Photo Friday: Cow Candy

Thank goodness its Friday! On Fridays I will post a photo from the ranch and discuss the subject. Take a gander and see if you can guess what we are looking at…

You may have heard that cattle have a digestive system quite unlike ours. They chew their cud and eat all sorts of raw plant materials. They have four stomachs. Just imagine if we had four stomachs. We could eat so much more at family gatherings and on holidays. But we only have a single, simple stomach and that is why we require several different food sources to supply our nutritional requirements.

Cows on the other hand have actual microrganisms living in their rumen (1st stomach) that break down plant materials and allow them to obtain their nutrient requirements from a plant-based diet. When forage availability is decreased, or the quality of the forage is not peak, we need to supplement the cow’s diet with a protein source to feed these microrganisms so they can multiply and do a better job of breaking down these tougher forages. Pictured above is one of these protein sources in the form of lick tub.

In college, I had a professor that hated these molasses filled tubs. He says there was no use for them and other feed sources are better utilized and cost efficient. Let’s just say I’m not gonna argue with him. However, there are two types of these tubs from which we can choose. The difference is the source of protein – Non-protein Nitrogen (urea) or Natural Plant Protein sources.

The urea sourced protein has what we call a “negative associative effect” on forage consumption. This source of protein is broken down quickly in the cow’s rumen and much of the resulting nitrogen is excreted in the urine, resulting in poor (50%) utilization of the nitrogen source. On the other hand natural plant protein sources are degraded in the rumen at a rate that feeds the microrganisms, increases their numbers, and in turn, increases forage digestability. We call this a “postivie associate effect” because the supplement is used efficiently to help breakdown and utilize poor forages. (A very brief explanation here. Believe me. We have multiple courses on cattle nutrition in college and many people still have a hard time grasping the topic).

Anyways, I prefer using the natural plant protein supplements for better efficiency and performance of the cattle, even though these tubs cost more. So think of these molasses  tubs as cow candy. You might be suprised to learn what all is in that brown stuff.

  • Cows eat the supplement by licking. (And often end up with a brown tongue like they just ate a big tootsie roll)
  • The empty tubs make for great back porch garden planters, water tanks, feed buckets, you name it.
  • Fed mostly during the summer and fall months when forage digestability decreases
  • Contain cane molasses, cottonseed meal, soybean meal, soybean oil, along with many mineral sources
  • Producers must consider Energy vs Protein needs before supplementing livestock
  • These feed sources only work in the presence of forage sources (carbohydrate source needed to form proteins)
  • If you really want to get into comparisons here is a great study from Mississippi State
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  1. We use these every spring. The one downfall to the part of the country where we live is that our cows need magnesium. We have three choices for keeping our cows grass-tetany free: 1. feed old hay (which means we’ve got to put the cows in a small trap b/c we both know given the choice they’ll choose green grass over old hay)- this option is cheapest, 2. feed cow cake all spring (which has to be fed daily)- the next most expensive option, or 3. Lick Tubs- which feed themselves. The cow has the option to stand there all day. We believe if given the option, she’ll choose exactly what she needs to make herself healthy as possible.

    Thanks for a great post, Ryan!

    1. We have issues with that problem in some areas around here. We will usually switch to a high-mag mineral in the early Spring. Costs a little more, but doesn’t add any extra labor to our program and the keeps the cows consistent

  2. Usually i would not comment on this but as a graduate with a B.S. dairy science I have to call you on some of the stuff in the article. First rumeniants have one stomach, 4 compartments. Rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum are the stomach compartments, an this is the order of their digestion. Abomasum is the true stomach. Rumen is the biggest compartment an also where digestion starts. As for the uses of molasses don’t forget the palatability factor if a cow don’t like the taste no matter how good it is for her she won’t eat it.

    1. Thank you for your comment, yes I was mistaken, the rumen is the first “compartment” of the stomach. Not sure where I got it, my mind must have been on something else. As for palatability, yes, it is always important. Good for your B.S. degree. I’ve got one too. Along with a couple of Ph.D.s, but I use them while building fences.

      My posts are not meant to be scienctific or something to base your production practices on, but rather to introduce ideas that I encounter in ranch life.

  3. So, I wasn’t too far off when I guessed chocolate pudding! Clearly I’m not a rancher so I understand if you don’t have time for my silly questions. I just stubbled across your site and love it. It brings a smile to my face as I sit in a skyscraper looking over a busy city street. Anyway, you were talking about adding protein from plants. Is this instead of animal protein? I know animal protein is given to cows (or is it cattle?) to help fatten them up but, it would not be part of their natural diet. I feed a raw food diet to my dogs and try to match what their ancestral diet would have been. Most of my friends think I’m nuts. I had a dog who was so sick and nothing helped her until I changed her diet. Now she is as healthy as a horse. My vet visit costs are now almost nil (so much so I was able to rescue two dogs I found in a state park). Just annual exams or if one of them gets injured. Even though feeding a raw diet is more expensive I save all that in vet bills. Are you doing the same kind of thing? Trying to be a natural as possible? And if so have you noticed that vet/med savings have offset the costs?

    One day I’d love to have a little farmette and maybe chickens. In the mean time I can learn and dream reading your blog. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for commenting and I’m glad you learn from my posts. I just try to share events from ranch life as I see them.

      Good question! Actually most animal protein sources are banned in cattle feeds. Here is a great worksheet from Washington State that explains animal by-products that can and cannot be fed to cattle. On the ranch, our supplements are all plant based. Our cattle are on pasture year round and outside of the growing season they receive hay we harvested from our pastures. We may supplement if forage sources do not meet their nutrient requirements.

    1. Utilization and hydrolysis of urea as an NPN source requires readily available carbohydrates. Utilization without additional protein sources and low carbohydrate availability is 50%.

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