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Mixing In Molasses This Feeding Season

Across the province, livestock producers are feeding for the winter. Though there is no typical winter in Saskatchewan, feeding this season may be more difficult due to the feed shortage that much of the province is facing. As a result, poor quality feeds such as straw and slough hay have become popular feed ingredients.

On its own, straw provides little nutritive value. However, when managed carefully, straw is an effective way to add fill to the ration, saving feed resources and, ultimately, money. Often, when discussing using straw, questions about including molasses arise. Adding molasses has four key benefits, including:

1) Improved use of low-quality forages;

2) Improved nutrient supply (crude protein, minerals and vitamins). Nutrient supply depends on the formulation of your molasses product. Consult your sales representative to obtain a nutrient analysis;

3) Improved rumen microbial health; and

4) Decreased dust and improved palatability.

With these benefits, molasses can be a great fit in a winter-feeding plan. However, producers need to understand that adding molasses is not a silver bullet. It cannot and should not be used to replace other energy sources in the diet. It is also important to remember that adding molasses does’nt change the chemical composition of straw. The risks of high-fiber rations and cow impaction do not change with the addition of molasses. In addition, molasses with added protein contains non-protein nitrogen (urea). When urea is consumed in excess, cattle may develop hyperammonemia, which can quickly lead to death.

The recommended application rate of molasses per 1,000 pounds of straw is 70 to 100 pounds. This cost works out to $25 to $35 per bale. A 1,400-pound animal can consume approximately 20 pounds of straw; this works out to one and a half to two pounds of molasses. This consumption rate of molasses is enough to improve palatability and, in some cases, provide extra protein.

Below is a comparison of a straw and grain ration, a ration where only molasses treated straw (at the recommended rate) is provided, and a ration that includes both grain and molasses treated straw. For reference, a cow at this stage of gestation would require approximately seven per cent protein and 55 per cent total digestible nutrients. These calculations also assume that molasses has the energy of light oats (72 per cent to 75 per cent) and that barley has an energy of 83 per cent.

1,400-pound cow (six months pregnant), 0.7 pounds average daily gain. Note: This ration was not balanced to meet mineral or vitamin requirements.

*Prices were current at the time of writing. ** This ration is not adequate to meet feed intake, crude protein or energy requirements. It is included for demonstration purposes only.

Producers often try to reduce their costs by supplying molasses treated straw with less pounds of grain, to provide the same overall requirements. However, as shown above, at the current feed prices the cost per day is lower when feeding additional grain and not treating the straw with molasses. Even though you can feed less grain when the straw is treated with molasses, it still works out to costing approximately an extra dollar a day overall. Looking at this comparison it is easy to see that the molasses and straw ration, with no grain, does not provide adequate protein or energy.

Long term, underfeeding of livestock will have unwanted consequences when it comes time for calving and rebreeding. These may include birthing difficulties, poor quality colostrum, slower return to estrus and lower overall fertility resulting in a higher incidence of open (or not pregnant) cows. Whether you plan to include molasses or not, be sure to also incorporate an energy source in your ration. Murray Feist, Provincial Livestock Specialist, recently gave a more detailed presentation on this topic.

For more information on molasses supplementation or any other livestock related questions, please contact your local livestock and feed extension specialist or call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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