by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS

Part 1

Cattlemen are constantly looking for a deal. A deal on fertilizer, medicines, dewormers, feeds and supplements. We've spent a lot of time in this section discussing how to make good buying decisions since this has such an effect on profitability. One of the greatest uses of financial resources by cattlemen is the purchase of feeds and supplements, especially in recent years. Feeding and supplementation programs can be built on the use of several forms including commodities, commodity mixes, complete feeds or supplements (textured or pelleted/cubed), tub supplements (cooked, pressed or poured) and liquid feeds. It is very likely that the typical cattle producer will use a combination of these sources and forms and he is wise to do so.

A common form of supplementation is liquid feed. Liquid make up around 15-20 percent of the overall supplementation markets. Many producers use liquids to supplement range cattle on pasture or consuming forages such as hay or silage in large open top tanks or enclosed feeders that use lick wheels to deliver the feed to the animal. Other produces will use liquids to mix directly into feeds. Molasses blends are commonly used in the manufacture of various dry feeds and supplements. In this situation they are used to control dust and fines, increase palatability, improve the physical characteristic of the end product, deliver specific nutrients and so on. Many of the same ingredients that are used in liquid feeds are also used to manufacture tub supplements.

Of all the supplements, liquid feeds are the most convenient in terms of feeding and handling. Once the producer selects the product from a local dealer, he simply places an order and the liquid is delivered not only to the farm but to the pasture(s) where the supplement needs to be provided. The dealer may or may not charge extra for this delivery. Once on this program in many cases the producer can make arrangements to have the dealer monitor the level of the feeder and simply keep the feeders supplied or he can monitor this himself and call and order feed as desired. In some situations, some dealers may keep available smaller tanks that can be placed on the back of the producer's truck, filled and then the producer can fill the lick tanks himself.

In the past the liquid industry faced skepticism by producers regarding the viability of molasses based products, the amount of water in the product, urea inclusion and so on. Much of this was based on poor experiences many years ago. Fortunately, the liquid industry has come a long way in that time and the products manufactured today are based on years of experience as well as sound academic and industry-based research.

The liquid feed industry was born to meet a couple of different needs. One, to provide a convenient, economical means of supplementing the nutritional needs of cattle. Two, to utilize a growing supply of liquid by-products from a host of feed and grain processes. While the cost of ingredients common to liquid feeds such as phosphoric acid and urea have gotten quite expensive, economical opportunities still exist to implement liquid programs in different cattle operations.


Early on, liquid feed was composed primarily of molasses, urea and maybe a little water (sometimes a LOT of water). With the growth of the sugar industry (cane and beet) molasses became plentiful and a need existed to use it in an economically feasible manner. Molasses was a logical carrier for the non-protein nitrogen (NPN) sources urea and biuret because of the presence of significant quantities of readily fermentable carbohydrates (sugars, starches, etc.). These carbohydrates are quickly broken down by ruminal bacteria and act as an easily accessible energy source for the metabolic reactions utilizing the NPN and converting it to microbial protein. These carbohydrates are vital to the utilization of non-protein nitrogen by the rumen bacteria.

Other factors emerged which facilitated alterations in the simple initial formulation and manufacturing of liquid feeds for cattle. These included:

1) Research showing the need for other nutrients in cattle diets.

2) Increased production and availability of liquid by-products from other industries. Some of these other by-products include but are not limited to:

a) Corn Steepwater – a by-product of corn sweetener production

b) Whey – a by-product of cheese production

c) Condensed Molasses Fermentation Solubles – Alcohol, whisky, rum, yeast, some pharmaceuticals, etc.

d) Condensed Brewers Solubles – a by-product from beer brewing

e) Corn or Milo Distillers Solubles – Alcohol/Ethanol

f) Lignin Sulfonate – a by-product of the paper milling industry

These by-products can be obtained relatively cheaply and are generally easily incorporated into feed formulations. In many cases, this will typically reduce the cost of manufacturing as long as nutrient composition is considered as well as palatability and physical handling properties. As other manufacturing processes evolve for the manufacture of products from food and feed materials, other by-products will also be created with is will no doubt find a place in the liquid feed industry.

