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Using Beet Molasses to Make Liquid Feeds for Ruminants. Formulation, Manufacture, Delivery and Feeding.

DISCOVERY

While visiting with Andrei Dmitrash, director of the Zbarazh Sugar Refinery and a major player in the Ternopil and Ukrainian sugar refining industry, it was revealed that in Ukraine beet molasses is used widely for distilling (also added to animal feeds) but not for making liquid feeds for ruminants. He expressed an interest in liquid feed making technology as a possible additional market for beet molasses, since beet molasses is not all used for making spirits. Manufacturing liquid feeds would create a new feed product for the sugar plant to sell and would help supply nutrients to ruminants, thus helping the local livestock industry.

There is a feed mill associated with the Zbarazh Sugar Refinery with which we could work. All beet sugar plants produce beet pulp and molasses as by-products. It would be reasonable for them to convert the beet molasses into a liquid feed or to sell the molasses to those who will use it to manufacture liquid feeds.

Mr. Dmitrash expressed an interest in learning about the formulation, manufacture, delivery and feeding of liquid feeds. He would like to share this information with the seven beet sugar refineries in the Ternopil Oblast and other sugar plants in Ukraine. This looks like a wonderful opportunity to turn a by-product (beet molasses) into a valuable product that can supply much needed protein, energy, vitamins and minerals to dairy and beef animals. This could be a profitable activity for the sugar refinery, its sugar beet growers (as it could increase the value of a major by-product), the manufacturers and sellers of the liquid feed and ultimately, the customers who feed ruminants.

BACKGROUND and JUSTIFICATION

Liquid feeds for ruminants are very big business in the United States. There is no reason that I can see why they shouldn't also be big business here in Ukraine. This could be a big growth industry for animal agriculture and the feed industry in Ukraine and benefit all those people and groups mentioned in the last sentence of the above paragraph.

So what is a liquid feed? Liquid feeds are made from beet and cane molasses, (and sometimes citrus molasses) into which is mixed urea (as a source of non-protein nitrogen), phosphoric acid, vitamins and minerals. Other liquid by-products can be used, such as the material that remains after fermenting molasses, wood molasses, lignin sulfonates (by-products from processing wood to paper) and a few other nutritious liquid by-products from various manufacturing processes. Liquid by-products have a lower feeding value than cane and beet molasses. We'll talk more about formulation in the next section.

Liquid feeds are good sources (quality varies depending upon their formulation) of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals for ruminants (dairy, beef, sheep and goats). They are not used for non-ruminants (like pigs) because mono-gastric species cannot use non-protein nitrogen. To understand liquid feeds we need to understand how non-protein nitrogen is converted to usable protein by microorganisms in the first two compartments of the rather complex stomach of ruminants. Urea is the usual non-protein nitrogen source used for ruminant feeds. Urea is the form in which most animals excrete excess nitrogen from the body. Chickens excrete uric acid, as do, surprisingly, Dalmatian dogs. You can test how purebred your Dalmatian dog is by checking to see in what form it excretes nitrogen. Uric acid is a precursor of urea in the biochemical reactions for animals. Birds and Dalmatians lack this biochemical machinery.

In the first and second ruminant stomachs - or compartments - (rumen and reticulum), two ammonia molecules (NH3) are released from each urea molecule [(NH3)2CO]. The nitrogen is utilized by the rumen microorganisms along with carbohydrates (such as the sugar from molasses, starch from grains and cellulose from forages) and minerals (particularly sulfur) to make microbial proteins which are used for microbial growth.

These rumen bugs then pass into the third stomach (omasum) where excess liquid is removed from the digesta before it travels to the fourth or true stomach (abomasum) where stomach acids kill the microbes. Digesta then moves from the abomasum into the small intestine where it is digested and the resulting nutrients (amino acids etc.) are absorbed into the blood stream, much like what occurs in mono-gastrics.

Ruminants can be viewed as animals having a true stomach (abomasum) similar to monogastrics preceded by a large fermentation vat (rumen and reticulum with the omasum serving as a dehydrator after fermentation) that allows the ruminant to eat cellulose (fiber) and non-protein nitrogen. Cellulose contains sugars as does starch but cellulose has a different linkage (beta bond) between each sugar molecule, which the rumen microorganisms can break, apart freeing the sugars for fermentation.

Monogastrics can't break the beta bond connecting the sugar molecules in cellulose. They have enzymes to break the alpha bonds connecting the sugars in starch and thus simple stomached animals can use starch but can't utilize cellulose. Ruminants can use both starch and cellulose. Rumen fermentation action also allows the ruminant to synthesize microbial protein from non-protein nitrogen, reducing the need for feeding only true protein in the rations of ruminants. Rumen microbes also synthesize the B vitamins, so B-vitamins don't have to be included in the ration of ruminants.

