Adding molasses blends can help sheep and beef cattle improve digestibility of this year’s higher fibre silages and more systems could incorporate the product according to Richard Dobson from ED and F Man.

While many smaller beef and sheep farmers believe molasses is only available in bulk deliveries or in blocks, a molasses-based liquid feed allows more producers to make use of the various sugars.

Mr Dobson said that the sugar fraction in molasses is a blend of different sugars including sucrose and glucose which are the important six carbon sugars proven to be more beneficial to ruminants than the five carbon sugars found in fermentation co-products, wheat syrup, processed feeds and silages.

"They are more effectively rumen fermentable and significantly stimulate fibre digestion, increasing microbial protein production and stimulating rumen fungi. Stimulating fibre digestion will be particularly important if diets are based on grass silages with high NDF and lignin levels,” he said.

Cane molasses blends also have a significant impact on the rate of rumen fermentation. Sugars are rapidly fermented and most will have been fermented within two to three hours of feeding. But trials show that the rumen fermentation remains more active long after the sugars are gone.

By promoting faster and more active fermentation, they will increase rumen throughput and so stimulate dry matter intakes which is crucial for faster growth rates and higher milk production from ewes.

Mr Dobson added: “Sugars also help reduce the risk of acidosis, especially if used to replace some of the starch in the diet. To optimise rumen function, a 3:1 ratio of starch to sugar is ideal. Increasingly we are seeing farmers change to mini-bulk deliveries to allow molasses blends to be added to diets.”

A practical and cost-effective solution is mini-bulks which are a delivery of 1000-2500 litres (1.3-3.5 tonnes) in an IBC which is then refilled on-farm as required. These provide flexibility while reducing packaging issues as the IBC does not count as single use plastic. Handling is also simplified as the IBC can be easily moved on a material handler.

“A wide range of products with different protein and energy levels are available in mini-bulks as well as vitamin and mineral options to suit all systems and to supplement the forages commonly found on sheep and beef units.”

For housed cattle he says liquids can be easily transferred from the IBC to a TMR feeder or simply poured along the feed trough. For cattle and sheep in the field it will allow quick and easy topping up of lick feeders. Molasses blends in mini-bulk deliveries are also a cost-effective way to supplement ewes at grass, particularly if they are carrying or are feeding multiple lambs.

“With increased pressure on growth rates and feed conversion efficiency, the benefits of molasses blends can be considerable, especially with more fibrous forages. Mini-bulk deliveries will allow more systems to incorporate liquids while also reducing the challenge and cost of disposing of packaging,” said Mr Dobson.