The importance of molasses in winter diets

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The importance of molasses in winter diets

October can often be referred to as a transition month on livestock farms. On dairy farms, it’s the month of buffer feeding, on-off grazing, paddock closing and a focus on preparing the farm’s grazing platform for the following spring.

Beef and dry-stock farms are no different, with farmers focusing on forage budgets, feeding strategies and achieving the best return for money spent on winter feeding.

Buffer feeding on dairy farms

Buffer feeding dairy cows in the autumn is very much a farm-specific decision. Maintaining dry matter intakes (DMI) and incorporating as much grass into the diet as possible should be the main aims when considering this option.

Stocking rates, ground conditions, grass availability and dry matter (DM) will all have a large influence on the decisions made, however.

Autumn grass is low in energy, but contains significant levels of rumen degradable protein (RDP) which produces ammonia within the rumen. For rumen bacteria to capture this ammonia and convert it to microbial protein, a supply of a rapidly fermentable carbohydrate (e.g. molasses) is required.

Supplementing buffer feeds containing grazed grass and silage with molasses improves the capture of ruminal N and increases the efficiency of microbial synthesis. This, in turn, helps increase milk protein concentration by promoting microbial protein synthesis and amino acid production.

Buffer feeding can be completed before or after milking once adequate feeding space is available. Easy access to grazing areas and sufficient feeding time should also be provided.

Importance of dry cow nutrition

There are two main aims for the dry period: correcting cow body condition score (BCS); and allowing for the regeneration of mammary tissue. In general, an eight-week period is sufficient for these physiological changes to occur.

This time period can vary, however, as it is very much dependent on individual cow BCS at the end of lactation.

Correct nutrition during the dry period is extremely important. Cows need to hit the required BCS and mineral status to prevent any calving difficulties and under performance in the following lactation. Cows of similar BCS should be grouped together and fed diets specific to their requirements.

Continuous monitoring of BCS should also take place throughout the dry period to allow cows to calve-down at BCS 3.0-3.25 and 2.5-3.0 for dairy and beef cows respectively. Diets consisting of grass/maize silage, straw and a high protein, molasses-based liquid feed are ideal for feeding during this time.

Examples of which are detailed below.

Important to include a good quality dry cow mineral six to eight weeks prior to calving

  • Diet A: 600kg dry cow seven months in-calf maintenance diet;
  • Diet B: 550kg cow seven months in calf gaining 0.5kg/day;
  • Diet C: 650kg seven months in calf losing 0.5kg/day.

Feeding for beef

With January looming, and Brexit on the horizon, important decisions need to be made to get the best return on money spent on finishing diets.

Before purchasing feed or formulating rations, it is important to assess the quantity and quality of home-saved feeds. This will allow for decisions to be made on the type and quantity of supplementary feeds that will be required on farm.

For home mixing a simple three/four way mix containing energy, protein and a fibre source with added minerals should be sufficient. Diets should be formulated on an energy basis as opposed to protein levels. Finishing diets should have a UFV value of 0.95 or over, and a crude protein content of 12-13%.

When purchasing straights, choosing high-quality ingredients will return the best liveweight gains (LWG).

Barley is normally the go-to energy source, with wheat, maize and molasses also high on the list. Protein sources include rapeseed, maize gluten and soybean meal, with maize distillers also a good choice due to its high energy content. The main digestible fibre sources are citrus pulp, soya hulls and beet pulp.

If feeding ad-lib, an introductory period of three to four weeks should be given before maximum dry matter intakes (DMI) of 1.7-1.8% of liveweight are achieved. Additional roughage, in the form of good quality feeding straw, should also be considered to maintain good rumen function.

Examples of finishing cattle diets are listed below.

Important to note include a good quality general purpose mineral into the diet

Adding molasses in all of the above situations will not only aid in increasing the overall palatability of the diet, it will also improve animal dry matter intakes while helping to uniformly carry minerals throughout the feed.

Furthermore, molasses blends will help reduce total mixed ration (TMR) sorting and increase the overall nutrient density and protein content of the diet. In addition, molasses will also improve the rumens eco-system while increasing energy parturition within the animal.

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