There is nothing magical nutritionally about mixing molasses, urea, phosphoric acid, vitamins and minerals together in a liquid feed in comparison to feeding them separately in some other manner, but a liquid feed is a convenient way to get these nutrients of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals to the ruminant. It is common for dairy and beef animals to eat forage that is deficient in these nutrients. Thus finding a convenient way to deliver these nutrients to the animal is a big plus for liquid feeds. The ease of delivery and nutritional value of liquid feeds accompanied by their relatively low cost have made them popular in the United States.

Liquid feeds can be delivered to the ruminant by top-dressing on the forage, mixing into other feeds or fed free choice in special feeders. Free choice feeders are big boxes about the size of a large desk that have plastic wheels installed in the corners of the top of the feeder that reach to the bottom of the tank. The wheels rotate on an axle suspended from the lid of the feeder. When an animal licks these wheels, the thick liquid feed is brought up and the animal can consume it. The maximum intake of a liquid feed should be about 1000 to 1500 grams per head per day. Intake can be regulated by the formulation of the liquid feed so that up to 1500 grams will be voluntarily consumed but no more. More will be written on this topic later in the section on formulation of liquid feeds.

In summary of this section: Using beet and cane molasses in the manufacture of liquid feeds for ruminants adds value to a by-product of the sugar industry, gives manufacturers and distributors a new product to market and supplies ruminants with significant nutritional benefits in a convenient and economical form. Next, let's look at the formulation of liquid feeds.

FORMULATION of LIQUID FEEDS

Liquid feeds formulated for self-feeding (where animals can eat as much as they want to consume) usually are formulated to contain from 32 to 35 percent equivalent crude protein, one percent phosphorus and 33 to 35 percent sugar plus vitamins and minerals. The dry matter of the liquid feed should be 55 to 65 percent. Liquid feeds that are mixed into other feeds or poured over the forage, so that the amount to be consumed is decided by the person feeding the animals, may contain 41 percent crude protein or more. The level of the other components can vary as desired based on the nutritional needs of the animal after considering the nutrient content of other feeds being fed.

Urea (282 percent crude protein equivalent because rumen microorganisms manufacture this amount of microbial protein from it) is added to liquid feeds to increase the crude protein level above that supplied by the protein naturally supplied in the molasses. There is a limit to how much urea or non-protein nitrogen (NPN) can be fed to a ruminant before the NPN level exceeds the ability of the rumen microbes to process it into microbial protein. When the safe rumen level of ammonia is exceeded, ammonia (NH3) builds up in the rumen, is absorbed into the blood stream, raises the ammonia levels in the blood stream and liver and can eventually kill the animal by depriving it of oxygen. Urea (ammonia) toxicity can easily result in the death of the animal so should be avoided by being careful how much urea is fed and paying attention to how it is fed.

Some of the natural protein consumed in all feedstuffs can be degraded with the release of ammonia in the rumen. Protein sources differ in the percent of their crude protein that is degraded to ammonia in the rumen. Proteins that do not degrade to ammonia in the rumen pass into the intestine intact (as consumed) and are called "by-pass" proteins. Under most conditions in high producing dairy cows, about 60 percent of the total ration protein should degrade to ammonia in the rumen so that it is available for microbial growth (rumen microbes combine ammonia with carbohydrates and minerals) with 40 percent of the intake protein passing into the small intestine undegraded as natural protein.

With feeds that have low by-pass protein (low by-pass through the rumen and thus more ammonia is released in the rumen), such as wheat mill run, less urea can be fed safely. For example, the rumen by-pass of the protein in soybean meal is lower than the protein in cottonseed meal. Therefore, more urea can be fed in a ration where cottonseed meal is fed than where soybean meal is fed. Ruminant rations need to be formulated with the level of degradable and non-degradable protein in the ration considered.

Excess ammonia levels in the rumen (and therefore excess in the blood and liver) can cause acute toxicity and death. Symptoms include frothing at the mouth, stomach irritation as indicated by the animal trying to kick its stomach, staggering, panting and an obvious problem breathing with the animal eventually falling to the ground in much respiratory distress. Animals with urea poisoning must be treated immediately to save them. I had such an experience in Central Mexico while visiting a dairy where urea had been added to the silage without proper dispersal and a heifer had consumed too much urea and was near death. We drenched the rumen of the heifer via a stomach tube with about half a liter of vinegar found in the kitchen (all we had although we would like to have had more) and saved the animal from certain death.

