With a growing sense of dread, Andrew Byaruhanga stood at a distance from the market and watched his small herd of cattle scramble for dry grass to eat. Looking back on that moment, he recalls: “My livestock were affected by diseases caused by poor feeding…. I lost hope, and as a last resort, I took them to the market for sale. But to my disappointment, no one asked for the price because they looked thin. I had no option but to take them back home.”
That was several months ago. Since then, Mr. Byaruhanga has learned how to make mineral lick blocks with nutritious ingredients.
Mr. Byaruhanga lives in Karasi village in Masindi district, about 220 kilometres southwest of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. There are many cattle in the district, and livestock farmers often find it hard to keep their animals healthy in the face of disease and a lack of water and good pasture. The situation worsens during dry spells.
After he tried to sell his sick livestock, Mr. Byaruhanga learned that animals can compensate for a poor diet by licking nutrient-rich mineral lick blocks.
Mr. Byaruhanga mixes termite soil, ash from burnt animal bones, salt, and water into a paste and then shapes it in a brick-laying box where it hardens to form a mineral lick block.
Animal bones as well as anthill or termite soils contain salt, minerals, and other nutrients essential for animal health.
Agricultural experts in Uganda encourage farmers to make their own mineral lick blocks to help keep their livestock healthy.
Doreen Pamela Acan is an extension officer for Afro Farm Development, a non-governmental organization based in Masindi that introduced mineral lick blocks to farmers in the district. She says: “Mineral licks help to improve the performance because they supply the animal with essential vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and sodium, among others.”
Ponsiano Eper is a senior officer for agro-farm development at Uganda Prison Farm, based in Masindi. He says animal lick blocks can increase farmers’ revenues.
Mr. Byaruhanga is happy with the practice because it increased milk production. He says, “My income has improved. In the past, I used to get 10 to 15 litres of milk a day from seven cows. I now get 25 to 30 litres a day.”
Mr. Byaruhanga says that his income from livestock farming tripled after he started using mineral lick blocks. He earns between $7.80 and $10 US a day from milk sales.
He adds that the minerals in the lick blocks not only increase milk production, but also help improve the quality of the meat, and help the animals develop greater resistance to pests and diseases.
Petero Akiki is a livestock farmer in the nearby village of Kiryana. He says: “I have seen farmers benefit from this technology. Previously, we used to walk long distances in search of water, soil, and grass, but with this new idea, we are settled [here] and, above all, our income from milk has greatly increased.”
His colleague Waibare Paul has also seen an increase in milk production since he started using mineral lick blocks. And his expenses have decreased.
He explains: “The difference I have seen is the reduction of treatment expenses for my animals, and an improvement in milk production. I no longer spend much money on treating my animals since I started giving my animals lick blocks.”
Mr. Byaruhanga says feeding cattle with mineral lick blocks has helped improve his household income, enabling him to pay post-secondary school fees for his two eldest sons.