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Importance of Mineral Licking Blocks in Livestock

Mineral Lick Blocks are essential vitamins which contains salt, essential macro and micro trace elements including calcium and phosphorus.

It also contains added vitamins required for optimum performance for use in all breeds and ages of cattle, goats and sheep.

Salt and minerals are important for the improvement of appetite, growth rate, milk production, and the prevention of diseases and infertility in animals.

A mineral lick (also known as a salt lick) is a place where animals can go to lick essential mineral nutrients from a deposit of salts and other minerals. Mineral licks can be naturally occurring or artificial (such as blocks of salt that farmers place in pastures for livestock to lick).

Natural licks are common, and they provide essential elements such as phosphorus and the biometals (sodium, calcium, iron, zinc, and trace elements) required in the springtime for bone, muscle and other growth in deer and other wildlife, such as moose, elephants, tapirs, cattle, woodchucks, domestic sheep, fox squirrels, mountain goats and porcupines.

Such licks are especially important in ecosystems with poor general availability of nutrients. Harsh weather exposes salty mineral deposits that draw animals from miles away for a taste of needed nutrients. It is thought that certain fauna can detect calcium in salt licks.

Below are some of the trace elements found in mineral licks:

Salt, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, E4 copper, E5 manganese, E6 zinc, E1 iron, E2 iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D3, Vitamin E and E8 selenium which is much essential in livestock towards estrus and birth difficulties.

For a livestock farmer, one of the most important things is the health of the animals as this helps ensure the quality of the animals and their products.

But proper nutrition for the animals is equally important. Apart from what they may get from pastures, there is also need to ensure they get the right mix of minerals that they need. In some cases, farmers may need to have knowledge of how to do this as well.

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Sheep & cattle feed blocks, mineral buckets & salt licks for keeping your livestock (cattle & sheep) in good condition, by providing a good supply of minerals and active ingredients

Each block or bucket provides supplements in the form of protein, mineral, food or salt to keep the animal healthy.

All ages and breeds animals (Calf, cow, sheep, goat, lamb, camel, horse) can get minerals and salt easily from Mineral Blocks. Minerals and salt deficiency can cause: a loss of appetite, slow growth, low lactate levels and complexities with fertility as well as creating a weak immune system making the animal more vulnerable to diseases.

Animals that consume “MINERAL BLOCKS” regularly will not ingest non-edible substances such as soil, stone, bone, plastic bags, clothes etc. Incorporating mineral blocks into your animal’s diet can prevent diarrhea and other symptoms caused by ingesting these substances.

Composition: Sodium, Magnesium, Calcium, Manganese: 152 mg, Cobalt: 15 mg, Zinc: 230 mg, Copper: 175 mg, Iron: 1.050 mg, Selenium, Iodine, etc. Please refer to the product label for the whole composition.

Salt licks are vital parts of animal lives and nourishment. They play a key role in the health and growth of most of the animals, both wild and livestock. As a matter of fact, one of the most commonly-known animals that consume salt is a deer. 

A salt lick for deer can be quite attractive. Deer scout for mineral salt deposits in nature for various reasons.

Mineral licks can be commonly found in nature. Animals regularly visit those sites where natural salt licks are abundant to supplement their diet. Besides natural salt licks, there are artificial salt licks made by man to be used in the husbandry of livestock animals.

Benefits and Importance of Mineral Lick Blocks (Salt Lick) for Animals  

According to research, when land is scarce or infertile, livestock often survive on poor diets of scrub, crop waste and straw. In these conditions livestock will grow and reproduce slowly and provide less milk and meat.

However, the demand for animal produce, whether for milk, meat or leather, remains high. Any ideas that can encourage better growth and health of livestock are to be welcomed.

Use of mineral licks for grazing livestock is still a relatively common practice, but how much benefit do ruminant animals really derive from their use? Several reasons are commonly cited for their use:

  • Animals need salt.
  • Stock are licking patches of soil, so they must be lacking in something.
  • There is a need to provide extra vitamins and minerals.
  • Licks help prevent specific diseases and conditions in the animals.
  • Animals will eat what they need.
  • Licks provide energy and protein.

Usually, either these reasons are not valid at all, or there are far more efficient ways of achieving improvements in animal health and performance than by providing mineral blocks or mineral licks.

Importance of Mineral Licking Blocks in Livestock
Mineral lick (salt lick)

The need for salt

Only when ruminant animals are under full hand feeding with high levels of grain will they require supplementary salt in their diet. Under these circumstances it is far better and more efficient to simply add 0.5% of fine salt to the feed than it is to provide salt blocks. Since stock actually like the taste, salt is also often used in feed mixes to improve palatability.

Stock licking soils

Stock will sometimes acquire cravings for certain flavors and it is certainly not uncommon for them to lick soil along creeks and dam banks. Also, stock will usually readily eat salt whether they need it or not. Taken on the balance of evidence, it is unlikely that the behavior of stock is a good indicator of their need for extra nutritional supplements.

Stock will even readily eat substances that are detrimental to their health; the grazing of poisonous plants is a good example of this. As a livestock manager you should always ensure that animals have adequate energy, protein and good quality water before looking to fine-tune their diet with added minerals and vitamins.