Here's how it works. Vinegar contains acetic acid. Hydrogen ions from the acetic acid disassociated and combined with ammonia (NH3) to make ammonium (NH4+). Ammonium cannot move through the rumen wall (as can ammonia) to the blood stream and liver so we effectively stopped the movement of ammonia to the liver, giving the animal's liver time to clear the excess ammonia from the blood stream so that the heifer could recover. The animal changed from being near death to showing some signs of life within a few minutes and was up and eating forage within several hours. It recovered completely. We (including the attending veterinarians) were amazed at the "magic" of feeding vinegar from the kitchen. It was applied biochemistry in action. The dairyman bought several jugs of vinegar in case it happened again. I'm sure he'll take extra precautions to disperse the urea more evenly when he adds it to the silage next time.

Mixing and feeding liquid feeds must be done with caution to avoid causing urea toxicity in cattle, particularly when the liquid is force-fed by mixing into other feed and the animal doesn't have a choice to eat it or not. When fed free-choice animals generally reduce their voluntary consumption of liquids that are too high in urea as long as other feed is available. Because of the potential for urea toxicity, other feed should always be available when liquid feed is fed free-choice, as hungry cattle without other feed options may over-consume liquid feed and die from ammonia toxicity.

While there are some potential dangers from feeding liquid feeds, I don't want to scare people away from manufacturing and feeding them. I was involved with formulating, manufacturing, selling and feeding many tens of thousands of tons of liquid feeds in the United States and never had a problem with urea toxicity, but the potential does exist. Therefore, the manufacturer and the feeder should be aware of the potential of urea toxicity and take the necessary precautions to be sure that urea toxicity problems do not occur.

There are several health conditions that affect cattle on pasture that should be understood to avoid confusion with thinking there is a urea (ammonia) toxicity problem. Urea can poison animals if the ammonia level in the rumen rises and too much ammonia spills into the blood stream. This changes the pH of the blood and impairs the ability of the blood to transport oxygen to the tissues. The animal dies of asphyxiation.

A poisoning that may appear to be from urea (really ammonia) toxicity, may actually be nitrate poisoning. Plants produce plant protein from nitrogen with nitrate as an intermediary product. When plants are growing rapidly, there may be a high level of nitrate in the plant tissues in the process of being converted to plant protein. When plant growth is abruptly stopped (such as from cold weather or drought), young plants may have an excess of nitrate trapped in them, particularly in the lower portions of the plant, because growth was stopped before the transformation of nitrate to plant protein had been completed.

If this plant material is consumed, the nitrate may be converted to nitrite in the animal with disastrous consequences for the animal. Nitrite in the blood changes the number of electrons on the iron in hemoglobin and the blood can no longer transport oxygen to the tissues. As a result, the animal suffocates, similar to what is seen in urea (ammonia) poisoning, but by a different and non-related mechanism. For this reason, nitrate poisoning and urea toxicity can be confused.

With nitrate toxicity, blood usually (but not always) turns a chocolate brown caused by the formation of methemoglobin when the electron change on the iron in hemoglobin changes. This can be determined by taking a blood sample to observe the color or to send to the lab for analysis. The mucous linings of the animal may turn brownish. Tissue that would be red from normal blood may turn brownish in color.

The treatment for nitrate toxicity is to infuse methylene blue into the blood stream. This must be done in a hurry to save the animal before it dies of asphyxiation. Liquid feeds don't cause or increase the problems of nitrate toxicity.

The main objective should be prevention of nitrate toxicity, so don't allow animals to consume rapidly growing forage that has been abruptly stopped from growing, particularly the lowest part of the plant stalk, until it has been tested for nitrate content. Corn silage has been known to cause nitrate toxicity. If this is a problem, cut the corn plant a foot or so above the ground to reduce the level of nitrates and dilute the amount of the high nitrate feed that is fed by feeding feed lower in nitrates. If nitrates are a problem, additional vitamin A should be fed as nitrates destroy it in the animal body.

Another health problem, called grass tetany, may occur with animals grazing rapidly growing pasture, particularly in the early spring. This is because of a magnesium deficiency in the blood stream where the animal loses control of its musculature and thus develops tetany. Susceptible animals may appear OK until stressed, such as by a dog running through the pasture or being moved, and then they can go "loco", charging moving objects and eventually falling down and expiring.

There are several related factors in young, rapidly growing pasture in the early spring that contribute to the grass tetany problem. These pastures are usually high in nitrate and high in potassium, particularly if heavily fertilized with manure, with chicken manure being the worst culprit. When potassium and nitrate combine with magnesium, struvite is formed, particularly if the grass is high in aconitic acid, and the magnesium, which is already low in the pasture, is tied up in an insoluble form and is not available to the animal.

Liquid feeds usually contain substantial potassium from the molasses that is their main ingredient. They also supply only low levels of magnesium so they can increase the incidence of grass tetany unless supplemental magnesium is fed. It is difficult to get magnesium into solution in a liquid feed and when it is added, voluntary intake may go down at a time when the voluntary intake of liquid feeds is already low. (Animals voluntarily eat less liquid feed supplement when they are grazing lush young pastures as opposed to mature pastures.

