Feed Bites

To Learn about Liquid Feed, You Have to Start with What It's Not

Written by: Guest   |   October 22, 2019

Beef, Animal nutrition, Guest perspective

Cows eating from a lick tank.

Cathy Bandyk, Ph.D.
Ruminant Technical Manager, AB Vista, Inc.

My youngest son once told the sponsor at a meeting I was speaking at that he shouldn’t let me start talking about cows, because I’d never shut up. Surely that’s a bit of an overstatement! But I do have to admit - I can get pretty passionate about the science and application of ruminant nutrition. When I have a strong message that can benefit both cattle and the people involved in raising them, I love communicating it. 

I started in the liquid feed industry nearly 20 years ago, fresh out of a middle-age return to graduate school. When I started, I was clueless – just ask some of my early coworkers! I didn’t know what liquid supplements were, what they were used for or why anyone would feed them. But as I got to know the products, the industry and the underlying science, I found I had a great story to tell and that there were a lot of people who hadn’t heard it.

Starting with the basics: what is liquid feed?

But first, what it’s not. Despite the fact these products can flow and pump, they are not particularly high in water content. Commercially available products range from around 60-70% dry matter (DM) – so that means only 30-40% moisture. We often add them to high-silage rations to raise the overall dry matter!

We often think of liquid supplements as being sugar or beet-molasses-based, and many times, that is the case. But formulations may also include other liquid coproduct streams from the sugar, cheese, biofuel, beverage and fermentation industries. Urea is the most commonly used source of added protein. These products are frequently fortified with minerals, vitamins and various feed additives.

When did the liquid feed industry come about?

Liquid supplements were commercially introduced in the U.S. in 1951, with serious focus and early research efforts coming into play a decade later. Today, there are several major manufacturers. The American Feed Industry Association has a standing Liquid Feed Committee that is hosting it's 50th annual Liquid Feed Symposium next year!

How are liquid feed products used?

Liquid feed products are typically designed for a specific use:

  • free-choice feeding, which is feed that is available all the time;
  • incorporation into high- or low-roughage mixed diets (with “roughage” meaning forage - low roughage consisting of high grain and high roughage being grass or high-fiber byproducts); or
  • feed mill addition to dry feeds. A variation on this is directly applying the liquid supplement to baled forages or at the hay processor.

Different considerations may go into developing products depending on how they are fed to animals on pasture, such as open trough vs. lick tank delivery. A lick tank is a covered tank with a wheel in it – when cows roll the wheel, liquid feed sticks to it and then they eat it. Many feedlot and dairy supplements utilize technology that allows the creation of positionally stable suspensions of insoluble nutrients, additives and veterinary drugs (in plain terms, it means they won’t settle or separate out of the liquid). Primary suspending agents are either colloidal or gum-based; common examples would be attapulgite clay, used at 20 to 30 lbs. per ton, and xanthan gum, with a typical inclusion rate of just 1/2 to 4 lbs. per ton.

What are the benefits of using liquid supplements?

I could go on and on about the values that liquid supplements can bring to various diets (my son may not have been so far off base!), but I was given a word count target for this article that I’m sure I’m already at risk of exceeding. I’ll just throw out some concepts, and you can trust that I have the citations and anecdotal experience to support them.

The sugars (and other components) in molasses can play an important role in balancing carbohydrate supply and enhancing overall diet utilization. 

Liquid supplements offer an array of practical and management advantages to users:

  • improved ration homogeneity (i.e., making sure every bite of food is the same);
  • less sorting (e.g., like people, animals pick out what they like best and will not eat the “good stuff”);
  • minimal feed shrink or feed loss;
  • reduced labor and feed delivery costs;
  • practical and effective additive delivery;
  • grazing management opportunities;
  • palatability;
  • simplified inventory control of micro-ingredients;
  • increased ration bulk density (fewer loads delivered); and
  • more!

Can liquid supplements help the industry be more sustainable?

I can’t quit without bragging about the role the liquid feed industry plays in sustainable food production. Liquid supplements represent the upcycling of vast amounts of potential waste streams into value-added products.

Try to visualize a couple of examples.

  • In 2017, 12.7 billion pounds of cheese were produced in the U.S. Every pound of cheese represents roughly 9 pounds of whey. At 8.5 lbs. per gallon, that is 13,447,000,000 gallons per year being recycled!
  • Or how about distillers solubles? As the ethanol industry continues to expand, more and more of this “syrup” needs to find a home. Last year, the U.S. ethanol industry produced 1,639,524 tons of CCDS (condensed corn distillers solubles) beyond what was applied back onto spent grains to form DDGS. If all these byproducts are not recycled into livestock feed, where else are they going to end up?

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