Adding molasses to autumn diets can lead to numerous positive effects

In general, October is the month for conducting forage budgets and deciding feeding strategies for the forthcoming winter on livestock farms.

In stark contrast to recent years, farmers will be content once budget calculations are done, as an exceptional 2019 growing season has helped replenish badly depleted forage stocks.

In an additional welcome surprise, quality straw has had a large price adjustment, with market oversupply resulting in prices returning to more typical values. Both of these factors are a welcome relief to livestock farmers, as external market pressures have seen farm incomes greatly eroded over the past 12 months.

Achieving high production levels, while keeping variable costs as low as possible across all stock categories, should now be the main farmer focus for the winter ahead.

Feeding the dry cow

The dry period is an integral component of both dairy and beef cow reproductive cycles. Its duration, however, is dependent on individual cow body condition scores (BCS) at the end of lactation.

Correct nutrition is key during this period, and will enable cows to hit the required BCS targets for calving and the return to lactation.

The benefits of reaching these targets are manyfold and not limited to but include reducing the incidences of metabolic diseases and maintaining milk production levels. For ease of management, cows of similar BCS should be grouped together; thus, allowing for ease of feeding and BCS monitoring.

BCS of 3.0-3.25 for dairy and 2.5-3.0 for beef cows should be the target at calving down. 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 6-8 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 loosing 0.5kg/day.

Weanlings and store cattle

Weanlings and store cattle are effectively the future income and profitability of both dairy and beef enterprises. Therefore, prioritising their nutritional demands during the housing period is a necessity.

This will not only allow for animals to maintain thrive, but also enable stock to best exploit compensatory growth the following grazing season. For weanlings and stores, an average daily gain (ADG) of 0.4-0.6kg and 0.5-0.7kg respectively should be achievable.

Care should be taken with poorer performing stock, however, as they will struggle to reach weight targets, even with compensatory growth at grazing.

Compound feeds and straights inclusion levels will be dictated by forage quality, with higher dry matter digestibility (DMD) silage requiring far less supplementation.

It is important to note, however, that overfeeding of straights and meals over the winter period can have a negative impact on compensatory growth at grazing, especially in the case of weanlings.

Diets should be formulated to provide a crude protein level (CP) of 13-14% and an energy value of 0.85-0.9 UFL.

Important to include a good-quality general purpose mineral into this diet

Beef finishing diets

Finishing diets should be kept as simple as possible; in general a 3-4 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. A UFV value of 0.95 or over and a crude protein content of 12-13% should be targeted.

Knowledge of forage quality is also important, and will allow for diets to be tweaked accordingly with regards to requirements. When purchasing straights, choosing only high-quality ingredients where possible will return the best live weight gains.

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 being very useful due to its high energy content.

The main digestible fibre feeds available are citrus pulp, soya hulls and beet pulp. If feeding ad-lib, an introductory period of three to four weeks should be undertaken before maximum dry matter intakes (DMI) are achieved.

Additional roughage, in the form of feeding straw, should also be considered, with a minimum level of 10% roughage maintained in diets in order to prevent any metabolic disorders.

An adequate supply of clean fresh water, feeding space and ventilation will allow for more comfortable surroundings and aid in preventing any negative impact on animal thrive.

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

The positive effects of including molasses into all of the listed diets above is numerous. Not only will molasses aid in increasing the overall TMR’s palatability, it will also improve animal dry matter intakes while helping to uniformly carry minerals throughout the feed.

Furthermore, molasses blends will help reduce any TMR sorting issues while also increasing the overall nutrient density and protein content of the diet.

In addition, molasses will improve the rumens eco-system while also increasing energy parturition within the animal. Moreover, its versatility and palatability enables poorer quality forages to be both utilised and extended, thus, preventing any unnecessary forage waste.