A by-product of the corn processing industry, corn gluten feed has found its way into both cow-calf and feedlot feeding regimens. Like most by-products, gluten feed is especially popular with producers who are close enough to processing plants to make transportation cost effective.
Corn gluten is a by-product of the wet corn milling industry that produces starch for ethanol or fructose for corn sweeteners. Generally, researchers claim corn gluten feed may be fed wet or dry; however, research has shown wet corn gluten feed to be more digestible than dry.
In the U.S. there are 28 wet corn millers processing nearly 10% of the nation's corn crop, says Reed Ethington, feed product's manager at Minnesota Corn Processors, Marshall, MN. That number, he says, has nearly doubled over the last 10 years.
In the mid-'80s, when feeding corn gluten first became attractive to producers, Will Greig, Estherville, IA, jumped on the bandwagon. He started feeding the by-product in a pelleted form at the family cow-calf and feeding operation in 1985. Two years later, however, price and distance from the plant at Eddyville, IA, forced him to stop.
But in 1991 he returned to the gluten game, this time getting the by-product from a nearby plant at Marshall, MN.
"I feed 10 lbs. of gluten to first- and second-calf heifers, along with 5 lbs. of silage and free-choice corn stalks or stover," Greig says. "In emergencies, I've even fed up to 40 lbs. of gluten feed per head per day in winter without acidosis or foundering problems."
With older cows, he feeds corn stalks and 10-15 lbs. of gluten a day. In fact, when Greig weans calves he starts them on gluten and free-choice brome hay, and claims they go on feed faster and stay healthier. "The best creep feed is gluten in a dry, pelleted form. But, it's expensive for us because of transportation costs," he says.
Besides the 170-head purebred Simmental and Red Angus operation, Greig is also involved with the family 3,000-head feedlot that regularly uses corn gluten in its three-phase starting ration for calves. When cattle near finish, they're primarily on a corn diet.
Greig says he likes the gluten because it's higher in protein than corn, and higher in fiber.
Allen Trenkle, animal scientist at Iowa State University, likes the product, too, because it's usually competitively priced with corn and has nearly the same nutritional value on a dry matter basis. Pricing corn gluten, however, varies widely depending on the export market, he adds.
A beauty of corn gluten feed is that it's very palatable and complements low- as well as high-quality feeds, Trenkle says. "It's high in digestible energy, protein and phosphorus. A lot of feedlots like to keep it in rations to reduce dust. And, because it's not high in starch, it's safe."
With cows, Greig likes the ability to limit feed the gluten. "By combining gluten with silage, it somehow maximizes my corn stalks. It works great in the winter. I can also feed corn stover more efficiently and don't have to feed so many tons of hay."
Once fall tillage is complete and corn stalks are no longer available, he moves young cows in and starts feeding gluten in bunks once a day. Normally, that's always before November 15.
Older cows, however, are kept on grass pastures as long as possible in the winter. There, he feeds wet gluten on the ground at 20-25 lbs. every other day and free-choice cornstalks in round bales.
Added Benefits "The energy value of gluten on a dry-matter basis is similar to the energy value of corn, and costs about the same f.o.b. our feedlot," Greig says. "So, the extra protein and fiber in the gluten is free."
Overall, Greig claims there's a tremendous advantage to feeding corn gluten and hay as a starting ration for weaned calves. "The extra protein and fiber mean the energy levels of the ration can be higher without causing acidosis and stress, and that reduces sickness. And, corn gluten lets you maximize the use of low-quality feedstuffs for cows in your wintering rations," he says.
The downside to gluten, Greig explains, is when weather is hot, the wet gluten needs to be fed within five to seven days. In winter, however, he's able to store it safely for up to 21 days without problems. Gluten is stored on a concrete slab at the bunker.