DDGS Boosting Reproduction Rates

US - A recent study has claimed that including dried distillers grains plus solubles (DDGS) to the diet of a heifer in late gestation can help boost her reproductive rate.
calendar icon 21 April 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

The study, conducted by researchers from the South Dakota State University's Department of Animal and Range Sciences, was published in the Journal of Animal Science.

Chanda Engel, now with Oregon State University’s Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, did the research as a graduate student under the direction of SDSU Extension Beef Reproduction Management Specialist George Perry and former SDSU Extension Beef Specialist Trey Patterson.

The study showed that of the heifers fed DDGS before calving, 94 percent subsequently became pregnant over a 60-day breeding season. That compared to 84 percent for heifers fed a control diet that didn’t include DDGS.

"Balancing a diet that maximizes degradable intake protein efficiency may not be sufficient to meet the late gestation MP requirement for this class of female."
SDSU Extension Beef Reproduction Management Specialist George Perry

“The nice thing about this study is that we were feeding these diets at a time when people are likely to supplement anyway, during pre-calving. The study ran December through the beginning of April,” Perry said. “The supplementation pre-partum then benefited months later with higher pregnancy rates. Not only are your cows calving in good body condition, but it can help benefit reproduction later on.”

Work previously done by Patterson in Nebraska suggested that meeting the metabolizable protein (MP) requirement of heifers in late gestation had positive impacts on reproductive performance.

Engel said the SDSU study focused on fat and undegradable intake protein, or UIP.

“It is not uncommon for pregnant heifers, which are still growing themselves, to become deficient in MP, particularly in the last few months prior to calving, Engel said. “Balancing a diet that maximizes degradable intake protein efficiency may not be sufficient to meet the late gestation MP requirement for this class of female.”

Providing additional protein in the form of UIP can help meet the MP requirement. Fat has also been shown to have positive effects on reproduction.

“Distillers grains is a feed resource that inherently represents both of these qualities,” Engel said.

Researchers looked at the effects on animal performance in heifers and their calves when test diets were fed during the last trimester of gestation. They also looked at subsequent reproductive performance of heifers.

The experimental diet fed consisted of about 10 pounds of grass hay on a dry matter basis, plus just over six pounds of DDGS. DDGS is rich in both UIP and fat.

The control diet had the same amount of grass hay, but instead of DDGS, used soybean hulls. Soybean hulls are lower than DDGS in both fat and undegradable intake protein. Heifers on both diets were fed a supplement to make sure both diets met or exceeded animals’ requirements for vitamins and minerals.

The study showed that there was an increase in weight for animals on the DDGS diets prior to parturition, though researchers saw no postpartum differences by treatment in either body condition score or body weight change.

In addition, the research found no differences in calf performance. Birth weights were similar between calves born to heifers on DDGS diets and those on soybean hull diets. There was no difference in weaning weights in those calves either.

The research did not find any significant hormonal differences in the treatments.

Perry said that the 10-percent difference in reproduction rates is suggested in other research that looks specifically at inclusion of fat in diets. However, Engel added, because of the design of this study we can’t effectively sort out whether the improved reproductive response on the DDGS diets was due to the added fat or the added UIP to meet MP requirements in late gestation, or a combined effect from fat and UIP.

Perry said the take-home message for producers is that a feed readily available in areas such as South Dakota — dried distillers grains with solubles — can pay off in improved reproduction for cow-calf producers. And the amount included in the diet — just over six pounds per head per day — doesn’t pose unusual management or pocketbook challenges.

“It is a very manageable level that’s being fed,” he said.

The research was done at SDSU’s Cottonwood Range & Livestock Field Station near Philip. Funding from the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council and the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station supported the research.

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