custom product formulated to best match the forage mineral levels collects. While this is the most accurate method it generally requires the purchase of a minimum amount of product, normally about 2 tons (40 bags). Depending on the herd size and how long it would take to consume this amount this may or may not be feasible. It is preferred that a custom mineral of this type should not be kept in inventory more than about 60 days. Also, there is a need to have storage space where the product can be kept dry, reasonably cool and rodent or animal free. While this is the most accurate method in terms of correct supplementation it does come with some logistical considerations.

If the producer simply wants to purchase something locally and collects tags from the products available in the area, as mentioned, a wide range of product formulations will be found. It is common for competing products to continuously “one up” one another. This may be in terms of the actual mineral levels, vitamin levels, additives, other gimmicks such as product coloring, “weather coating” and so on. In markets where there are a lot of cattle and a lot of feed stores, the list of products will be long. The various options brought to the market will also increase the price range that a producer will find. So once again it is critical that mineral values be obtained for the forage base so that a reasonably accurate comparison can be made.

Feeding Rate

When reviewing the tags remember another variable is the target feeding rate. This is normally expressed in ounces fed per head per day. Feeding rates for mineral supplements can range from ˝ ounce per head per day up to 4 or more ounces per day. While there is no ideal system a 3-4 ounce daily feeding rate is effective and allows room in the formula for various additives, means to control intake and generally results in a product formula that is reasonably priced. Because of this target intake variation it is always important to evaluate the cost per head per day based on this target intake. The next important factor is to determine what the ACTUAL intake is and how this compares to the target level indicated on the tag and if the mineral is either over or underfed and if the cost is either over or under that anticipated and budgeted. This can vary greatly from the amount indicated.

Other Additives

Finally, a wide variety of additives and additive combinations can be delivered through the mineral supplement. These additives also can have a profound effect on the cost of the mineral. They can add a few dollars per ton up to hundreds of dollars per ton depending on the additive and the inclusion rates. Remember also that when you “stack” these on top of one another the final cost of the supplement can increase dramatically. As mentioned in the previous article in this series, common additives may include:

1) Medications such as CTC

2) Dewormer – including a dewormer will result in a product that can only be fed for a very limited period of time.

3) Ionophores – Rumensin, Bovatec – these must be coordinated with feeding rates.

4) Fly Control – IGR, Rabon – the inclusion rates of these can vary thus the cost can vary.

5) Chelated or organic trace mineral sources – there are a significant number of these that are available.

6) Yeast, bacteria, fungi, and enzyme sources – again, this is a very large and variable group and requires a LOT of research to make an informed decision.

7) Numerous others, each of which have a role or are believed to have a role in enhancing performance in some manner.

Again, inclusion of each of these comes with a cost. They are accessible to all supplement companies and can be found in a wide variety of combinations.


The cost of mineral supplementation can vary widely, from reasonably inexpensive for a basic product up to wildly expensive depending on the bells and whistles added. The producer should determine what the herd's actual mineral needs may be (repeated forage analysis) and match a product or mineral formulation to those requirements. Then it should be determined what other needs should be addressed by this supplement (medications, fly control, improvements in digestibility by adding an enzyme, etc.) But these parameters should be established before the first tag is considered. Finally, given the complexity of task, consulting a nutritionist can be helpful and save a great deal of time and money.

Copyright 2014 – Dr. Stephen B. Blezinger. Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached by phone at (903) 352-3475, by mail at 667 CR 4711 Sulphur Springs, TX 75482 or by email at sblez@verizon.net. For more information please visit Facebook.com/Reveille Livestock Concepts.

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