Which minerals and vitamins do ruminants really need?

It is suggested that as many as 40 mineral elements may have some role in animal metabolism. However, only seven of these are required in quantities sufficient to be considered major essential elements. These are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chlorine, sulfur and magnesium. The more important minor mineral elements include iron, iodine, copper, manganese, zinc, cobalt, selenium and chromium.

While these elements may be essential, it is also true that they are only required in minute quantities. In typical ruminant feeds and pastures, most minerals are present in sufficient quantities to supply the needs of stock.

Under dry or drought conditions, calcium and sodium deficiencies are the most common. These are most likely to occur in diets based on cereal grains. In this case it is far more efficient to add lime and salt to the feed ration than it is to allow free access to licks. When added to the ration, animals will consume the additional minerals they need in proportion to the feed they eat.

Phosphorus deficiency

Deficiencies in phosphorus are common on red soil scrub country in the Western Division of NSW

Under these circumstances a dry lick or block lick formulated from safe phosphorous sources remains the most practical solution to phosphorus deficiencies in stock.

Sulfur deficiency

Sulfur deficiencies often occur in cattle grazing forage sorghum and Sudan grass crosses. Sulfur supplementation has been shown to improve cattle performance by up to 40% when grazing Sudax. Access to salt blocks containing at least 8% sulfur should alleviate deficiencies in cattle grazing these crops.

Magnesium and selenium deficiencies

Other common deficiencies specific to certain environments and seasonal conditions include those of magnesium and selenium. A magnesium deficiency leads to grass tetany, and a selenium deficiency leads to white muscle disease. Both problems need to be treated with specific supplements to ensure uniform treatment. Selenium deficiency is often treated with ‘bullets’ placed in the rumen, or by specially formulated selenium drenches.

Toxicity

Overdosing with minerals such as selenium, zinc, manganese, iodine, copper, molybdenum and cobalt can have toxic effects. For this reason voluntary-intake licks and blocks often contain very low levels of these elements to ensure that these toxic effects will be avoided even if animals gorge themselves.

Unfortunately this means that typical dosage rates will be below required levels if the element is deficient in the paddock feed. It is invariably better to treat animals for the specific deficiency than to try to treat them with a ‘shotgun’ approach.

Vitamins

Unlike minerals, vitamins are organic compounds. They are required by animals for normal growth and maintenance. Animals’ vitamin requirements are very small, and vitamins or their precursors (provitamins) are relatively widespread in pasture, cereal grains and other feed supplements.

Vitamins are generally unstable compounds which are easily oxidized, so their inclusion in blocks and licks is not really an ideal method of supplementation. Two vitamins that may become deficient in drought circumstances are vitamins A and E. It is far better to treat these deficiencies with drenches or injectable preparations that supply sufficient levels to last stock up to 6 months.

Animals will eat what they need

The use of ‘free choice’ supplements to enable animals to select what they need presupposes some level of ‘nutritional wisdom’ on the part of the animals. While there is some evidence that, given the choice, animals will select a diet that is balanced for protein and energy, the same cannot be said for mineral and vitamin supplements. It is highly unlikely that animals will freely choose the correct type and quantity of supplement to ensure a balanced intake of these micro-nutrients.

Prevention of diseases

It is often suggested that calcium blocks and licks be used to try to offset the effects of metabolic disorders such as pregnancy toxaemia and milk fever. There is often confusion about the causes of these diseases.

Pregnancy toxaemia

Pregnancy toxaemia (hypoglycaemia) occurs due to a lack of dietary energy in heavily pregnant ewes. This causes the animal to mobilise body reserves too quickly, causing a build-up in ketones that causes damage to the brain and nervous system. On a flock scale, the only cure for this disease is providing feed of adequate quantity and quality – no amount of blocks or licks in the paddock can alleviate this problem.

Milk fever

Milk fever (hypocalcaemia) is the manifestation of low blood-calcium levels, but this is often not the result of a diet low in calcium. Many interactions occur between mineral elements in the metabolism of animals, and the most obvious solution is often not appropriate. Hypocalcaemia is often related to intake of high-oxalate plants such as sorrel and oxalis, but may also be related to grass tetany and low magnesium levels.

Dietary intake of calcium can be a factor in animals fed cereal grain diets; in this case, ground limestone should be added to the grain at 1.5% w/w. On lush green grass pastures and cereal crops, it would be more beneficial to supply extra roughage than to supply a calcium block.

Provision of energy and protein

The key dietary elements for ruminant animals are energy and protein. For most efficient use, these must be in balance. Blocks and licks do not provide appreciable levels of energy to animals. The majority of the block make-up contains no energy at all. If the principal deficiency in the diet of animals is energy, then provision of blocks or dry licks will serve little purpose and will add considerable expense. Blocks that contain urea and protein meals do provide a source of protein for livestock grazing protein-deficient dry pastures.

However, proprietary blocks are not usually the most cost-effective way of supplying supplementary protein to grazing animals. Based on their ‘cost per kilogram protein’ value, blocks are typically 2.5 times the cost of lupins.

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