Impact of Distillers Grains on Cattle Diets

US - A positive effect of the ethanol boom has been the increased availability of distillers grains.
calendar icon 17 February 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

Corn demand and corn price have both increased due to the large volumes of corn utilized in the ethanol industry, reports Farm&Ranch Guide. Distillers grains offer feedlots an alternative to traditional diets and in most markets an opportunity to lower feed ingredient costs. Producers are currently increasing the amounts of distillers grains they feed and are also looking at coproduct combinations.

“Distillers is the most available and feasible high energy alternative feed ingredient found in the US market” according to Dr. Ken Swanson, beef nutrition manager of Hubbard Feeds Inc. “Economics currently favor the utilization of high levels of distillers grain.”

Several years ago, when distillers first became available in large quantity, feedlots used distillers as a protein source and commonly fed it at 15 to 20 per cent of the dietary dry matter. When the cost of distillers became less than the cost of corn many feedlots increased distillers to approximately 25 per cent of dietary dry matter.

Higher corn prices are now encouraging feedlots to offer distillers at 30 or even 40 per cent of the dietary dry matter. Combinations of coproducts such as distillers and corn gluten feed or distillers and soy hulls are also being tried.

Initially many nutritionists thought that urea was a necessary component in distillers diets. Distillers grains are known to contain high amounts of bypass protein. It was thought that the rumen might be starved for rumen available protein when distillers was the primary supplemental protein source.

Hubbard Feeds Inc. participated in research at South Dakota State University exploring that question. That trial, as well as other trials, demonstrated that urea is not necessary for optimum performance in moderate or high distillers diets. According to Swanson, “urea costs have skyrocketed so not including it in feedlot diets saves money.”

“Several categories of distillers grains are being utilized in feedlot diets” he said.

Dried distillers, wet distillers and modified distillers are all being marketed and used in various dietary situations. Modified distillers is approximately 50 per cent dry matter and is gaining in popularity. Modified distillers adds an appropriate amount of moisture to most rations and provides freight and handling efficiencies when compared to wet distillers.

In addition to distillers, other corn coproducts and byproducts of other industries are available to livestock producers. Corn distillers solubles is another coproduct of the ethanol or dry milling process. Corn distillers solubles can be added back to distillers grains to make distillers grains with solubles or can be marketed separately.

Corn gluten feed and corn steep water are corn coproducts originating from the wet milling process that produces corn starch and corn sweeteners for human consumption. All these corn coproducts can be used effectively in beef diets and are an opportunity for producers located near a plant that produces them.

Soyhulls are a coproduct of the soy oil industry. Soyhulls can be used to replace some of the corn in conventional feeding programs or can be combined with distillers and/or other corn coproducts in distillers feeding programs.

According to Dr Swanson, corn distillers solubles is useful not only for the nutrients it supplies, but also as a feed bunk conditioner. Some diets benefit from added moisture and stickiness. This can bind ration ingredients together and limit sorting. Experiments at SDSU suggest that the addition of condensed distillers solubles at up to 10 per cent dietary dry matter improves average daily gain and feed efficiency.

A key question in the current market is how much distillers grains and distillers/coproduct combinations can be profitably fed. In many situations it is cost effective to give up some animal performance in order to decrease the cost of gain.

Distillers and other corn coproducts have unique nutrient specifications and need to be fed with balancers specifically formulated to balance corn coproduct diets.

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