Treatment includes getting magnesium into the animal in a hurry. Using the same treatment as that used for dairy cows with milk fever can be helpful if the calcium gluconate solution used to treat milk fever contains magnesium (which it usually does) and the mixture is infused into the blood stream. Catching and infusing this solution into the blood stream stresses the animal of course and could kill it if tetany develops.

The best solution is prevention. Feeding 150 grams of magnesium oxide per head per day for a month or two before the cattle graze the magnesium deficient (and high potassium and nitrate) pasture will usually prevent grass tetany. Magnesium oxide is not palatable so it should be mixed with salt and perhaps some grain to be sure that 150 grams of MgO2 is consumed daily. Intake should be monitored to be sure adequate magnesium intake occurs to prevent grass tetany.

Grazing animals on wheat fields in the early spring, as is common in part of the USA, can be a problem because of grass tetany that results for the above reasons. Nitrate poisoning can also occur. My personal experience from working in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles with cow-calf operations greasing winter wheat is that by fertilizing the wheat pastures with a fertilizer high in magnesium, the amount of magnesium in the plant can be increased and the incidence of grass tetany reduced or eliminated. It is pretty dramatic.

The voluntary intake of liquid feeds is determined primarily by the level of sugar in the feed. Under-consumption of liquid feed results in reduced nutrition being delivered to the animal and of course hurts liquid feed sales. Over-consumption becomes expensive to the feeder and may result in the customer quitting. In that case, there are no future sales so formulating for the desired consumption levels is very important for both the customer and for the manufacturer. Business should be customer driven so satisfying the customer is the number one objective as usual.

A sugar content (from molasses) between 33 to 35 percent in the liquid feed will usually result in a voluntary daily intake of liquid feed of 500 to 1500 grams per day. This is influenced some by what other feedstuffs are available. Liquid feeds can be made less palatable, even with high levels of sugar, by adding some ammonium sulfate. Intakes of liquid feeds in excess of 1500 kg are not recommended as it may allow too much urea to be consumed, which as discussed above can be dangerous to the animal.

High intake of liquid feeds may also supply too much sugar to the rumen. While low levels of sugar stimulate microbial activity in the rumen, too much sugar can result in pH changes (more acid produced). A substrate change (sugar) together with a decreased pH level in the rumen will cause changes in the relative ratio of the various types of microbes in the rumen, decreasing rumen function, including decreasing fiber digestibility. When allowed to go to extremes, the animal can die from too much lactic acid being produced in the rumen. When the pH in the rumen goes down (it should be above a pH of 5.5 but no higher than 6.5 to 6.75) is creates an environment favorable to lactic acid producing bacteria, which lowers the rumen pH even further. This can cause the proliferation of clostridium microorganisms that produce a detrimental toxin that causes enterotoxemia that can kill the animal.

The dry matter content of liquid feeds needs to be above 55 percent (for sure above 50 percent) to prevent the sugars in the feed from fermenting and the feed from molding, which can cause significant deterioration of the product and make it unfeedable. Feed fed free choice from liquid feed tanks must be protected from too much rainwater falling into the feed tank and diluting it down to where the sugars in the liquid feed will ferment. Since water is cheap, it costs more to produce a liquid feed containing ingredients high in dry matter than using ingredients lower in dry matter. This minimum dry matter concern limits the use of some liquid ingredients.

A liquid feed tank that has gathered rainwater or contains a feed that is too low in dry matter to start with may ferment and change pH. When the new liquid is pumped into the tank a chemical reaction may take place with the old material. The whole mixture may begin to foam with bubbles and frothy liquid pouring from the top of the feeder. This can be pretty scary and confusing to the person adding the fresh liquid feed to the tank containing old feed. Good formulation and management of the tank should prevent this from happening.

It is not a good idea to leave a liquid feed tank with only a small amount of liquid in it, as the surface area per volume is too great and any rainwater addition can significantly dilute the liquid leading to fermentation. In dry weather, the liquid feed will dry out faster if the tank is almost empty, again because of the large surface area in relation to volume. In that case, the liquid can become so thick that it won't allow the animals to turn the wheels to bring it up so that they can eat it.

It is helpful to have several liquid feed ingredients of varying dry matter, sugar and protein levels so that the computer can solve the formulation for the desired levels of these nutrients. An end product from the fermentation of beet molasses to make mono sodium glutamate (used in cooking, particularly oriental cooking and sold under the trade name of "Accent") is sometimes available. It is beet molasses with most of the sugar fermented out, which concentrates the minerals. It can be used to reduce the sugar level of free-choice liquids when necessary to regulate voluntary consumption.

For the consumer's protection, the dry matter content must be disclosed on the feed tag along with the level of protein, amount of protein from non-protein-nitrogen, phosphorus, sugar, ash, vitamins A and D and other nutrients that the manufacturer wants to guarantee. All ingredients used in formulating the liquid feed must be listed on the feed tag.

