Feed is often one of the most expensive inputs when trying to balance the beef cattle budget, and to help reduce that expense, midwestern producers will sometimes look to alternative feed products, such as wet corn gluten, corn dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS) or soy hulls, according to beef cattle specialists at Kansas State University.
“Often, alternative feeds are a byproduct of some other production system,” said Brad White, Kansas State veterinarian and director of the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI). The topic of discussion on a recent BCI "Cattle Chat" podcast was factors to consider when looking to feed byproducts.
In the spring, some ethanol plants changed their production due to COVID-19, such as producing industrial alcohol for hand sanitizer, leading to a concern that typical feed alternatives would not be available or price competitive in the fall, according to Kansas State beef cattle extension specialist Bob Weaber.
However, Weaber said, “Ethanol production has come back, and it appears that there is availability and a reasonable cost structure in the marketplace for DDGS, so that is good news for cattle producers.”
When selecting a co-product to feed, veterinarian Bob Larson recommended that producers look at their feeding mechanisms.
“A lot of these byproduct feeds don’t flow well through the augers and chutes, because some can be really dusty, while others are wet,” Larson said. “They can also be harder to handle, because wet products will have a shorter storage life, and dry products tend to blow away more easily.”
Weaber added that there can also be differences in the quality of the alternative feed, depending on where it is sourced.
“Some plants will separate the oil fraction off the distillers products, impacting the energy content of the feedstuff, while there can also be a variation in the dry matter content,” Weaber said. For that reason, he advises producers to obtain or conduct a nutrient analysis of the feedstuffs, when possible.
Larson cautioned producers to look at their total feeding system or risk severe consequences.
“Some products have potential toxicities associated with them, such as a high amount of sulfur in some distillers grains or corn gluten feed,” Larson said.
The specialists agreed that the main motivation for considering alternative feed sources is price.
“Feeding co-products can be extra work, and producers need to be aware of the potential for negative health outcomes, but if they can manage for those factors, alternative feeds can offer a price advantage helping to increase the profit margins,” White said.
To hear the full discussion on alternative feeds, listen to the BCI "Cattle Chat" podcast.