Field peas may be alternative to distillers grains as protein source in cattle feed if at right cost.

April 27, 2020

5 Min Read
NDSU field peas cattle.jpg
Field peas are very palatable once cattle become accustomed to the grain.NDSU photo

Field peas may be an alternative to distillers grains as a protein source in cattle feed if the field peas are at a low enough cost, according to a North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension livestock systems specialist Karl Hoppe.

Distillers grains are a co-product of producing ethanol from corn.

“Distillers grains are a very palatable feed that usually have a feed test of 30% crude protein [on a] dry matter basis,” said Hoppe, who is based at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center. “Typically, dried distillers grains are priced at 110-120% of the price of corn grain per ton. When priced on cost per pound of crude protein, distillers grains traditionally have been a very low-cost protein source. Also, distillers grains have a high energy value, making them both a protein and an energy feed.”

However, ethanol plants have reduced production or closed temporarily due to low demand, so the price of distillers grains has risen from $130 to $180 per ton, and modified dried distillers grains (50% moisture) have risen from $65 to $90 per ton, NDSU said.

“The higher moisture content of modified and wet distillers grains blends well into a total mixed ration and nicely conditions the feed,” Hoppe noted. “It’s a popular choice in cattle rations, but when price increases and/or availability is limited, cattle producers look for options.”

One such option is field peas, Hoppe said. Pulse crops such as field peas are suited to cooler climates and are not usually planted where corn is prevalent. However, North Dakota raises corn and field peas, and field peas are an excellent feed for cattle, Hoppe said.

Field peas are 25-27% crude protein and contain a high amount of starch, he said, adding that the energy content of field peas is similar to corn grain.

Field peas are very palatable once cattle become accustomed to the ingredient, which usually takes three days if cattle have not had previous experience with field peas.

Field peas can be fed in amounts similar to corn. If producers want to include field peas in cattle diets at high rates, the amount of field peas should be increased slowly, similar to corn, Hoppe said.

“If field peas are priced competitively with corn grain, field peas can be a replacement for corn energy,” Hoppe said.

Typically, field peas are priced for the human food or pet food markets, which is considerably higher than feed grain prices. However, demand in the pet food market has been reduced recently, and some field pea producers are looking for other markets, he noted.

If field pea prices are $5 per 60 lb. bushel, that calculates to $167 per ton for a 25-27% crude protein feed (dry matter basis).

“If dried distiller grains are $180 per ton for 30% crude protein (dry matter basis), then field peas are a competitive protein source.” Hoppe said. “If freight needs to be added to distillers grains, then field peas are even more cost competitive if the field peas are already binned on farm.”

Field peas are not a direct substitution for distillers grains, though, he noted, explaining that distillers grains have been through a fermentation process to remove most of the starch and sugars. Field peas are high in starch, so including them in livestock diets at high rates may cause acidosis, a nutritional issue resulting from cattle consuming too much starch.

“As with all grains, using ‘step-up’ rations, or slowly increasing the grain concentration into the ration, will reduce acidosis issues,” Hoppe said.

Field peas have yellow and green seeds, and differences may exist in their protein content. A feed analysis will determine the crude protein concentration in the field peas.

“Field peas are a beneficial addition to a cattle ration,” Hoppe said. “Providing both protein and energy, field peas are a viable supplement for beef cow rations. With recent pricing and demand changes for feed, reconsider using field peas as a feed source for cattle.”

He noted that North Dakota also produces other protein sources that producers might consider feeding their cattle, including canola, sunflower and soybean meal. Whole soybeans can be used as a protein source when limited to less than 4 lb. in a cow diet. Wheat midds and alfalfa hay can be considered as protein sources as well.

Other options

University of Nebraska Extension beef systems educators also provided tips for cattle producers looking replace or supplement distillers grain in rations while the ingredient is in short supply:

  • Producers who used wet or modified distillers should add water if replacing distillers grain with dry ingredients.

  • Corn silage may be the best substitution for distillers grain, because it adds moisture and is the most economical roughage source, but it must be stored correctly. Alfalfa is an excellent roughage source but is very expensive and dry. If a producer only has low-quality forage (like cornstalks, straw or poor hay), then mixing and adding moisture is even more critical.

  • When possible, it is recommended that producers cut back on the distillers grains in their animals’ diet instead of replacing the ingredient completely.

  • If distillers are completely eliminated from a ration, producers should consider adding urea as a protein supplement. Urea can be provided through liquid or dry supplements and is now required in feedlots if distillers grain is not available. In feedlot diets, between 1.0% and 1.5% of a ration should be made up of urea (less is required in forage diets). Urea can be toxic if fed above 2% and requires diligence when mixing so that sorting doesn’t occur. Incorporating wet feed into rations can help lower the risk of sorting.

  • Urea is riskier to use in forage diets and, in some cases, may be unnecessary. Forages are naturally higher in rumen degraded protein, and sorting is a greater concern in forage diets. In general, urea supplementation can be very useful in some forage diets but needs to be fine-tuned.

  • Producers should begin gradually replacing distillers in animal diets with the alternatives mentioned above in order to decrease the risk of bloat from acidosis.

  • Local alternatives may still be available, including dried distillers or dry gluten feeds, wet gluten feed or liquid byproducts. Other feeds that may fit are soybean meal, whole soybeans and field peas as well as less common feeds like protein seed meals (e.g., sunflower, linseed or canola).

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