Salt: The Rancher’s Tool
Thankfully, cattle have shown that they can regulate their intake of salt, and, for the
rancher, salt can be a valuable management tool once you understand its effects on the cattle and how to
Under normal range conditions, studies have shown cattle need roughly 20 pounds of salt
per year, usually during the growing season to assist the cattle with faster metabolism.
The salt is essential to any animal life, and is crucial to the transfer of
nutrients and waste products. Salt also is a major component of the blood, and studies have shown that a lack of
adequate salt intake will not only have negative consequences on the animal, but will decrease the productivity of
As with any salt intake, an adequate supply of drinking water also
must be available; however the salt should not be placed too close to the supply. Water is already a lure for
cattle; some ranchers even go so far as to move their salt farthest away from the water supply as possible. Make
sure your water supply is adequately spaced out. If it is too close, animals will congregate over an extended
period of time.
Effects on the Range
Studies of ranchers in the southwest have shown that salt is not only beneficial for its
nutritional and health benefits, but can be used as a tool as well. Grazing cattle herds trample the soil,
increasing is filtration, among other benefits, and ranchers have found that salting the ground can be a good way
to encourage larger groups of cattle to congregate in a certain area.
If salt is present, the animals will go to it. Ranchers have discovered that large salt
blocks placed in the same place year after year encourage the herd to move to them. This decreases the amount of
management necessary for the herd and also brings a level of grazing predictability into play. When a portion of
the pasture or range needs to rest, the salt supply in that area is left to be exhausted, and a new supply is put
in another area, which the herd will eventually move to. By controlling the flow of the cattle with the salt,
ranchers have found they can help assist in vegetation growth.
The key for the rancher to utilize salt to achieve this is being aware of the condition
of your pasture and also understanding and knowing growth periods for the various vegetation that exist on the
land. Because different vegetation often have different growth periods, this can be somewhat challenging, however,
it is not unmanageable.
Of course, salt should never be left in the same spot for too long, and should be
removed or moved as soon as plants have recovered in an area of pasture you have been avoiding.
Many ranchers mistakenly believe controlling the herd with salt requires undue
attention to the pasture and the herd, distracting them from other duties required. But, to establish consistency
and routine, the amount of salt that should be placed in any given area should be able to be ingested by the cattle
in no more than two days. That way, every two days, you can re-salt in a different area and ensure the cattle are
moving at a steady and predetermined pace. By managing and documenting initial salt intake of the herd, you can
easily establish a timing system based on your specific needs.
Ultimately, the attraction of the cattle to the salt is a great tool for the rancher to
manage and tend to their pasture. Herds move to find the salt, and this can encourage or discourage grazing in
particular areas, improve soil conditions, allow vegetation to flourish, break up brush, and concentrate the cattle
in one area, when necessary.