Feeding distillers’ grains to beef cattle


ST. PAUL, Minn. – Increased ethanol processing capacity in the upper Midwest has led to greater supplies of dry milling co-products.
This boom in ethanol production has brought some opportunities for cattle producers, but opportunities bring on the challenge of ensuring that co-products are fed in a manner consistent with proper nutrition and management practices.
Challenges. Producers interested in utilizing distillers’ grains (DG) in beef cattle diets must understand and manage fluctuations in nutrient content of DG, diet formulation and storage and handling.
Starch content of DG is much lower than that of corn grain, but content of fiber and protein DG are greater than that of corn grain. Many DG samples test between 25 percent and 35 percent protein.
Dry matter content of wet distillers’ grains is dependent upon the plant where they are produced, but it varies from 25 percent to 35 percent. Some plants produce a modified wet distiller’s grain, which averages from 45 percent to 50 percent dry matter.
These co-products can be considered as both energy and protein sources for stock cows and growing and finishing cattle.
Variations. Astute producers wishing to utilize these co-products understand that to take full advantage of these co-products, they need to be aware of variations in nutrient content and of potentially high concentrations of elements such as phosphorus and sulfur.
Variations in protein or moisture content lead to undesired fluctuations in protein or dry matter content of diets. Thus, it is recommended that producers sample and analyze the supply of DG they plan to purchase and to make modifications to diet and management to prevent negative effects on performance.
Take samples. Samples must be taken and analyzed whenever the source or apparent quality of DG changes, or based on a time schedule.
Distillers’ grains use is highly recommended when diets of beef cows, replacement heifers or calves require supplementation of energy or protein.
Use caution. However, because of its high phosphorus, and rumen-undegradable protein content, caution must be exercised to ensure that the calcium: phosphorus ratio of the diet does not fall below 2:1, or that sufficient degradable protein is supplied to optimize forage use.
(Alfredo DiCostanzo is a beef cattle nutrition specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service.


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