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Molasses lick-tubs for cattle can fit different needs

A useful tool for both good and poor pastures

Recently, a friend who operates a 400-head cow-calf operation drove through a quarter section of one of his pastures. He told me he made a few stops and pulled up some grass and several roots were brittle. Hundred of kilometres away, another beef producer told me his pastures had lush grass after a couple of days of thundershowers. Still another friend told me that his brood cows would not graze about 20 acres of good grass on a ridge because they had to cross a small swamp to get at it.

Molasses lick-tubs could easily be implemented in each one of these feeding situations. That’s because they are a one-package feed which provides supplemental protein, minerals and vitamins as well as being used as a pasture-management tool. Since there are many types of commercial cattle lick-tubs available, I suggest beef producers talk to their feed store and determine which would fit successfully in their operations.

Years ago I had the opportunity to take a tour of a facility that manufactured low-moisture molasses lick-tubs. It started with steaming molasses and then vacuuming off its natural moisture (25 per cent by weight). The taffy-like substance is then mixed with vegetable oil and later combined with dry ingredients (protein, mineral and vitamins). By now, it had the consistency of tar, which was poured into plastic tubs and allowed to cool. The end-product is hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air), which allows only the surface to become tacky, while the rest of the block remains rock-hard.

It’s this tackiness that goes down about 1/2 inch into the surface of the block, which only allows licking cattle to consume about 1/2-3/4 lb. per head, daily. In this fashion, a 10-day supply of low-moisture molasses lick-tubs (90-114 kg or 200-250 lb.) should be put out at one time on pasture, placing at least one tub for every 25-30 animals. Location of the blocks can vary. Near waterers and in loafing areas or evenly distributed on open pasture to encourage even grazing by cattle.

Different tubs different situations

As a beef nutritionist I make it a point to choose the type of molasses lick-tub to compliment the quality of the pasture that the cattle are grazing. For example, 20-30 per cent protein blocks should be placed on acres of dried-out pasture where grass protein is probably no more than five to six per cent. At the other end of the spectrum I would place six per cent protein blocks on lush pastures, which might be a mixture of high-protein legumes (alfalfa or clover) or even medium-protein native grass.

In other special situations I might use molasses lick-tubs to help move cattle onto good-quality pasture in order to graze. For example, a couple of years ago a friend (mentioned above) had about 20 acres of good pasture that his cows hesitated to move onto because they had to cross a small strip of swamp with open water or a foot of mud. Therefore, my friend placed about four molasses lick-tubs along a fence line on the higher parts of this pasture. Within a day, most of his cattle could be seen grazing the good grass.

Whether farmers buy cattle blocks to complement the nutrition of their pastures or are just trying to move their cattle to different areas, they should always be aware of the cost of feeding molasses lick-tubs.

Case-in-point: a multimineral/vitamin block at $275 per 91/kg block and fed at 0.25 kg per day and costing $0.76 per head might be compared to feeding a loose breeder cattle mineral at $45/25 kg and fed at 0.100 kg per day with a cost of $0.18 per head. In a similar way, check the comparable cost of cattle blocks that come in different sizes, namely: a 91-kg (200 lb.) at $175 ($1.92/kg) versus a 114-kg (250 lbs.) at $185 ($1.63/kg) — the former is a more costly choice.

Despite such different costs of placing molasses lick-tubs on pasture, nobody should abandon any molasses lick-tub feeding option without considering how it might fit into their operation. In this manner, people can take advantage of its nutrition and/or management properties. Besides, the right molasses lick-tub is a convenient and practical way to feed cattle!

About the author

Columnist

Peter Vitti is an independent livestock nutritionist and consultant based in Winnipeg. To reach him call 204-254-7497 or by email at [email protected]

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