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Alternative Feed Solutions | November 2023

By Sarah Hill

Photos courtesy Westway Feed Products

Liquid feed supplements from Westway Feed Products provide cattle producers with another viable option for meeting their herd’s nutritional needs.

Cattle producers have numerous choices when it comes to what to feed their animals, and liquid feed is certainly a choice worth a second look. Liquid feed combines molasses and adds protein or fat and converts those ingredients into a nutritious and efficient livestock feed.

“It’s a really neat sustainability story - taking these by-products from other industries and making them into a product that complements forages to feed rumen bugs,” Cheramie Viator, Westway Feed Products Marketing Manager, said. “Liquid feed products use a synergistic approach to increase forage digestibility and utilization.”

Used for Multiple Sectors

Westway Feed Products is the largest liquid feed company in the U.S., boasting 25 domestic plants and a plant each in Canada and Mexico. Owned by Man Liquid Products, which is under the umbrella of ED&F Man, Westway can exercise its buying power to source molasses and other co-products from around the globe to feed cattle from literally coast to coast in the U.S.

While Westway Feed Products delivers liquid feed products for the cow/calf, dairy, and feedlot sectors of the agriculture industry, the company also creates products for industrial and feed mill businesses.

Co-Products for Liquid Feed

Some of the co-products used in generating liquid feed products are as commonplace as molasses, corn steep, condensed corn distiller’s solubles, whey, and glycerin, and as diverse as cherry juice and pomegranate, according to Viator.

In addition, Westway sources a lot of ingredients with sugar from corn processing facilities, but the company is careful to utilize co-products with enough sugar to drive digestion. “Co-products also have to have enough protein (nitrogen) to power digestion in the rumen,” Dr. Kelly Sanders, Westway Feed Products Director of Research and Development, explained. “We combine corn steep from the corn processing industry and other protein sources. We try to balance that out to supply customers with an economical yet nutritious supplement that boosts intake and keeps cows in good body condition through the winter.”

According to Dr. Sanders, liquid feed products are produced using a couple of technologies that help nutrients be more available to the cattle. “For instance, for some formulations we use a suspension technology that utilizes clay, molasses, and other co-products to build a matrix where trace minerals are suspended throughout the liquid feed,” Dr. Sanders explained. “We test all of the liquid feeds and feed additives to make sure everything stays in suspension.”

Another technology Westway Feed Products uses is blending urea, molasses, and other co-products with nutritional value to alter the pH of the liquid supplement. Based on the time of year, providing cattle with a liquid supplement at the right pH can manage their feed intake.

“If a cow’s nutrients are restricted, the cow will need to eat more, so we work with our customers to help them determine the best course of action,” Dr. Sanders shared. “We can even make specific adjustments for customers at our production plants, since we have a lot of agility with production.”

“It’s not just molasses,” Viator said. “In addition, liquid feed offers a convenience factor and efficiency. Tanks can be moved across a pasture to better utilize forage and liquid feed can be supplied with minimal waste or shrink.”

Liquid Nutrition

Something beef producers might not know about liquid feed products is that they have a significant amount of dry matter. According to Dr. Sanders, most liquid feed products fall into the 55 to 68 percent range of dry matter.

“Dry matter intake is important,” Dr. Sanders said. “With liquid feed, all the nutrients are there, and the ingredients encourage forage digestion in the rumen.”

He also noted that there has been some misunderstanding about the combination of urea and molasses. “Historically, when liquid supplements were first designed and fed, the technology wasn’t available to understand how to manage intake or make as high-quality supplements as we do today,” Dr. Sanders said. “What we’ve learned is that urea (nitrogen), and sugar are extremely available to cattle, and have a symbiotic relationship with the rumen bacteria.”

The rumen microbes immediately use the nitrogen and sucrose from the molasses to create energy and reproduce themselves by digesting the forages - a win-win for effective, efficient cattle production.

Leaving liquid feed out year-round can provide an excellent feed resource for cattle and results in more consistent body condition scores. According to Dr. Sanders, “Research shows that it’s much more expensive to get a cow caught up on body condition and ready to breed than to maintain her throughout the year using liquid feed and your forages.”

“We are strong believers in fetal programming, and annualized access to liquid feed allows correct fetal development across all trimesters. Long term, this fetal programming results in additive benefits for healthier calves, increased breed up in the next generation of heifers, and even potential marbling benefits,” Viator said.

Utilizing liquid feed for calves during the weaning process can also help calves transition to feed quicker, thus keeping them healthier and potentially helping producers reduce drug costs.

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