Molasses in young pigs’ diets

18-07-2007 | |
Mavromichalis

Can molasses, beet or cane, be used in diets for young pigs? Is it a sweetener, an energy source, or a lactose replacement? In times of high-lactose prices, non-traditional alternatives always resurface with renewed interest and even more questions! So, let me explain…

Can molasses, beet or cane, be used in diets for young pigs? Is it a sweetener, an energy source, or a lactose replacement? In times of high-lactose prices, non-traditional alternatives always resurface with renewed interest and even more questions! So, let me explain…
Molasses is rarely used in piglet diets, mostly as a pelleting aid and perhaps as a sweetener. Molasses, after all, contains around 50% simple sugars (sucrose, glucose, and fructose). But, molasses also contains relatively high levels of potassium (around 4%), which have been blamed for increasing incidences of diarrhea in weaned pigs. Nevertheless, such claims are not supported by scientific literature and any such scours are more likely to occur from an overload of sucrose!
The high concentration of simple sugars in molasses definitely makes it a good candidate for lactose.
• But, can piglets really use molasses instead of lactose?
• Isn’t sucrose toxic for young pigs?
Yes, that is correct; sucrose is toxic for pigs, but only during the first week of their life. After that, they can metabolize sucrose normally. Actually, as early as the 1950s, it was discovered that sucrose, and its components – glucose and fructose – can replace effectively all lactose in diets for young pigs. And molasses is just that, a viscous liquid solution of sucrose, and free glucose and fructose. So, let’s see finally if molasses can replace lactose in practical diets!
Trials conducted
In a series of trials we conducted some time ago (time flies fast!) at Kansas State University, we replaced pure crystalline lactose with molasses and sucrose in practical diets for early weaned piglets. Not surprisingly, piglets did not scour, not even when molasses was included at 20% of the diet! Not only that, but piglets on diets with molasses actually grew faster than piglets on lactose or sucrose. Whether this was an effect of taste or because of higher energy availability (fructose is being absorbed from a channel parallel to that of glucose) is unknown. What was clear is the fact that piglets thrived on diets with very high levels of molasses.
Practical tips
Since then, I have often created diets with high levels of molasses, so here are some practical tips.
• First, it is best to use a high quality molasses . It always pays as this policy avoids unexpected surprises regarding molasses consistency and viscosity!
• Second, make sure such high levels of molasses can be physically mixed in at the feed plant you’re using for your piglet diets.
• Third, when pelleting diets with molasses , always lower the pelleting temperature (less steam) as pellets burn quite easily (Maillard reaction).
• Fourth, if scours do occur with high-molasses diets, check the electrolyte balance and consider adding extra fiber.
• Fifth, and final comment, don’t start using high levels of molasses immediately – experiment with 5-10% levels using your locally available source of molasses and existing diets!
For those wanting some more in-depth reading on the topic, here’s the link to our trials:
http://www.e-nutritionist.com/publications/Sugars.pdf

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