Lick supplements - fact of fiction

Facts or fiction
There is also the danger that "lick rec­ipes" are passed from generation to gen­eration or farmer to neighbour, with the risk of the lick being changed here and there, to taste. We often find ourselves in a situation where such a lick no longer serves any purpose, whether in terms of animal performance or from an economic point of view. We will be looking at cer­tain myths regarding lick supplements, to enable the livestock producer to evaluate


One of the most important myths relating to strategic lick supplements, is that licks are often seen as a wonder cure, a magic wand which can address a lack of proper fundamental management principles. The best products and lick programmes can­not make up for sub-standard livestock management practices or poor grazing management. The average lick intake of a cattle unit is between 3.5% - 5% of the total annual dry material intake. We lose the battle on the remaining 95% and often expect licks to fix everything.

In the second place, we often see the generalisation rule. This is when produc­ers believe that, should a specific product (or in many instances a home-mixed ration) work for his/her neighbour, it will work for him as well. If this is not the case such a product quickly gets a poor rep­utation. We cannot follow a shotgun-ap­proach in respect of lick supplements. Every farm is unique in many respects, from management right through to the type of grazing and type of animal. It is therefore critically important to align your lick programme with your farm and the requirements of your type of animal. More importantly, it must be possible to adjust your lick programme from year to year, should it be necessary.

In the third place, and definitely one of the most important debates around lick supplements, is and will always be costs. I am an advocate of supplements which are economically justifiable and want to prevent production being bought at all costs, but there is a very fine balance which has to be maintained. A lot has been written about the economic benefits of the correct strategic lick supplement and a lot of research has been done in this area, which highlighted the benefits of critical economic parameters, such as conception figures, calving/lambing percentages, weaning weights and recon­ception percentages. The objective of the article is not to emphasise the financial benefits of lick supplements, but rather to leave the following thoughts: Are licks really expensive, or is it expensive not to provide licks? We are all aware of the correlation between body condition count and conception percentages. The second thought regarding the economy of lick supplements is the cost debate. We have to make sure that a cheaper lick does not become a very expensive option in the end - know what you are paying for. We are often guilty of watering licks down in order to save money. Licks are an all-or-nothing approach, but in the long run there is a high price to be paid.


No lick programme will be successful if we do not meet the basic requirements of the animal. The single biggest reason for licks not meeting their purpose, is simply because of a lack of natural grazing. We often hear the remark “The cattle will eat me bankrupt”, and where well-formulated products are adjusted to save costs. Make sure that your lick programme is adjusted for your type of animal, type of production system and, very important, is aligned with the quality and quantity of your nat­ural resource offering. It is normal for two neighbours to follow two totally different lick strategies at the same time due to fac­tors such as the condition of the animals, production status of the animals or the quality of grazing. Guard against general­isation. Do the correct economic calcula­tions for your farm, your conditions, rather than basing your decision to purchase on the cheapest product. Calculate the intake estimates for your animals in proportion to the formulation of the lick and base your calculation on lick cost per animal per day. The cheapest lick is not always the cheapest in reality. In conclusion, your lick supplement must be approached in a holistic manner and should not be placed in a little box. Licks are just another tool in our toolbox which can be used to max­imise profit, should the other tools also be present in the toolbox.