Making nutritional blocks for better animal health

The process of making mineral blocks. Getting the ingredients, heating the soil, and making the block. PHOTO BY LOMINDA AFEDRARU

What you need to know:

Maintaining livestock like cattle, goats or sheep requires that all the animals get adequate nutrition in the right balance. In addition to pasture, the minerals have to be made available in the required proportions.

For a livestock farmer, one of the most important things is the health of the animals as this helps ensure the quality of the animals and their products.

Most farmers rearing animals would try to maintain their health by seeking services of veterinary doctors, to provide them with the required vaccines against deadly diseases, as well as get drugs for treating animals that are ill.

But proper nutrition for the animals is equally important. Apart from what they may get from pastures, there is also need to ensure they get the right mix of minerals that they need. In some cases, farmers may need to have knowledge of how to do this as well.

How a mineral block is laid
To that end, Karimojong livestock farmers have developed a technique where they make mineral blocks with a mixture of ingredients containing nutrients, which is given to animals to lick and keep healthy.

During a visit to Eteteunos Agro Pastoral Field School in Lokilala village, Nadunget Sub County in Moroto district, we are shown how the farmers make these blocks. Leading the session is the group coordinator, Moses Lote, who calls two members to carry out the demonstration.

The two members mix anthill sand, ash from burnt animal bones, salt and water into a paste and later shape it in brick-laying box, which is later left to harden and dry to form a mineral lick block.
The members are keen while demonstrating this technique and are very passionate about it, because the mineral licks was previously made by a few farmers who sold it expensively to their colleagues at Shs7,000 per block. But an extensive community sensitisation and training carried out by a number of non-governmental organisations, farmers are now able to make the blocks on their own.

Lote, while explaining the importance of the mineral licks, says they help improve animal health and performance because it supplies the animals with essential vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, iron and sodium, among others.
The members were advised by the district veterinary officials to supply the mineral licks to their animals instead of going to look for grazing pasture and water, which contain vitamins and mineral which are now scarce.

Dr Mark Poi Ilukol, the FAO programme officer in charge of livestock in Moroto, points out that anthill soil contains salt nutrients and animal bones are rich in vitamin and a number of minerals, which are essential for animal health.
This is the reason why farmers are advised to obtain animal bones, burn and crush them into powder, which is then mixed with anthill soil and salt to come up with an appropriate product with the required ingredients.

Milk and meat
“Existence of different minerals in the body of the animals improves on the milk production and quality of meat, as well as general resistance against pests and diseases. This is the reason why we introduced this technology to the farmers.
Previously these farmers would walk long distances in search of salty water, soil and grass causing them to migrate to places but with this technology they are able to settle in one place,” Dr Ilukol said.

Basic skills
Through the Agro Pastoral Field Schools programme, the farmers are sensitised about the need to understand the importance of animal nutrition.
They are trained in basic skills of making their own mineral licks to save costs on buying it from the open market, which can be expensive.

Farmers mainly collect the bones from abattoirs as well as within their communities. Usually grazing animals may chew on the bones they come across but Dr Ilukol says it is risky because some bones are not disease free.

Income earner
In most cases, farmers hang the mineral licks in the kraal which the animals tend to lick in the morning hours before the herdsmen take them out for grazing.
Many livestock farmers are now aware of this new technology. Apart from making mineral licks to boost the food nutrients for the animals, they have also been trained to identify the most nutritious fodder.

They are also encouraged to make these blocks not only to supply to their animals but for commercialisation so as to earn income as well.

making the block

While making the mineral licks, it is important to observe the ratio of every ingredient.
Farmers are taught to measure eight cups of powdered bones mix with four cups of salt and 40 cups of anthill soil, and enough water to make a paste, which will be able to make twelve blocks of mineral licks.

Before mixing the ingredients, the soil is roasted over a fire to kill other organisms that may be in the soil.
These blocks are left to dry for a period of between three weeks and one month depending on the sunshine in that particular period.
According to the members, one mineral lick block is capable of serving 20 goats and eight cows in a day.