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How to Read a Mineral Tag for Cattle

How to Read a Mineral Tag

Are you a livestock producer trying to understand the confusing world of cow minerals? Don't worry, with a little extra knowledge on mineral tags you’ll be able to easily compare different products and save on costs.

In this article, you’ll learn about the key components of a mineral tag and how to calculate the levels your cows require.

What’s on a mineral tag?

A mineral tag is your source of information and gives insight on how to use a mineral product, as well as the nutrients it’ll provide. Mineral tags are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must follow their guidance.

All mineral tags provide the following information:

  1. Name of product: This is the brand or name of the product.

  2. Purpose statement: This provides information about the intended use of the product and what species class the product is intended for.

  3. Medication statement: This will list the concentration and intended purpose of any medications in the feed.

  4. Guaranteed analysis: This will list the minimum and/or maximums of the nutrients that the product will provide. Certain nutrients are required to be on feed tags depending on the type of product it is.

  5. List of ingredients: This is a list of the ingredients used to make the product. These are usually in collective terms and will be listed based on inclusion from highest to lowest.

  6. Cautions and warnings: This will provide any safety information about the product.

  7. Manufacturing statement: This provides information on the product’s manufacture. A phone number should be available for customers with questions or concerns.

  8. Feeding directions: Of all the things on a tag, the feeding directions may be the most important. It tells you how it is to be fed (i.e., free-choice, or mixed at a certain rate or in a certain way). This is incredibly important as overfeeding can result in high costs or toxicities. Underfeeding can also result in deficiencies and lost performance. Additionally, two different supplements can be fed at different rates and still meet the same requirements of the animal. So, an understanding of the nutrient level combined with the intake level is required to effectively compare two different supplements.

Guaranteed analysis

The guaranteed analysis is one of the most important pieces of information a mineral tag provides. This tells you what the product provides nutritionally to the animal.

Mineral tags are required to display maximums for calcium and salt and minimums for Phosphorus magnesium, potassium, copper, selenium, zinc and vitamin A. Calcium, phosphorus, salt, magnesium and potassium will be displayed in percentages, whereas zinc, copper and selenium are typically shown in ppm (parts per million). Vitamins will be shown in IU/lb. (international units/pound). Note that iodine, manganese, vitamin D and Vitamin E are not required to be included on the tag.

Never assume a nutrient level that’s not listed. Below, is an example of guaranteed analysis for a free choice cow mineral. As you can see, it has several nutrients listed above just the required ones. This product gives you a good idea of what’s in it nutritionally, and as a potential user, you can use this information to see how it measures up against the requirements of your cattle.

Example of mineral guarantee analysis

Example of mineral guarantee analysis

Ingredient list

This is the list of ingredients used to create the mineral formula. This list is in order of inclusion from largest to smallest.

The ingredient list can tell you a lot about the quality of the product, mainly when it comes to trace mineral sources. For instance, if you see the copper level on a tag at 1500ppm, but the only copper source listed is copper oxide, you can determine that even though there is 1500ppm of copper in the formula, the source has little bioavailability to animal. Meaning, this product should get no credit for copper. On the other hand, if you see the term copper amino acid complex or copper hydroxychloride, you can determine that there’s a bioavailable source of copper in the product.

The bioavailability of minerals largely depends on their bond structure most commonly either covalent or ionic. Covalent bonding is stronger and can largely bypass the rumen but still be bioavailable to the animal in the small intestine. Covalent bonds are common in organic and hydroxy sources to trace minerals. Most inorganic sources, i.e., sulfates are ionic and easily separated in a liquid medium like the rumen and can be toxic to rumen microbes. A list and description of different sources of trace minerals and how available they are to the animal is shown below.

Mineral Source



Very low availability for copper, but reasonable for zinc and manganese


The most common source of mineral supplementation. More loosely bonded (ionic), metal can separate in solution causing some problems with absorption and negative effects on rumen microbes.


Newer technology and tighter bonds. Trace mineral release is pH driven and not available in the rumen but is more available at the site of absorption for trace minerals.


These trace minerals are bonded to amino acids, peptides and proteins. They will bypass the rumen and reach the absorption site for trace minerals. These may or may not require any bond separation to be absorbed.

Lastly, make sure to note where on the list of ingredients a trace mineral or macro mineral shows up. If copper oxide is high on the list but one of the premium sources is at the end, then it’s hard to determine how much copper is coming from a premium source and how much is coming from a less available source.

