The old saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,’ may come to mind as cattle producers across the country evaluate their grazing programs. Getting a range cow to leave the comforts of an adjacent riparian area to reside in more rugged terrain and graze on lower quality forage has always been a challenge for cow/calf operations. However, some producers are finding that a sweet incentive at the end of the trail might just be the trick.
Low-moisture block supplements are manufactured by heating up molasses and then cooling it into a very hard block that can only be licked, providing additional protein, vitamins and minerals to grazing herds. Low-moisture blocks feed the rumen’s microbes, giving the microbes the ability to break down mature/dry forage efficiently and convert it into energy.
According to Dr. Derek Bailey, New Mexico State University, the palatability explains why low-moisture blocks are more attractive than the typically used salt. Research has demonstrated that low-moisture blocks are better long-term attractants than range cake.
“Low moisture blocks last a long time, but if you feed something such as hay or cake, animals will readily come, eat it all up and spend only about an hour a day where we feed,” Bailey said. “If we put out a low-moisture block, they’ll spend five hours within 100 yards of the location.”
Bailey also noted that feeding cake requires more time, labor, equipment and money to deliver. In addition to attracting herds to rangeland or pastures rarely used, Bailey recommends producers take into account the economic advantages as well.
“If we can replace high-priced hay by staying out on rangeland longer with block feeding, then the block is a very cost-effective tool,” Bailey said.
- Ensure the herd is familiar with the product before grazing. Introduce the block at calving season when cows are close to home. When cows see the product out on the range, they will be more likely to travel long distances, and even through rough terrain, to go eat it.
- Strategically place blocks in areas with adequate grazing opportunities. Don’t place blocks in barren parts of the pasture, but instead in areas with ample forage supply surrounding it.
- Guide the herd across the pasture. Once cattle know where the blocks are, place blocks in succession, at least 600 yards from the previous set. Also, the more mountainous the terrain, or the more trees on the property, the more producers need to signal to the herds where the blocks are located.
When the winter season approaches, Dhuyvetter also advises cow/calf operations to consider using low-moisture feed blocks in biodegradable containers. This allows the producer to make a single trip to the pasture and eliminates additional costs and excess labor necessary to retrieve reusable steel or disposable plastic containers.
Often tagged with the line “feed it and forget it,” the CRYSTALYX® BioBarrel® is made from 100 percent renewable materials and is designed to degrade as livestock consume the low-moisture block. The BioBarrel container with WeatherAll® protection offers durability in extended wet conditions and is able to survive in inclement weather for as long as three weeks.
“Not only does it have the nutrients required, but the barrel itself biodegrades naturally in the field. The end result is environmentally and labor friendly, with virtually no cleanup or disposal issues,” Dhuyvetter said. “Also because the barrel disappears with the block, it's easy to see how much is left as you check pastures.”