How To Get The Most Out Of Low Moisture Molasses Tubs
By: Gilda V. Bryant
Low moisture molasses tubs are convenient to use and come in many formulations to suit changing seasons, classes of cattle and available forages. On the market since the mid-1970s, these popular supplements are in high demand.
Manufacturers combine molasses with oil or fat, then cook the mixture to remove most of the moisture. Dry ingredients such as protein meals, minerals and vitamins are blended and incorporated into the hot, thickened molasses mixture. Poured into plastic tubs, the mix forms a dense, hard candy-like consistency as it cools and cures. Common sizes for cooked tubs run 250 and 200 pounds, although smaller tubs in the 30 to 60 pound range are available for weaning calves or placement in feedyard sick pens.
Mark Robbins, Manager of Research and Nutrition Services with Ridley Block Operations/Crystalyx, says newly weaned calves will eat about a quarter pound per head per day. This kick starts the calf’s rumen and appetite. The licking action also creates more saliva, a natural buffer for the rumen. Studies indicate that when feedyard calves are exposed to these tubs fewer get sick. Plus, calves tend to have better mixed ration intake and
feed efficiency. For mature cows in pasture grazing situations, ranchers may initially place tubs in loafing areas near a water supply.
Once cattle are familiar with molasses products, producers may entice them to move to an underutilized area of the pasture by placing tubs in ungrazed forage, away from riparian areas. Robbins adds, “Research conducted with GPS tracking collars has shown cattle will visit them all hours of the day and night.”
Rain and snow don’t alter the palatability of the product—cattle simply drink the collected water, then lick the tub. Experts recommend placing containers in the shade during sustained 100 degree temperatures because they tend to soften in the heat. Intake consistency is a positive feature of tubs. Instead of chewing the hard surface, cattle must lick it. Randy Rosenboom, Beef Specialist with Kent Feeds, says if cattle are eating more than expected, producers may simply move the tubs away from the water supply. Animals will adjust their intake, consuming less.
Cattle should lick the container so the surface remains flat. Rosenboom says if wells appear, that’s an indication there are too many animals for the number of tubs. The solution is easy… add two or three additional tubs. Generally, experts recommend one container for every 25 head.
Jim Drouillard, PhD, professor of animal science at Kansas State University and consultant for SmartLic, reports that tubs control intake based on humidity. “The surface absorbs moisture from the atmosphere,” Drouillard explains. “It becomes a little liquid on top. Animals can lick that liquid away. When they get down to the dry portion, they stop. It’s a neat method of controlling intake because the animals have a desire to eat it, but because of the physical properties of the tub, they are restricted.”
READ THE LABEL!
Molasses tubs are manufactured for all seasons, classes of cattle and types of forages. For instance, during spring
when grass tetany can be an issue, tubs with magnesium are available. If corn stalks, dried grasses or hay bales are the main diet, protein tubs are just the ticket. These supplements have mineral formulas for breeding and weaning; some include chelated minerals for those regions of the country that struggle with antagonists in the water and soil.
Use caution when making your purchase to be sure the product is rated for beef cattle. The levels of copper which cattle require can be toxic for sheep, because they are sensitive to it. “If the species you want to feed is listed on that label, then you’re good,” explains Robbins. “I can’t emphasize this enough. If it does not list the species you’re going to feed it to, then don’t feed it to them. Look at the label. By law the label has to have a purpose statement. It says what species of animal you can feed it to.”
Kent Tjardes, Field Cattle Consultant with Land O’Lakes/Purina recommends that producers look for quality tubs that are properly dehydrated. He says, “Animals should only eat three fourths to a pound of protein tubs. On the mineral side it should be four to eight ounces.” Look for a reputable manufacturer that mixes quality ingredients. Tubs should consistently meet label guarantees.
Ask how long the company has been in operation and what quality assurance programs are in place. Most companies will have some indication of their quality assurance program on the label, usually in the form of logos.
“Knowing intake is critical for supplements,” Tjardes advises. “Try to understand the tags. Look at them to learn what the intake is supposed to be. Are the cattle eating according to what is on the tag?”
Robbins says, “If you put out 1000 pounds of supplement for 200 cows and it took them seven days to consume that, do the math. 1000 divided by 200 cows, divided by 7 days. That’s seven-tenths of a pound.” There are situations where tubs aren’t the answer. Robbins explains, “If you have cows at the end of January and you’re going to start calving the first of March, and they are too thin, it’s almost too late to put ‘one’ body condition score on them. If you want to put one body condition score on a cow in a month, you’re going to need to use a hand-fed supplement, feeding two to four pounds a day to increase their energy intake.”
In the next five years, cattlemen will see enhanced bioavailability of minerals in tubs as well as those that target reproductive and immune functions. “Producers need to get an understanding about the variety of products that are available, that target very specific needs, and take full advantage of that,” Drouillard explains. “It’s precision agriculture.
Most of the manufacturers have a good handle on what those needs are and are producing an array of products with the intent of fulfilling those needs. There are some cost-saving measures that have come about. Getting the biggest bang for the buck is the bottom line.”