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Sulphur in the Mulga Lands

Posted by Bestprac on Aug 14 2009

Fran Brownhalls, Cunnamulla, Qld


In the harder Mulga country of South West Queensland, there is a need to feed supplement all year round to sheep and cattle as the country is Sulphur (S) deficient as well as being low in Phosphorous. Sulphur is found in almost all body tissue and is absorbed as part of Amino Acids in the small intestine. It is necessary for correct rumen function as it stimulates rumen bugs and enzymes, and for the metabolism of protein, carbohydrates and fat, as well as the blood clotting endocrine function. Sulphur also aids in wool production and brightness of wool. Deficiencies show microbial activity reduction, lack of appetite, and wool shedding in sheep. Sheep require 2gms of Sulphur/kg of dry matter eaten, and cattle need 1.5gms/ kg DM. The amount of dry matter eaten is roughly 1.8% of an animal’s body weight- i.e. for a 50kg sheep, the requirement is .9kgs of DM so that sheep would need 1.8gms of S per day, whereas a 450kg cow would eat approximately 8kgs DM with a requirement of 12gms of S per day.

Traditionally Urea has been fed to stimulate rumen bugs and Sulphur aids in the utilization of Urea. After completing 30 months of Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy- NIRS- testing during drought with one reasonable winter in that period, faecal Nitrogen never fell below an acceptable level with no urea being fed during the trial period. Urea does have its place but we have found that grazing habits alter when feeding urea, and stocking rates have had to be altered to stop country from being flogged.

To work out the real nutritional supplement needed in Mulga country and to justify using a high Sulphur lick, a 3 day MLA EDGE Nutrition Workshop was attended. NIRS had shown that the mulga in this area had a 12% protein content and was 44% digestible, due to tannins binding the protein in the gut wall and preventing nutrient uptake, something that Sulphur could really aid.

Studying both commercial loose lick and hard lick block labels showed that licks only supplied at most 2% S which meant that sheep would have to consume 100gms of a lick to get their S requirement and cattle a massive 600gms if they only weighed 450kgs.

A loose lick was mixed on property which had just 3 components- salt as a carrier, Sulphur at 10% and Kynefos which put Phosphorous at 5%. This mix was readily accepted by both sheep and cattle, and their progeny, sheep needing to only ingest 20gms of the mix and cattle not much more than 100gms. Phosphorous in this area at 6ppm means that it is marginal and not really deficient so the 5% of P in the mix is seen to be sufficient.

This lick has been used for some years now and it is felt that it is doing the job. Continuous monitoring of dung consistency shows that the gut is working properly, cattle’s coats are good and wool appears to be brighter and more plentiful. Calving and lambing percentages and weaning weights have risen, perhaps not directly attributable to Sulphur but more to the stock being in better condition due to the lick. When the season is deteriorating and cattle slip, there is an element of doubt until cattle not supplemented are sighted and it becomes very evident that the lick does work. During the period of NIRS sampling, the comment always came back that the cattle were in good condition despite the drought.

Sulphur in powder form is very hard on eyes as it burns so the lick has just been made commercially where a granulated form of S is being used for the same reason. Di Calcium Phosphate- DCP- has replaced Kynefos to keep the Calcium: Phosphorous balance correct. Kynefos would be a preferable source of Phosphorous as it is more available to the animal. Landed in Cunnamulla for $810/ tonne, this lick is affordable, costing less than 10c/head/day for cattle and about 1.5c/head /day for sheep.

Last changed: Feb 15 2012



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