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Lick Tubs More Than Convenience

The cattle lick tub critics say that lick tubs are an expensive way to supplement cattle on pasture and there are more economical alternatives. They always seem to add that cattle producers are paying for convenience. Under bright and sunny skies, they might be right, but when you open a mineral feeder and it’s full of cattle minerals and water, weather-proof cattle blocks look like a pretty good idea. Regardless of how many tubs, you bring home when it rains, one should always determine the nutritional, practical need and economic benefits of this excellent pasture nutrient supplement.

The first question, to ask as you roll off a 250 pound block onto the pasture is, “Why am I supplementing cattle blocks in the first place?”

The answer is quite straightforward; cattle lick tubs supplement protein, mineral and vitamins to grazing beef cattle when pasture grasses are deficient in these essential nutrients. It is surprising that even lush pastures that look green may still contain only six to eight per cent protein and the protein requirement of a bred mature beef cow is nine to 10 per cent or growing replacement heifers are 10 to 11 per cent. A well-formulated cattle tub that compliments the protein of pasture grasses will still allow these cattle to graze and utilize these pastures and meet their protein requirements at the same time.

As a source of supplementary nutrients, most commercial cattle tubs are also fortified with macro-minerals such as phosphorus, which are often depleted in stressed fields and eventually decreases in any stand as the pasture season progresses. In addition, lick tubs contain appreciable amounts of essential trace minerals such as copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, cobalt and selenium, which can be added in both inorganic (copper sulphate) or more bioavailable forms (chelated copper proteinate).

Aside from such attempts from block manufacturers to create such a “one-stop-shop” for cattle, lick tubs have some nutritional limitations. Since, most commer- cially available blocks target a daily consumption of 0.25 to 0.50 kg by grazing cattle; they often cannot deliver significant amounts of energy or protein, when extremely poor quality pasture is the only available forages to cattle. In these cases, a high energy or protein grain ration might be a better alternative to cattle lick tubs.

Fortunately, the main role of most available cattle blocks is achieved as supplementary nutrition for most pastures grazed by cattle. Most beef cattle supplement blocks are either molasses-or corn-distillers grains-based, but also contain natural feed proteins, non-protein nitrogen (urea), cereal by-products and vegetable oil. As mentioned above, most blocks contain a well-balanced mineral- vitamin pack, whose respective levels are found in the guaranteed analysis listed on the block’s feed label. Some manufacturers also add extra feed additives such as pro-biotics, yeasts, alkalinizing agents and buffers. When fed to the cow-calf herd or other classes of cattle, the beef supplement block regardless of formula offers a highly palatable feed that can fit into most grazing situations.

After agreeing that cattle blocks can provide some good nutrition lacking in your pasture, the next question (before inquiring about final costs) should be; “What kind of cattle block should I buy that compliments the nutrition of my pastures?”

When it comes to choosing a block, there is no shortage of different cattle block formulas to compliment the nutrient profiles of different pastures. They range from low-protein cattle tubs that compliment lush alfalfa-grass mixed pastures to 30 to 40 per cent protein blocks that match typical rugged “prairie wool” pastures. Some cattle blocks are designated as high “mineral” blocks that often contain higher levels of trace minerals such as copper and zinc compared to the standard formulated block. Interestingly, each of these formulated blocks can be made with several different types of technologies and offer more than assuring nutritional needs of the cattle are met.

Here is a brief description of three types of the main cattle blocks available on our market:

Pressed blocks — as the name implies is formed by taking common feed mill ingredients (such as distillers’ grains and corn syrup), conditioning them with steam, and pressing them into blocks with 2,000 to 3,000 p. s. i. of pressure. The hardness of the blocks is governed by ingredients that make good pellets and cubes in a feed mill. Cattle consumption of pressed blocks is quite high: 0.5 to 1.0 kilo per head per day. Pressed blocks are not particularly weather-prove and will deteriorate when exposed to wet weather.

Chemical blocks — is much like making concrete blocks. A molasses-based formula with added protein, fats, minerals and vitamins plus a hardener are mixed together in large vat. The mixture is poured into tubs or cardboard boxes and is then covered with insulated blankets to maintain temperatures that promote a heat producing chemical reaction. Once the reaction takes place, the blocks harden and cool. Intake of chemically cured blocks is about 0.5 to 1.0 kilos per head per day. Cattle have a tendency to bite large chunks out of the blocks, if not poured into a tub. Chemical blocks tend to be weather-proof in wet weather, otherwise may dry out and become crumbly overtime.

Low-moisture molasses tubs — starts with heating a mixture of molasses and vegetable oil and then vacuuming off the moisture found in the mixture. The low moisture liquid is combined with dry ingredients (protein, mineral, and vitamins) and the taffy-like substance is poured into barrels or tubs and allowed to cool. The product itself is hydroscopic (absorbs moisture), which allows only the surface to become tacky, while the rest of the block remains hard. This characteristic limits cattle intake to about 0.25 to 0.30 kg per head per day because they can only lick and consume the soften surface. Of the three blocks, the low-moisture block tends to be the most weather resistant, but there is some concern that it can get soft and sticky in hot and humid weather.

Eventually, we all ask, “How much do these cattle blocks cost?”

Prices for most cattle blocks are range from $100 to $150 per tub. Given that the most common recommendation to feed cattle lick tubs is to provide one block of 114 kg (250 lbs.) to about 25 cows or animals of similar size and it should last about two weeks, then the cost to feed each cow or animal is on average to be about 30 to 45 cents per day.

Although this cost is about three to four times more than feeding loose mineral on pasture, one must acknowledge the special benefits of putting out cattle lick tubs on pasture. Not only does protein supplement tubs provide extra nutrition and have weatherproof properties (re: low-moisture molasses tub), but producers can place cattle lick tubs over their pasture in order to better utilize areas, where cattle don’t particularly like to graze.

For example, the National Agricultural Research Center (Montana State University) demonstrated in one of their many field trials on low-moisture molasses blocks that the volunteer stocking rate of beef cows increased from 20 per cent to 55 per cent to an unpopular part of a test ranch, when these cattle were supplied with low-moisture molasses blocks. Collected data also showed that the cattle spent as much as five hours within 30 metres of the blocks, but grazed more forage area and at distances significantly farther than unsupplemented cattle. Furthermore, pasture utilization improved 25 per cent on slightly sloped land and 10 per cent on steep slopes.

It is these types of organized pasture trials that show that cattle blocks not only provide supplemental nutrition to grazing cattle but better utilize the forage base of their feeding program. In our country, we can also take advantage of their findings as well as the weatherproof properties that some of the block types have to offer. With all the work that beef producers have to do in order to keep their operations running, there is something to be said for buying a little convenience too.

PeterVittiisanindependentlivestock nutritionistandconsultantbasedinWinnipeg. Toreachhimcall204-254-7497orbyemailat [email protected]

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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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