Cattle feed is a crucial topic for any dairy farmer, and cattle feed blocks are an essential part of that. Much of the success of your dairy farm depends on giving your cattle all of the nutrients they require, but that can be a time-consuming process. Cattle feed blocks are a popular solution, and you can even make your own based on your farm’s requirements.
The most important part of making cattle feed blocks is determining what you want to put inside them. Are the blocks just supplements, or should they be a complete meal? Once you’ve decided on the ingredients, you can mix the liquids, dissolve the minerals, add the dry ingredients, and let them dry.
You can buy cattle feed blocks (also called “cattle cubes”) from many feed distributors in a pre-packaged form. There are various types available, all formulated to fill a particular need. But the great thing about making your own is that you can develop them according to the condition of your cattle and the grazing quality. Let’s see how you can make your own cattle feed blocks.
What Are Cattle Feed Blocks?
A cattle feed block is essentially a compressed, high-density pack of different feeding materials and essential nutrients that your cattle need to survive. Dairy farmers can use them in one of three ways:
- Mixing medicine with the feed to help the cows ingest it in case of disease.
- Providing blocks of supplemental nutrients that aren’t readily available due to grazing conditions.
- As a complete feed replacement that’s useful during droughts or other extreme conditions that limit the number of natural feeding options.
The Advantages Of Cattle Feed Blocks
Cattle feed blocks offer several advantages and benefits to dairy farmers, including:
- They can save you time (and potentially money) on labor. Once you’ve made the blocks, you don’t have to prepare feed manually at every feeding time. Some of the blocks can also last for several days, depending on the size, shape, and amount of nutrients they provide.
- You can give your cattle feed blocks that consist of the specific foods and nutrients they aren’t getting from their current feed or through grazing, which means you can save money by making blocks that only contain those elements.
- Feed blocks are pretty hard, so your cattle will get a slow but consistent intake of the necessary nutrients, simulating a little-and-often feeding approach.
- Feed blocks provide an easy way to feed the cows medicine since you can mix many medications with the feed as you make the feed blocks.
- A core component of feed blocks is Urea, which helps to break down the feed to make it easier on the cows’ digestive systems.
- Feed blocks provide an easy way to feed your cattle in times of drought or when other circumstances prohibit regular grazing or feeding.
- It reduces dirt and waste. Because the cattle eat food compressed into a solid block, there’s less feed wastage, keeping your cattle barns cleaner and neater.
Required Ingredients To Make Cattle Feed Blocks
When you want to make your cattle feed blocks, you first have to get the necessary ingredients. Some of these are essentials, but you have some choice or flexibility with other ingredients. We will focus on a complete feed block containing all the necessary components to be the only diet your cows eat, but you can replace, add, or remove some elements in the recipe as you see fit.
There are two options when it comes to the molasses content. If you use a straw base, you should use high molasses content. If you use grass instead, you can use the low molasses recipe. Some people don’t add molasses to the grass block recipe at all; that is up to you, but a bit of molasses is recommended to harden the blocks.
The ingredients for a high-molasses block are as follows:
As much as necessary
0 - 10%
5 - 10%
Source of Phosphorus
30 – 40%
Cement (more on this later in the article) or Bentonite
10 - 15%
For a low-molasses mixture, the ingredients are as follows:
0 - 10%
5 - 10%
Source of Phosphorus
30 – 40%
Cement or Bentonite
10 - 15%
Let’s look at each of the ingredients in more detail.
The primary reason for using molasses in feed blocks is to dissolve and stabilize the dry and powdery contents. However, depending on the type of molasses you use, it could also be rich in minerals and nutrients like calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and sulfur.
It is helpful as a supplement for poor-quality hay, improving the feed intake by making it more attractive for the cattle and adding essential nutrients. Adding molasses to your cattle feed blocks has been proven to improve digestion, increase milk production, boost their appetites, and improve their general health and well-being.
Feed-grade Urea is a vital component in cattle feed blocks. Though it contains no nutrients, it’s a source of nitrogen which the cows can convert into protein through the production of carbon dioxide and ammonia. It’s vital because it helps supplement protein-deficient diets. Cows must consume Urea daily for best results.
However, Urea can also be toxic if you don’t use it carefully. You must measure the contents carefully to ensure that you use safe amounts in your cattle feed blocks, but if you follow the guideline of not exceeding 10%, as mentioned above, you will be safe. Ensure that you only use stockfeed-grade Urea and don’t exceed 60 g per animal daily.
A sidenote on Urea is that it dissolves in rainwater; if it leaks into their drinking water, the cows can exceed the daily dose, so try to keep your feed blocks dry as much as possible.
When mentioning protein meal, we are referring to the main feed content of the feed block. If you want to use the block as a supplement only, you can use standard protein meal types like:
- Cottonseed meal
- Rapeseed meal
- Canola meal
But you can also use feed types and roughages like straw and fodder grass. Importantly, though, if you use moist feeds like grass, let it dry in the shade first to reduce the moisture content, as failure to do so may cause mold growth inside the feed blocks. Once it’s dry, cut it up into fine pieces before using it.
