Paying the feed bill has cleaned out bank accounts faster than Jesse James in recent years, as high corn prices left cattlemen everywhere looking for the cheapest, most efficient alternatives.
Answering that search, Galen Erickson shared research results and insight on distillers grains at the Feeding Quality Forums in Omaha, Neb., and Garden City, Kan., in August.
As of late summer, the ethanol byproducts were selling at near corn prices. Many cattlemen responded by cutting back or removing it, but Erickson, feedlot Extension specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said that could be a mistake.
Ethanol plants remove starch from grain, he explained, thus concentrating the remaining protein, oils and minerals in byproducts that have nearly three times the amount of those as corn.
“No matter how expensive it gets, it’s still an inexpensive protein source,” Erickson said. He suggested lowering the amount of distillers grains in a diet to no less than 15% to lower input costs while maintaining a relatively cheap protein supplement.
After reviewing research on feeding performance, he explained there are three common forms to consider.
All ethanol plants produce wet distillers grains and solubles, frequently mixed together (WDGS). Some plants partially or completely dry the WDGS, producing modified distillers grain (MDGS) or dried distillers grains (DDGS). These three products start out the same way, but feeding performance differs.
Research has studied performance of all three in comparison to dry-rolled corn in feedlot rations.
“Wetter is better,” Erickson said as he went over the results. With diets including 30% distillers grains, WDGS had the most value at approximately 137% that of corn.
During his presentation in southwest Kansas, Erickson warned of local exceptions because of steam-flaked corn fed in the region rather than dry-rolled corn. Research showed performance of WDGS was distinctly lower in a steam-flaked ration: gains decreased when more than 15% WDGS were added to the steam-flaked diet, while feed conversions stayed the same.
“So how you process the corn appears to dramatically impact the value of distillers relative to corn,” he said. “If you’re in an area where you have access to a lot of distillers grains and you’re planning to feed 20% or more, I would not recommend flaked corn.”
For those feeding a steam-flaked diet, Erickson offered another option. He found feed-to-gain ratios and average daily gains could be improved by including more solubles in the ration.