How to calculate mineral levels on a feed tag

Once you understand how to read the list of ingredients, how do you use the information to determine if the tag will meet the needs of your livestock? To start, we’ll need to do some math and make some assumptions.

The biggest assumption you’ll need to make is the daily dry matter intake (DMI) for the animal, especially a grazing animal. For this example, we’re going to take a 1,300 lb. cow and assume she will eat 2% of her body weight in dry matter, this would come out to 26 pounds of dry matter per day.

Body weight (1300) X 2%(0.02) = 26 lbs. of dry matter

Once we have determined what the estimated DMI of the animal is, we can then look at the information on the feed tag to determine how it compares to the animal’s requirements. Using the guaranteed analysis and feeding rate of the product we can calculate how much of each nutrient the product will deliver.

Example mineral tag

Sample mineral tag for beef mineral

The trace minerals (copper, zinc, iodine, manganese and selenium) on a feed tag are normally presented in ppm. In the example tag shown above, copper is guaranteed at 1,500ppm and the feeding rate is 2 to 3 oz. (3 oz. is 0.1875 lbs.). Using these 2 numbers and our estimated DMI, we can determine that this product delivers 10.8ppm of copper in the complete diet, which meets the animal’s requirements shown in the table below.

(1500ppm of copper X 0.1875 lbs.)/26 lbs. of DMI = 10.8 ppm of copper

This same math can be applied to all trace minerals on the tag to determine how well they meet the animal’s needs. As mentioned before, the ingredient type shown in the list of ingredients must also be considered, because of differences in bioavailability this 10.8 ppm may be more or less available to the animal.

You can use this same formula to determine the amount of vitamins being provided by the product as well, just note that this equation will tell you how many IUs the supplement is providing per pound of total dry matter intake.

Trace mineral and vitamin A requirements for beef cattle


Dry Cow

Lactating Cow

Growing Steer/Heifer

Copper, ppm




Iodine, ppm




Manganese, ppm




Selenium, ppm




Zinc, ppm




Cobalt, ppm




Vitamin A IU/lb. of dry feed




Understanding macro minerals and protein levels in the basal diet

The requirements for macronutrients and protein for animals are already well-known and can be easily found. A simple Google search can give you the answer. However, the tricky part is determining the nutrients your cattle already get from their basic diet. By doing this correctly, you can create a supplementation plan that provides just the right amount of nutrients to make up for any deficiencies in their diet.

While this isn’t mathematically difficult, knowing for sure what’s coming from the diet requires some sort of nutritional analysis of the diet as well as an estimate of intake. For animals receiving a total mixed ration (TMR) in a feedlot or confinement situation, this is much easier than for grazing animals.

Usually, the basal diet will provide anywhere from 50-100% of these macronutrients. Not fully factoring macronutrients into the buying decision can result in nutrient deficiencies and performance losses or added costs associated with oversupplying nutrients that aren’t needed.

Therefore, some consultation with a nutritionist is always required to determine the correct level of nutrients and to avoid toxicity-related issues from over-supplementation. For example, too much calcium in a mineral formulation impacts phosphorus absorption in cattle. Over-supplementation of calcium in a mineral is common but often unnecessary when it’s at adequate levels in the forage. This formulation error inhibits the absorption of phosphorus which is one of the most expensive minerals for a beef producer.

Additionally, while vitamins are considered a micronutrient, they can still be supplied in significant amounts, especially for animals grazing green forages. So, they must be factored into the decision-making process as well. While the basil diet can and does provide some level of trace minerals, it’s just safer to plan on supplying 100% of the animal's needs from supplementation when considering the relative costs, importance and diet variability. In the case of trace minerals, it’s always safer to provide a little extra versus risk undersupply. However, keep in mind that excessive supplementation of trace minerals can be just as bad under supplementation, so be careful.

The bottom line, the value of a feed tag is directly tied to understanding the nutrient requirements of your herd and how much of these nutrients are supplied by the basal diet. Then, correctly utilizing the guaranteed analysis of a tag to ensure the mineral supplement is meeting all nutrient deficiencies.

So, don't get caught in the trap of comparing mineral supplements solely based on their percentages of phosphorus, calcium, etc. This can lead to overspending on minerals you really don't need. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way in helping you buy a better mineral and save on costs.

To learn more about mineral nutrition from a ruminant nutritionist, check out this webinar below!

Let Ralco help you build a custom mineral specific to your herd’s requirements. Get started today by calling Ralco’s ruminant nutritionist Dr. Jeff Hill at 507-337-6916 or emailing

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