by: Stephen B. Blezinger

Part 2

In the last edition we started a discussion of liquid feeds and their use in the typical cow/calf management program. Let's continue that discussion by looking at the nuts and bolts of the process.

Positives and Negatives

The two most common uses of liquid feeds and liquid supplements are as free choice pasture supplements and as a feed conditioner and carrier of nutrients, medications and additives onto a mixed ration. As pasture supplements, liquid feeds are fed most commonly in lick-wheel feeders which provide access to the liquid by the cow licking a wheel mounted in the lid of the feeder which rotates down into the tank. The feed adheres to the wheel and is licked off by the cow. In some circumstances the feed is provided in an open-top trough or feeder where the cows simply drink the product. Product fed in this manner is typically lower in dry matter and may be somewhat less stable. Intake control is also more difficult. The advantages to the use of liquid pasture supplements are convenience of supplementation and relatively low cost as a source of critical nutrients. In our current society where labor is always in short supply, convenience is a major factor. For smaller operations, a liquid feed dealer delivers the product out and fills the tanks on a “keep-full” basis or when the producer calls and orders feed. In this situation, the producer does not handle the product at all except to possibly move the tanks from time to time as needed. In many cases the dealer can even be expected to move the feeder if necessary. In some situations, a dealer may even provide the feeders in which the product is fed. This is not overly common and should not be expected. Liquid feeders are extremely cost effective. With large lick-wheel feeders which have 4 wheels a producer can easily supplement up to 100 mature cows (25 head per wheel). If a feeder costs $250.00 the cost per head is $2.50 per head. Compare that to a conventional trough-type, dry product feeder which typically averages $5.00 to $8.00 per head. Larger cattle operations may, in fact, have their own storage tank and delivery unit. The producer or his labor force will be required to fill the tanks as necessary.

Another application which is becoming increasingly popular is placing liquid tanks in receiving pens for newly arrived feeder cattle. Several small feeders can be placed in each pen, right along the fence lines. Often these are simple open-top feeders which make it easy for the cattle to smell and eat as they walk the fences. The product is lower in protein, especially Non-Protein Nitrogen (NPN - urea), than typical liquids and higher in dry matter and sugars as well as other critical trace minerals and vitamins. This provides an easily available source of energy and other critical nutrients for these stressed animals.

A potential down-side of supplementing cattle with liquid feeds is that intake can be somewhat erratic. In situations where lush grass is available, cattle will not eat as much product, in some cases little if any. In other situations where grass is mature and dormant or hay is of poor quality or possibly not plentiful in supply, they may eat considerably more. In general the producer has to look at liquid feed intake on an average consumption basis. A good average to shoot for is about 2.0 lbs per head per day and evaluated over at least a month's period of time and even better, 2 to 3 months. On a day to day or week-to-week basis there are two many factors which can affect intake up and down. Additionally, a 2.0 average intake can provide a fairly adequate intake of critical nutrients. Extremely low intake products (1.0 lbs or less) are limited in effectiveness because they simply do no deliver adequate volumes of the product. Prolonged excessive intake is also not to the producer's advantage since it does become expensive and the cow is obviously eating the supplement instead of getting out and foraging when she should. Most manufacturers are able to control intake to some degree by manipulating palatability, pH or nutrient content which can help hold intake in check.

Bulk product which is added onto a dry feed mix serves several purposes. One, it improves the palatability of the feed by reducing dustiness and helping fines stick to larger feed particles. Two, it provides a very good carrier for protein (primarily from NPN), trace minerals and vitamins, fats and medications. Third, it is a very cost effective means of adding these materials since the storage and delivery system is very simple, requiring a tank, a pump and some simple plumbing as opposed to elevator legs or augers.

Comparing Liquid Products

One of the best places to start evaluating a liquid feed on the feed tag. Any time you purchase a feed or supplement, the supplier is required to give you a tag which indicates an approved format with the guaranteed levels for the specified nutrient.

Crude Protein

Total crude protein and percent equivalent protein derived from NPN (urea or similar) are on the feed tag. Natural protein can be calculated from these values as: natural protein (%) = total CP (%) - equivalent protein derived from NPN (%).

Energy Level

It is difficult to compare the energy concentration of different liquid supplements because common energy values such as Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) are not given. The following feed tag values will assist in making such comparisons.

1) Moisture content. A liquid feed can contain from 20 to 40% (or more) moisture. Water contributes no energy and a liquid feed with less moisture usually has a higher energy value.

2) Total invert sugar. Like starches in conventional grains, sugars are the major source of energy in most liquid feeds. The higher the better.

3) Fat content. Fat contains 2.25 times the energy of sugar or starch. The addition of fat increases the energy value of a liquid feed. Fat is known to have additional metabolic benefits when used as a dietary component, especially as related to reproductive function.

4) Ingredient composition. Good ingredients for making liquid feed are cane, citrus and beet molasses. Grain distillers solubles and condensed molasses fermentation solubles (CMFS) provide more protein and vitamins than molasses, but the energy value is much lower than the original molasses because sugars have been fermented into alcohol.

5) Estimated TDN. The TDN value of a liquid feed can be estimated using the above values with the following formula: TDN = total invert sugars (%) + natural protein (total CP - NPN) (%) + fat x 2.25 (%) + 8 x ((100 - % moisture) ÷ 78).

Minerals, Vitamins, other additives

Minerals and vitamins in liquids are less important than protein and energy and may not be needed if cattle consume adequate levels of a good mineral/vitamin supplement fed separately. However, virtually all better-quality liquid supplements contain a mineral and vitamin component of some type. Liquid feeds can be an excellent source of phosphorus because of the use of phosphoric acid which is a highly available source. However, the levels of phosphorus may be diminished in many products due to cost.


The liquid feed industry provides an economical, labor saving means of improving cattle productivity. The added convenience and cost effectiveness of this supplementation method is gaining in popularity every year as more cattlemen become familiar with the applications. As we learn more about the nutritional needs of these animals and the opportunities in use of liquids to meet these needs, the possibilities appear virtually endless. The task lies in improving the industry and educating the producer in a few important areas areas. Understanding the limitations and using the product correctly can go far toward profitable supplementation.

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 [email protected] For more information please visit us at [email protected]

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