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Three Forks, MT 59752

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We are so excited to bring you Billy Whitehurst of Performix Nutrition. It is so important to have different perspectives from people across the industry and that is what we aim to bring you! We recently had him featured in the latest Chute From The Hip and decided that wasn’t enough. We asked Billy for his advice on pre-weaning nutrition and hit the jackpot with information, thanks Billy!

Here’s what he had to say:
Feeder cattle and finished cattle are most often commodities that we can rarely differentiate in the marketplace; therefore, to increase profit we must decrease production costs.  Disease prevention has been proven as an effective way to do so. Vaccines and low stress weaning practices are a great tool but can’t be maximized if they are applied to a malnourished or undernourished calf.  Proper pre-weaning nutritional management can help reduce costs due to sickness in freshly weaned calves and lead to reduced production costs, better gains, and higher profit.

Preweaning, cow/calf producers need to provide 30-60 days of a quality trace mineral package to the cow herd to increase mineral stores in the liver and thus boost calves’ nutrition level.  Trace mineral stores fluctuate throughout the year based on availability of minerals in the feed and supplements provided. Increasing stores of trace minerals in the liver allow the animal to draw on them during periods of stress such as grazing poor quality forage, weaning, etc.  Copper and zinc are two primary trace minerals that aid immune function and feed intake, two critical factors in keeping weaned calves healthy. When analyzing tags on mineral packages there are a few key words to look for, as the ingredients do truly matter. A chelated mineral is more available to the animal from a metabolic standpoint, the difference between a chelated mineral (often called organic on the tag) and a standard mineral (often called inorganic) is that chelates are chemically compounded to an amino acid in such a way as to avoid any break down of the mineral compound as it passes through the rumen to ensure it reaches the small intestine where trace minerals are absorbed and sent to the liver.  Chelated minerals show up in the ingredients list as “proteinate” or “amino acid complex” such as “copper amino acid complex or copper proteinate.” Quality of chelates vary and producers should consult with their nutritionist to ensure the right product is used for their specific circumstance. “Non-chelated” minerals will appear on the ingredient list as a “sulfate, oxide, carbonate, selenite,” etc, such as zinc sulfate. Non chelated minerals often make up the majority of the ingredients in mineral packages. In some instances, a package using only chelates may be necessary, but for the broader and more common applications, mineral packages will have a combination of both chelated and standard minerals and generally this combination serves the need well.

Cost does not need to be prohibitive.  Assuming a mineral intake of 3 ounces daily per pair at a cost of $925-$1050 per ton depending on the package, results in a daily cost per pair (pre-weaning) of approximately $0.09, or $5.55 per pair for a 60-day period.  This is far cheaper than dosing a sick calf with expensive meds and the associated weight loss sick calves incur. If you are retaining heifers this is a trivial expense when compared to alternatives. If you are selling calves right off of the cow, your buyer will definitely appreciate the effort you put in and it could be the deciding factor on a penny per pound (maybe, maybe not) or if that buyer will be a repeat buyer.  If you work with a nutritionist (highly recommended) he/she will retain all your purchase records and formulations you have provided to your cattle. This can be used as a third-party verification to your buyer as to the nutrition program of the herd. The more information you provide your buyer the more confidence he/she will have in the purchase. These types of actions lead to repeat buyers and increased profits over time to the seller.

On the receiving end of weaned calves:  Feeders should attempt to verify the nutritional status of the cattle prior to receiving them.  This allows one to determine how much, if any, “catch up” may be needed upon the calves’ arrival.  Be mindful that it takes time to overcome nutritional deficiencies. Chelated minerals have been proven to increase liver stores more rapidly than non-chelated minerals.  Regardless of the incoming calves’ prior nutrition, be prepared to greet them with a mineral package that is high in chelates in a palatable food source to help them through the stress of weaning.  If the feed program allows, adding coccidiostats has been proven to be of benefit.

There is much talk about injectable minerals these days and they certainly have their place.  As a rule, injectables are highly available with a shorter duration of retention in the animal.  In instances where calves are coming into the feedlot with a known deficiency an injectable may be a good option to provide a quick boost as a bridge until the mineral package in the feed can elevate the animal to desired levels.  Injectables can’t replace a mineral program, nor have they been proven to provide a significant benefit where the animals are already on an adequate nutritional plane. Verifying nutritional programs prior to receiving will help make the feeder decide the best receiving protocols.  

Now is the time to get prepared if you haven’t already.  Take the first step and call your nutritionist to put together a cost-effective weaning nutrition program that will add value to your calves and dollars in your pocket.

Billy Whitehurst

Performix Nutrition

Whitehall, MT


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