It is common to add enough phosphoric acid to raise the phosphorus level in liquid feeds to one percent. Phosphoric acid is a source of phosphorus that is readily assimilated by the animal. It is manufactured by removing phosphorus from high phosphate rock with acid. Phosphoric acid is an intermediary product in the manufacture of mono and di-calcium phosphate which are made by reacting phosphoric acid with limestone (calcium carbonate).

Since fluorine is usually present in phosphate rock and is poisonous to animals, the phosphoric acid used in liquid feeds must be defluorinated. Feed manufacturers must be absolutely sure that they are buying defluorinated feed phosphates. It costs money to defluorinate phosphorus sources (I think it is done by heating) and thus feed phosphates cost more than fertilizer grade phosphates. The feed manufacturer must resist the temptation to buy less expensive sources of phosphate destined for the fertilizer trade that are high in fluorine or there will be dramatic and non-reversible damage done to the animals that consume feed made with high fluorine phosphates. The feed manufacturer will be financially responsible.

It may be of interest to the reader to know about cases of fluorine toxicity that have occurred naturally when animals have grazed pastures near aluminum smelters that were spewing out fluorine in the process of converting bauxite ore to aluminum. The emitted fluorine was falling on the pastures and the animals were poisoning themselves by eating the contaminated forage. It is important that aluminum smelters control their emissions so that they do not contain fluorine. Historically there have been some major problems in the Pacific Northwest of the USA near where I live. I'm sure problems exist elsewhere. Aluminum smelters must purify the effluent from their smokestacks in order not to cause a health hazard in the area down-wind from the smelter.

Small amounts of fluorine in the water are of benefit for children growing teeth as fluorinated water has proven to be beneficial for the reduction of cavities. Too much fluorine causes mottling (soft enamel) and characteristic patches of browning where the soft enamel of the teeth becomes stained. Too much fluorine can also cause bone growth problems.

Hereford, Texas (located in the western part of the Texas panhandle) is called "the town without a toothache" because of natural fluorine levels in the water. Unfortunately, you can also see people there with mottled teeth caused by consuming too much fluorine. In fact, when you see people with mottled teeth in the USA, it is a good bet that they're from the Hereford, Texas area (particularly if they also talk with a Texas accent).

Forty years ago it was common practice to worm weaner pigs by adding sodium fluoride to their rations for a few days. This did a good job of killing the worms but it also killed about one percent of the pigs. I don't know if you can even still buy sodium fluoride, what with man's inhumanity to man that seems to surface all too often during these "modern times." A bottle of sodium fluoride poured into the town's water supply or added to a batch of flour used to bake bread could eliminate the consumers.

Phosphoric acid, in addition to its nutritional benefit, lowers the pH (increases the acidity) of the liquid, which helps to preserve it. Sulfuric acid can be added to reduce the pH and to supply sulfur, which is needed when urea is fed, for the microbes to build microbial protein. However, since sulfuric acid is such a strong acid (a much stronger acid than phosphoric acid) and poses a potential health hazard for those handling it, sulfuric acid is not usually used in liquid feeds. It can also eat up feed mixing and handling equipment, such as tanks and expensive meters. I found that out from personal experience.

The fat soluble vitamins A, D and E are commonly added to liquid feeds by buying commercially available liquid solutions of these vitamins. Water soluble vitamins (B complex) are not added to liquid feeds as the microbes in the rumen can manufacture them. Ruminants don't require a dietary source of vitamin C, another water soluble vitamin.

Looking at the major minerals, calcium is not added to liquid feeds because it is not soluble in liquids. The usual ingredients used in preparing liquid feeds are also low in calcium, so calcium for the animal must be supplied from other sources of feed. For animals on high forage diets, consuming adequate calcium is generally not a problem. Phosphorus is supplied via phosphoric acid as discussed above. Sodium and chloride salt is usually not added to a liquid as it is corrosive, may settle out because the liquid doesn't contain enough water to keep it in solution and is readily available from cheaper feed sources. Since molasses is high in potassium, liquid feeds are also high in potassium. Ruminants require sulfur for the manufacture of microbial protein (some essential amino acids contain sulfur such as methionine and cystine) from non-protein nitrogen. This can be added as sulfuric acid as discussed above or from ammonium sulfate added to the feed (which will decrease voluntary intake of the liquid feed). Some sulfate is supplied when trace minerals in the sulfate form are used. Attention to the sulfur level in other feedstuffs is of importance. The difference between adequate and excessive sulfur is narrow so care must be taken when supplementing with sulfur or rumen function can be seriously impaired and the acid/base balance of the animal altered negatively. Magnesium can be added to liquid feeds but it is usually supplied from non-liquid sources. Under fresh lush pasture conditions, particularly if the potassium level in the pasture is high from too much manure fertilization, it may be necessary to add magnesium to the diet of ruminants to prevent grass tetany. This can be a particular challenge when feeding liquid feeds as animals reduce their intake of liquid feeds on lush green pastures and adding magnesium to the liquid further reduces intake. Animals on lush green pastures in the spring should be fed dry mineral supplements high in magnesium in advance of the anticipated low magnesium problem, as discussed previously.

