Molasses as an alternative energy feed source for organic dairies

Summary

Investigator: Kathy Soder, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Pasture Systems and Watershed Research Unit, University Park, PA
Project location: University of New Hampshire Organic Research Dairy, Burley-Demeritt farm, Lee, New Hampshire (certified organic since 2005)

photo of cowsOrganic dairies are faced with the challenge of sourcing and purchasing organic feed grains. With short supplies, escalating feed prices, and recently falling organic milk prices, farmers are searching for alternative energy sources for lactating dairy cows. Sugar cane molasses, a rich source of sugars, particularly sucrose, appears to be a viable, less costly source of supplemental energy and minerals. However, anecdotal milk production responses have been missed on organic dairy farms that have used molasses as the sole energy supplement. Therefore, a research study is proposed to evaluate the effects of molasses supplementation in organic dairy herds.

Specific objectives include:

  1. Determine the effects of molasses supplementation on milk production, milk components, body weight and body condition of lactating dairy cows
  2. Evaluate the effects of molasses supplementation on ruminal fermentation, including products of ruminal fermentation and degradability of pasture
  3. Evaluate the profitability (income over feed costs) of molasses supplementation.

In the feeding trial, the organic lactating herd at UNH will be supplemented with either molasses (5% of total dry matter intake-DMI) or corn meal (15% of total DMI).

In the in situ (ruminal fermentation) study, four ruminally fistulated grazing cows will be fed one of four supplements: 1) molasses at 5% of total DMI; 2) molasses (5% of total DMI) plus corn meal (7% total DMI) 3) corm meal (15% total DMI); and 4) no supplement.

Ruminal pH, metabolites (ammonia and volatile fatty acids; VFA) and nutrient degradability will be evaluated. The results of this research will be used to develop feeding recommendations for molasses supplementation for organic dairy farmers, consultants and industry professionals.