Enhancing Ruminant Health
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The function of molasses and sugars in the ruminant diet has been studied for many years. Molasses was first extracted from the sugar refining process in the mid-19th century. Since then, refiners have been looking for markets for molasses, and animal feed has been an important component of that.

Like research in many areas, even after a couple of generations, while there are aspects that have become well known, there are others less well known. We still do not understand what form of “sugar” is most beneficial and in what nutritional circumstances.

Included below are a selection of articles and research studies relating to sugar and molasses, from basic considerations to an atomic level view.

Could dietary sugar be your next ration adjustment?

Author: Mary Beth de Ondarza. As seen in the Hoards Dairyman, December 2020

TYPICAL U.S. lactating dairy rations containing no added sugars run at sugar levels between 1.5% to 3%. However, we are learning that 6% to 8% dietary sugar may actually be optimal. As we feed more silages and processed feeds, many sugars that would otherwise naturally be in the dairy cow diet have been removed by the shift in ration ingredients. 

Dry Cow Molasses Study - December 2019

Sweeten up your dry cow diet.

A recent study done at the University of Guelph demonstrated that adding molasses-based liquid feed to dry cow diets improves feed intake before calving, and stabilizes reticulorumen pH across the transition period.
Carbohydrate fractions and their interactions must be carefully formulated and monitored for diets fed to lactating dairy cows. Feeding additional sugar, regardless of source, between 2% and 5% of the ration DM may result in improved feed efficiency and animal performance.
Sugars are rapidly and extensively fermented in the rumen. Clearly, adding sugar to a diet already high in ruminally degraded carbohydrates should offer little benefit and could decrease digestibility of fiber, whereas diets that have less-than-optimal rumen degrade carbohydrate probably will benefit the most from addition of sugars. 
Molasses-based liquid supplements and sugar are readily digestible sources of energy for dairy cattle. When added to dairy rations at 3 to 7% of the total ration dry matter, molasses-based liquid supplements and sugar may increase dry matter intake and fat-corrected milk yield.

Why Feed a Molasses-Based Liquid Supplement When Corn is Cheap

Sugar has been consumed by dairy cattle since the beginning of time. They have come from the pastures which are naturally high in sugars. When we feed fermented forages most of the sugars have been converted to fermentation acids. The rumen and the cow have evolved to use plant sugars.
The reticulo-rumen is the largest compartment of the ruminant digestive tract, and it harbors a complex anaerobic microbial community capable of producing a wide array of enzymes, some of which are important for the breakdown of plant lignocellulosic and non-structural carbohydrate (starch, sugars) material through the process of fermentation.