3) Research into a multitude of ingredients which illustrates usefulness in cattle feeds when properly handled. Such ingredients include phosphoric acid, ammonium poly-phosphate, fat products, feather meal, bloodmeal (non-ruminant), glycerol and a host of others.

4) Technological advancements in the feed industry. Such advancements include suspension capabilities which allow for the use of non-soluble ingredients such as limestone or feathermeal. Ingredients such as these would tend to settle out of a conventional liquid. By using suspending agents such as attapulgite clay or xantham gum, it is possible to hold these insoluble products within the liquid for extended periods of time.

5) Development of technologies to enhance the shelf-life and durability of these products under a variety of conditions including extreme heat and cold.

Through the acceptance and implementation of these factors, current liquid feed products have become highly technical, value-added products. When properly fed as a supplement, liquid feeds can effectively provide for most of the nutrient needs of the cow or growing calf on hay or pasture.

More on Ingredients

With the increase in the cost of molasses and the availability of liquid by-products from other industries, as discussed above, the use of these by-products has become increasingly common in the manufacture of liquid feed. Some of these by-products are not very “pretty” in the beginning. They may be hard to handle or may possess a somewhat unappealing odor or taste.

A particular issue that has to be considered in liquid feed manufacturing is ingredient nutrient and chemical variability. All by-products, liquid or dry, suffer from some degree of variability in dry matter content, nutrient composition and physical characteristics such as color or smell. Much of this variation has to do with differences in production systems from which these products emerge. Other variability is due to factors such as source of the product, base material from which the product is extracted, efficiency or technology employed in the refining process. As with dry feed ingredients you have to remember that these by-products are not the main product coming out of the process, they are simply the left-overs and subsequently not as subject to quality control efforts although this is changing. This is why it is important that the company you are purchasing a liquid feed product from has an excellent quality control program and a technical staff well versed in dealing with the product variability. Even with these components in place you can still expect to see some variation in the liquid supplements you receive in terms of color, thickness or viscosity, odor and palatability.

Manufacturing the Finished Product

A variety of ingredients have been identified which have nutritive value in liquid feeds. The information below discusses a number of the more common ingredients and their utilization.

Urea and Urea Solutions: One of the oldest and most common ingredients in liquid feeds. Provides non-protein nitrogen for synthesis of bacterial protein in the rumen.

Ammonium poly-phosphate: Also a source of non-protein nitrogen, APP is a source of phosphorus as well. Addition of this ingredient also increases viscosity in liquid products.

Phosphoric Acid: One of the best sources of phosphorus available. Phosphorus from phosphoric acid is very highly available for utilization in the animal. It typically blends easily in to the mix and also helps lower pH which can aid in intake control and extending shelf life.

Sulfuric Acid: A very strong acid, sulfuric is very useful in improving shelf life of liquid feed products by reducing pH to suppress fermentation. It is also used in treating molasses with tendencies to gel (thicken up excessively).

Salt      Also an old liquid feed ingredient, salt is used to meet the sodium and chlorine requirements in cattle and acts as an appetite enhancer at low inclusion rates and as a suppressant at higher rates.

Trace Minerals: May be added individually or as pre-manufactured premixes. Trace minerals can be found in numerous forms with varying availability.

Vitamins: As with trace minerals, vitamins can be added individually or in premixes. Vitamins added most commonly are A, D-3 and E. Although some interest has been shown in addition of B vitamins, it is unclear if any benefit is evident when fed to range cattle.

Fats: Fat is available from animal and vegetable sources and comes in many forms and qualities. Fat is an excellent source of energy but must be used judiciously. Excessive amounts of fat can reduce forage digestion so care must be taken with higher inclusion levels.

Gums: A number of gum products are available as viscosity enhancers and as suspending agents.

Although this list is not comprehensive, it does include many of the most widely used ingredients. As research and application continues, more ingredients will become available for use in liquid feeds.


This part of our discussion gives the producers some clearer back ground on what liquid feeds are and how they are made. In the next part of the series we will go into more specifics of the value of these products as cattle supplements both in high forage and feeding situations.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached at 667 CR 4711 Sulphur Springs, TX 75482, by phone at (903) 885-7992 or by e-mail at For more information please visit us at

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