It is common to add supplemental trace minerals to liquid feeds. These can include iron, (although iron is present in adequate quantities in most feedstuffs and particularly in forages consumed by ruminants), manganese, copper, zinc, selenium, iodine and cobalt. These trace minerals (except for iodine) should be added in the sulfate form (rather than oxides or carbonates) as the sulfate forms of the trace minerals are very soluble in liquids and the carbonate and oxide forms are not soluble. The level of selenium intake needs to be controlled, as it is toxic in high amounts. It is a critical nutrient when fed at low amounts (up to 0.3 PPM in the total diet).

Since molasses is the main component of liquid feeds, we should understand its characteristics. The thickness of molasses is measured by a bulb with a measuring stick on its top (called a hygrometer). This analytical devise is allowed to float in a cylinder containing molasses. The measuring stick is read at the height where it floats at the surface of the molasses. It is recorded as the degree of "brix". Cane molasses shipped from the sugar cane refinery will be about 86 degrees of brix, which is too thick to handle easily ("slower than molasses in January").

Molasses, as bought by the feed industry, is standardized by the molasses supplier who adds water to reduce it to 79.5 degree brix. At that level of brix, beet molasses typically will be about 78.5 percent dry matter and cane molasses 73.5 percent dry matter. People are often surprised by this high level of dry matter for molasses, particularly when compared to wet corn grain at harvest that may be around 80 percent dry matter. Corn and other grains and organic material must be dried to about 88 to 90 percent dry matter to prevent it from molding and fermenting during storage. Corn silage is only about 30 percent dry matter so you can raise the dry matter of corn silage by adding molasses to it.

Beet molasses usually contains over 50 percent sugar where cane molasses runs about 48 percent. Beet molasses is higher in crude protein (7 to 8 percent) than cane molasses (about three percent). This protein may be fairly high in non-protein nitrogen in the form of nitrates. The ash level of beet molasses is about 10.5 percent while that of cane molasses is about 8 percent. These are values commonly found in molasses but before formulating a liquid feed in Ukraine we would want a complete nutrient analysis of the molasses being used as it may differ some due to different refining techniques.

MANUFACTURING

Liquid feeds are usually mixed by introducing compressed air from an air compressor into the bottom of the mix tank. The mix tank can be a vertical tank similar to a large fuel tank (three or five meters in diameter and ten meters or more tall) with a lattice network of air pipes secured to the bottom of the tank. The small holes in the air pipes should face towards the bottom of the tank. A high volume, low-pressure compressor should be used to provide a substantial amount of air movement so that there is a "boiling" action in the tank as air bubbles rise to the top. All pipes for air and ingredients should enter at the bottom of the tank rather than from the top. Recommended mixing times usually are an hour or two but the resultant mixture should be checked to be sure that adequate mixing is taking place.

A site tube can be constructed by attaching a clear plastic pipe to a faucet at the bottom of the tank and running it to the top of the tank. The liquid in the plastic pipe will of course seek the same level as the liquid in the tank so that it is easy to determine the level of material in the tank by looking at the site tube. This plastic pipe is an open artery to the tank so it must be protected, as breaking it will cause the tank to empty slowly.

The pipes from the compressor to the tank need to have a one-way valve in them (or several of them) so that when the compressor is shut off liquid feed won't flow back into the compressor. The sugar in the liquid material will corrode the compressor and make it inoperable just as if you'd added sugar to the gas tank fueling an engine.

If several tanks are used for liquid ingredients, there is always the danger liquid in a full tank flowing into a less full one if there is a permanent attachment of pipes between them and a value fails or is left open or opened by mistake. Fewer accidents will occur when storage and mixing tanks are connected by flexible removable hoses that are in place only during the mixing or transferring phases, rather than having a permanent manifold of pipes where the tanks are always connected.

Urea can be added to the liquid feed after dissolving it in water. This increases the probability that the urea is dissolved and will mix readily throughout the liquid feed. Dry urea should not be added directly to the liquid feed. Solubility of urea is affected by temperature so in cold situations, less urea can be put into solution. If the urea solution freezes in the tank or pumping system, heat must be applied to get it to flow again. This can all be pretty disturbing when liquid feeds and ingredients are being mixed and transferred, so careful attention to the concentration and temperature of the urea solution to keep it from freezing is important. You don't want it mixed with too much water as that would dilute down the dry matter and sugar levels of the liquid feed but you don't want the urea freezing in the pipes either. There are charts available that will show the solubility of urea at various concentrations in water and at different temperatures. By knowing the urea concentration in the urea solution, the right amount of the urea solution can be added to the liquid feed to meet protein guarantees.

