Farming Cheats: Advice on using licks

It’s winter again, and your cattle are going to need something extra. A feed expert gives some advice. Supplementing the natural winter veld and other bulk feed, like hay, that your beef cattle eat is important if you want to make money.

The problem is these bulk feeds don’t always contain all the nutrients your cattle need, especially when they have very specific nutritional requirements, like at certain stages of their production cycle. This is when licks, minerals or trace elements can be critical.

In summer, phosphate is usually lacking; in winter it is protein, and in late winter animals need especially more protein and energy. Be careful, though: some minerals in fact prevent a cow from absorbing and effectively using other important minerals, so always get professional help when deciding what to feed – see the details in the box below right.

Remember that licks and other supplements can never be a replacement for too little or poor grazing. On average, a bovine stock unit (BSU) weighing 450kg live weight consumes 3.65t of roughage annually. Licks, minerals and trace elements typically make up 3.4% to 4.4% of a BSU’s total annual nutritional intake.

This is usually about 25% to 30% of the BSU’s total production costs, so you don’t want to be wasting money. In order for licks, minerals and/or trace elements to be cost-effective, they must have an impact, like increasing your weaning percentages and weaning weights.

The starting point is always to check your veld quality and the condition of your animals before you decide on supplements. Take, for example, beef breeding cows that calve down from September to November and then wean those calves in April and May.

These cows would often lose quite a bit of body condition because of the physical demands of calving and feeding their calves. A farmer must therefore supplement their grazing going into and during winter with products that will recover and maintain body condition, so that they are ready to be mated again after weaning.

Supplements supplied to such cows from May to August should include crude protein, urea and crude fibre. They should also contain minerals and trace elements such as manganese, copper, cobalt, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium and vitamin A.

Be careful to not neglect calves and heifers either. Their supplements from May to August should include crude protein, urea, crude fibre, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and sulphur. These younger animals should also be supplemented with manganese, copper, cobalt, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium, vitamin A and energy.

Trace minerals and vitamins stimulate appetite and metabolism, energising the animals and enhancing recovery after ill health or injury by promoting the production of beneficial red and white blood cells. Selenium, for instance, is an antioxidant that prevents or slows damage caused to cell.

Or what about vitamin B1 (thiamine), which assists with the conversion of carbohydrates into energy; vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), which aids in the production of amino acids and haemoglobin; or vitamin B12, which helps metabolise carbohydrates, proteins and fats?

Then there is vitamin A, which is important for protecting mucous membranes; vitamin D, which helps mobilise the calcium needed for strong bone growth; and vitamin E, which fights oxidants that cause cell damage. That’s why deficiencies in these trace elements and vitamins can lead to obvious health problems.

For example, selenium deficiency causes white muscle disease; copper deficiency leads to swayback; zinc deficiency causes parakeratosis; and iodine deficiency results in goitre. Subcutaneous injection is the easiest and most efficient way to get such trace elements into an animal’s body. That way they don’t have to pass through the digestive system, getting to work a lot quicker.


CT du Plessis: 072 441 5663,

Angelo Pienaar: 084 954 4482,

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