This one sounds strange, but it’s perfectly safe for cattle to ingest very small quantities of cement. The main purpose of the cement is to help bind the mixture together into a single solid block. You can use regular building cement if you wish; it’s safe to eat and full of calcium.
If you feel it’s too risky to use builder’s cement, bentonite will have the same effect, and it’s something you might already have available because of its usefulness with pesticides and fertilizers.
Salt is essential to cattle feeding, with or without feed blocks. It helps with a few things:
- Maintaining mineral balance
- It attracts the animals so that they will eat more eagerly
- It limits their appetite, so they don’t eat more than they should in a single serving
Most farmers prefer to use rock salt in their feed blocks since it has more minerals, but the salt will be dissolved either way, so it doesn’t matter much for consistency.
Sources Of Phosphorus
Cattle need phosphorus for almost every part of their bodies, from their teeth and bones to their milk production organs. You can use any feed-rated source of phosphorus, including the following commercial products:
- Kynofos 21
- Dicalcium phosphate
Whatever you use, ensure that it’s not a fertilizer or something similar since those phosphorus sources are unsafe for animal consumption.
Any Other Ingredients You Wish To Add
You can add any other ingredients you know your cattle need, like specific medications or supplements.
Making The Cattle Feed Blocks
Before you start, check that you have a mixer. This could be a dedicated mixing machine or something as simple as a large pot with a heavy wooden spoon, depending on how much of the mixture you wish to make. Just ensure that the mixer mixes the ingredients thoroughly.
Apart from the mixer, you will need a mold to shape the mixture into blocks as it dries out. Some popular mold types include:
- Timber frames
- Cardboard boxes
- Fertilizer bags
- Plastic cans (like garbage cans)
You will also need oil to lubricate the molds and the mixer because the molasses and cement will make it stick to everything. Just about any oil will do but don’t use any oil that might contain lead, like sump oil.
Now that you have everything ready, you can follow these steps to make your cattle feed blocks.
Step 1: Heat The Molasses
The molasses must be heated to be as runny as possible, allowing the other ingredients to dissolve. To achieve this, you can add hot water, though many people heat the molasses over a stove or even an open fire.
Step 2: Ensure That The Molasses Is Runny Enough
This should happen as you heat it, but you will probably have to add some hot water to get the molasses runny enough. It must be a proper liquid before you can continue to the next step.
Step 3: Dissolve The Urea
Measure out the correct amount of Urea based on the amount of molasses you use. Remember that too much Urea can be bad for the animals, so too little is preferable over too much.
Once the Urea is measured, add it to the warm molasses and water mixture. If you’re not using molasses, you can add the Urea directly to the hot water. Stir or mix the Urea into the liquid base until it is completely dissolved.
That point is vitally important: the Urea must be completely dissolved, and no powder must be left in the liquid; otherwise, it could poison the cattle. If you have to stir or mix for longer, it’s worth the time and effort since you don’t want to lose any of your livestock.
Step 4: Add Salt To The Mixture
Now you can add the salt to the mixture. The quantity isn’t a life-or-death matter as with the Urea, but too much salt can deter the cattle from the feed blocks rather than enticing them to eat. Too little salt could have the same effect and defeat the purpose of adding salt in the first place, which is to give the cattle added minerals.
After adding the salt, mix or stir it until the salt is completely dissolved. This could take a while, especially if you’re using rock salt. Also, remember that rock salt and coarse salts contain more minerals but don’t affect the flavor as much as finer types of salt, so you may have to add a bit more.
Step 5: Add The Dry Components
Now that the base of the mixture is ready, you can add the dry components. These are:
- The phosphorus
- The protein meal
- The dry feed
- Any medicine or additional supplements you want to add (depending on the instructions that came with it)
Mix these components thoroughly into the liquid base until it’s all covered. The consistency should change as you mix it. You can add more hot water if necessary to ensure everything blends properly. Don’t worry about adding a bit too much water since it will all evaporate in the end.
Step 6: Add The Cement
After everything’s been mixed, you can add the cement. Don’t add it before this step since it will start solidifying almost immediately, depending on the amount of water you added before. Let the cement mix properly until everything is one big, seamless mass.
Step 7: Get The Mixture Into The Molds
Now you can pour the mixture into the molds you prepared. The molds should be the exact size and shape you want the feed blocks to be since it will be more difficult to change later.
Step 8: Let The Mixture Dry Out
The mixture will begin to solidify almost immediately, but you should leave it to dry out properly and fix it in its final form. The better it dries out, the more weather-resistant it will be.
You should ideally leave the blocks for at least seven days, though ten days will be better. Place the molds somewhere shaded and not too hot but where they won’t get too much moisture.
Once the blocks are dried out, you should be able to get them out of the molds quickly enough. Cardboard molds may be ruined entirely by the liquid content of the mixture, but you should be able to reuse most other molds to make another stack of cattle feed blocks.
While there is a general formula for producing cattle feed blocks, there is still room for flexibility in the process. You can have the freedom to choose the ingredients that you want to include, as long as you adhere to essential safety guidelines, such as those involving Urea usage and the safety of feed for consumption. By tailoring the recipe and process to the unique needs of your cattle, you can ensure that your feed blocks provide optimal nutrition and meet their specific dietary requirements.