It may be possible to buy urea solutions from local suppliers. Be sure it is a urea solution and not an ammonia solution. If the urea solution must be mixed on site by adding urea to water, it will take some warm water (therefore a source of hot water is required) into which the dry urea is added and then mixed by air agitation. Dissolving urea in water takes energy and thus the solution will cool as the urea dissolves so an external source of heat is necessary - or a longer period of time to allow the urea to enter into solution. It will of course be more difficult to dissolve urea in water in cold weather than in hot weather.

Phosphoric acid can be pumped into the mixture but it is important that an acid resistant meter is used or you'll melt the meter. "Green" as opposed to "white" acid can be used but it must be low in fluorine. After pumping the lines should be flushed with molasses.

Vitamins and trace minerals should be added in the liquid form via a pump or compressed air after being measured out and diluted (premixed) with liquid.

It should be remembered that unless the mixing tank is suspended on a scale so that weight changes can be recorded, we are mixing liquids by volume and not weight through a meter that will measure only volume. Therefore, it is critical that the density of the various liquid ingredients is known and is calculated into the meter readings needed. For example, water weights about 8.8 pounds per gallon, molasses weighs about 12 pounds per gallon, urea solution weighs about 13 pounds per gallon and phosphoric acid can weigh 13 to 16 pounds per gallon. It is fairly obvious that with these variations among ingredients, the density of each liquid ingredient must be determined since the meter measures volume and not weight. You don't want to mix the same volumes of these ingredients but instead want to mix specific weights. It is also obvious that a bucket of liquid feed (usually weighs about 11 to 12 pounds per gallon) will weigh a whole lot more than a similar bucket of water (8.8 pounds per gallon) or milk (8.6 pounds per gallon) or gasoline (about 7.6 pounds per gallon).

It is also apparent that beet molasses from the refinery must be standardized to a known level of brix, dry matter, sugar content and crude protein so that we know what we're mixing including the density (pounds per gallon) so that we know how to calculate the amount that is being metered into the mix tank.

The mix tank should be bubbled prior to each loading out of liquid feed to be sure that all ingredients are mixed homogeneously and haven't settled out since the previous mixing.

DELIVERY and FEEDING

If the liquid feed is going into a large storage tank at the customer's place, it can be delivered in large tank trucks typically used for delivering and pumping off molasses, vegetable oils, etc. (Old fuel tanks should not be used for storage or transport as there may be some lead in the walls of the tank that will be dissolved into the liquid feed by the acids in the feed.) The liquid feed delivery truck can be weighed either (1) prior to filling and then after loading or (2) when full and then after emptying to determine the amount of product delivered.

Feed from the bulk liquid feed tank can be mixed with other ration ingredients or it can be top-dressed on the forage and/or feed where it can be consumed by the animal. This is the cheapest and easiest way to feed liquid feed to animals that are being fed dry feed and/or prepared forages. Under these conditions, the amount of liquid feed fed can be carefully controlled. When the liquid feed is mixed with other feeds before feeding, formulating to take into account how much the animals will voluntarily consume is not a consideration, giving more flexibility of formulation. With large deliveries of full truck loads of feed to one customer, it is possible to custom formulate and mix liquid feeds that will balance the rest of the feedstuffs being fed on the customer's ranch.

If the animals are on pasture without supplemental dry feed, then feeding them from a free-choice liquid feeder is the best option, although this is a little more complicated and expensive. It also makes the formulation of the feed so that the proper quantities are voluntarily consumed, important.

If the liquid feed is being delivered in small volumes to customers, a special truck with hoses that can be stretched to the lick tanks or holding tanks are needed. It will be necessary to have a meter on the delivery truck that can measure the amount of feed delivered (and of course a pump). The meter needs to be calibrated by metering off a truck load of feed, noting the meter reading and comparing it to the actual weight of feed on the truck as measured when the truck is loaded and after it is emptied. When the meter reading is taken after a delivery, the weight per volume can be multiplied times the meter reading to determine the weight of product delivered.

It is better to have meters that read out in volume rather than trying to calibrate them to read in weight so that if formulation of the liquid changes and thus the density changes, the customer won't be upset when the bill shows a different weight than shown on a meter that has been built to read in weight rather than volume. (A meter of course measures only volume but when the density is known, it can be set up to appear to measure weight, which can be confusing to the customer if the "weight" reading of the meter must be corrected.)

If the liquid feed is to be fed free-choice, lick feeders need to be built and sold to the customers. It is advised that the feeders be sold and not loaned to the customer, although there may be a lease-purchase arrangement for the feeders.

