When you think of a CRYSTALYX® supplement, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many, what comes to mind is a supplement that provides protein to help their animals better utilize forage — especially low-quality forage. This is true, as the highest volume of CRYSTALYX formulas deliver protein for this very application. It is important to understand, however, that protein is not the only nutrient being supplied and that all CRYSTALYX products provide significant mineral and vitamin supplementation. CRYSTALYX is a generally well-rounded supplement, and we often find ourselves explaining its value to producers who only want to look at the cost per pound of a specific nutrient (e.g., protein). We also have several CRYSTALYX products on the market that are, in fact, classified as mineral supplements, rather than just being known as basic protein “lick tubs.”
Today, whenever we read an article or hear about mineral nutrition in beef cattle production, chances are that the topic is trace mineral nutrition. Over the last few decades, trace mineral nutrition has received a lot of attention, primarily because much has been learned about the importance of supplementing copper, zinc and other minerals, as well as the consequences of deficiencies. Rewind the clock 25 to 50 years, however, and mineral nutrition focused much more on macro minerals, such as phosphorus, calcium and magnesium.
Phosphorus deficiencies have long been associated with reproductive problems, such as poor conception rates, weak or silent heats, anestrus, etc. With phosphorus being such an important mineral for many metabolic processes, as well as for energy utilization and transport, hormones and its relationship to calcium, vitamin D3 and magnesium nutrition, it’s no wonder that a phosphorus deficiency would result in poorer reproductive efficiency. As such, in the past, phosphorus was often supplemented in excess as insurance for reproduction. The phosphorus sources used in mineral supplements — such as dicalcium phosphate — have good bioavailability and formulate well into a lot of mineral supplements. In the past, phosphates were relatively inexpensive compared to today, which is another reason they may have been overfed. Additionally, mineral nutrition 25-plus years ago didn’t focus on trace mineral supplementation as much as it does now, so phosphorus levels were often used as a selling advantage by feed companies. The thought process was that if Company A’s mineral was 12% phosphorus, it had to be better than Company B’s product, which only included 10% phosphorus, and so on. Some readers may remember beef cattle mineral supplements that were as high as 14–18% phosphorus.
So, what happened to high-phosphorus minerals?
Over the years, free-choice mineral supplements have gotten better. Intakes are more predictable, organic trace minerals are more commonplace, and more realistic and efficient phosphorous levels are being fed. As mentioned previously, phosphorous was likely overfed in part because it was cheap. This changed drastically in 2008 and 2009, when phosphate costs increased exponentially. Much of this increase was tied to a global increase in demand for fertilizer, and phosphates are used widely in the commercial fertilizer industry. The cost of phosphate did eventually level off somewhat, but still: the high cost was likely a major reason for the changes we saw in many mineral formulations.
How have CRYSTALYX mineral costs been impacted?
Today, we don’t see too many beef cattle minerals with phosphorus levels higher than 12%; instead, formulas with 4%, 6% or 8% are much more commonplace. Most mineral supplements — whether provided in block, barrel or bag form — will have a name that’s reflective of the supplement’s phosphorus (or magnesium) level. Take Crystal-Phos® 8 or Blueprint® 6% Phos, for example: these names indicate the percentage of phosphorus in each formula.
In 2021, we’ve seen increases in feed and commodity prices. It seems that all ingredient costs have risen due to demand, drought, inflation and the widespread economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Phosphate prices have also increased in the past several months by as much as 25%. CRYSTALYX has obviously not escaped these increased costs, but the good news is that once these ingredients are formulated into an overall CRYSTALYX mineral formula, the percentage increase is much smaller for the finished product — i.e., between 5–10%. As a result, the overall cost for a CRYSTALYX mineral product is less than 2 cents per head per day, on average.
The message above is to not let higher-cost supplements cause you to abandon a program. The value of these mineral programs has been proven over time, and CRYSTALYX offers numerous management advantages, including consistent and predictable intake, no waste, improved grazing management and more. These attributes bring increased value to a mineral program that not all mineral supplements can provide. Furthermore, two cents’ worth of a mineral cost increase or savings per head per day can easily be erased by many more variables than the price per ton. Poor management, erratic intake, wasted minerals and other issues all contribute far more to cost than do current ingredient increases. In fact, when feed and supplement costs increase, producers often look to the benefits CRYSTALYX provides to save on labor, management and equipment costs (e.g., mineral feeders).
Every year, there seem to be challenges in the livestock and feed sectors due to the weather, the global markets and other factors that are beyond our control. However, what we feed and how we manage our supplement programs is within our realm of command. CRYSTALYX mineral supplements offer many management advantages and performance benefits that provide positive returns, even in the face of higher ingredient costs.