Molasses: Undervalued feed ingredient with big potential

Animal Nutrition Views

Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ph.D., gives his views on poultry, pig and dairy nutrition based on his experience as a nutrition consultant with clients around the world.

Molasses: Undervalued feed ingredient with big potential

Despite being ages old, molasses remains the reclusive privilege of those who are accustomed to using it.

Molasses, from beets or cane, contains around 50 percent simple sugars (sucrose, glucose and fructose). This fact alone gives it a tremendous value in diets for most farmed animals.

It can be used as a natural sweetener, giving a sweet taste and a very distinctive flavor. In addition, the simple sugars work very efficiently with more expensive ones, such as lactose, in diets for young animals. In fact, research has shown that lactose and other simple sugars, such as those found in molasses, can be interchanged freely – with one notable exception. Finally, the very liquid form of molasses can act as a pelleting aid, increasing production rate and making super-hard pellets more accessible to young animals that have difficulty chewing them.

But molasses also contains relatively high levels of potassium (around 4 percent), which have been blamed for increasing incidences of diarrhea in animals. Nevertheless, such claims are not supported by scientific literature and any such scours are more likely to occur from an overload of sucrose – that is, a harmless osmotic diarrhea, most often manifested as soft fecal matter. The greatest problem of molasses is that it requires a separate storage tank, a heating system for winter months, and a delivery/spray system so that it is distributed evenly in already mixed feed (molasses should never be added before feed is properly mixed).

When done properly, and with knowledge of all possible pitfalls, molasses can be added up to 20 percent in some diets, significantly lowering feed cost and increasing animal feed acceptance. In most cases, however, a 4 percent inclusion rate is deemed the maximum possible, whereas going up to 6 percent is recommended, unless of course one wants to start investigating higher levels that require further technological know-how.