Building and supplying liquid feeders can be a whole different industry. It is well developed in the USA. They aren't very complicated in their construction as they're basically a box about the size of a desk. The flat top of the feeder has an opening in each corner of the feeder through which the top part of a wheel can rotate. The wheel is generally made of pressed or molded plastic with plastic spokes connecting the outer flat surface (about three inches wide perpendicular to the spokes with the rim surface very thin) to the axle. The axle is secured by plastic holders to the top of the tank. The wheel reaches within about an inch of the bottom of the tank. When the animal licks the flat top of the wheel, it rotates and brings up liquid feed until the tank is empty. The top of the feeder is usually made of metal that has been pressed so that there is a small lip around the feeder hole to repel water as well as two slightly raised creased ridges that run across the top of the lid diagonally from each corner that also cause water to run from the top of the feeder. The feeder tank top has a lip around the outside of the tank to secure it (with screws) and to keep water running from the top of the tank and not into the tank.

The feeder should be on skids with hooks on the runners to attach a chain for easy moving with a tractor or horse. The feeder should be placed where the ground is as dry as possible as animals milling around a feeder can create a lot of mud if the ground is wet. At extremes with wet soil and a lot of foot traffic, the feeder can end up resting on a pinnacle of dry soil surrounded by mud. It can then tip and slide into the mud.

Cattle need 11% crude protein on a dry matter basis in the ration to keep the rumen microorganisms functioning. They need more than 11% crude protein (dry matter basis) for rapid gain and high milk production. Since many of the dry forages (non-legumes) contain less than 11% crude protein, animals surviving on these protein deficient forages are protein deficient themselves unless they are fed a protein supplement. Under such conditions, forage intake will be reduced because the rumen microorganisms cannot process it adequately and animal performance will suffer. Liquid feeds can come riding to the rescue by supplying additional protein that will result in the animal increasing its voluntary intake of dry protein-deficient forages. Animal performance of course improves.

If you have cattle on a dry pasture in the summer and fall without supplements, pasture consumption and animal performance will be compromised. If you feed a liquid feed and compare the amount of forage from these pastures that is consumed as opposed to those pastures where the cattle are not supplemented, it will be obvious that the liquid feed is helping the animals to harvest more of the dry forage. After doing so, the animals will grow faster. The higher the quality of the liquid feed, the more noticeable this improvement of pasture consumption and animal performance will be. Feeding a liquid feed will increase the intake and usage of dry pasture that otherwise would not be consumed, making the feeding of a liquid feed particularly profitable.

Voluntary intake of a liquid feed is higher on poor quality feed (forage) than on good quality feed and thus the animal automatically adjusts the amount of supplement consumed to balance the nutritional contribution of the forage. This helps maintain good animal performance throughout the pasture season. Since it is common for pastures to change in feeding value during the grazing period due to rains, hot weather, etc. having free choice liquid feeds available helps keep animal performance high.

IN SUMMARY.

Liquid feed supplies only a small part of the total daily ration for the ruminant animal by weight but it can supply substantial amounts of the total ration protein, vitamins and minerals as well as some of the energy. The liquid feed needs to be looked at as a supplement to the rest of the ration. If properly formulated (or at least the way I like to formulate them), it can carry all the supplemental vitamins and trace mineral. If there are still major nutrients needed to be supplied, such as protein, energy and the major minerals, they can be fed in an additional dry supplement.

When you consider the poor quality of much of the forage fed to dairy and beef cows in Ukraine, liquid feeds can be an excellent carrier of nutrients and used to increase the voluntary intake of poor forages. They are both economical and convenient. They can thus can be used to improve animal performance and the profitability of feeding ruminants.

Liquid feeds may be a good outlet for beet molasses, give feed companies a new feed that they can sell and deliver and be customer driven because they supply nutrients economically and efficiently to feeders of ruminant animals.

I would be glad to formulate these liquid feeds if requested. I would need to know the chemical (nutrient) analysis of the feedstuffs available as well as the nutrient levels of the other feedstuffs being fed so that we could forumulate a liquid feed that, as near as possible, balances the rations being fed. Knowing what else must be fed (supplemented), in addition to the liquid feed, in order to achieve good animal performance is also important and should be part of the sales effort to assure customer satisfaction. Remember that the customer wants to buy weight gain and milk production, not feed. It is good business to help the customers achieve their objectives.

Roy Chapin, Ph.D.
Animal Nutritionist
Volunteer for Land O'Lakes Farmer to Farmer Program in L'viv

Home Address: Roy Chapin, 11145 Chapin Lane, Amity, Oregon 97101
E-mail: roychapin@onlinemac.com
Phone: 503-835-7317. Fax: 503-835-3333.

 
© Roy Chapin, 2018
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