“We're down to the very last of our reserves,” says Jim Schlosser of the Schlosser Ranch near Hulett, WY. This area in the northeastern part of the state — like many parched areas of cattle country — received more rain and grew more grass this year than last. But getting through the nightmare of 2002 meant gobbling up all of the ranch's grass reserves and starting on the rain-day hay supply.

For planning on average, Schlosser figures 20-30% of the ranch's grass as carryover. His cattle exhausted those reserves. In meadows that yield 4,000 bales in a normal year, he got 200 this year and only 60 last. That's one reason he's grateful for USDA's Livestock Feed Program that began delivering non-fat dried milk (NDM) to drought-ravaged producers in nine states last fall. Some beef producers are just now getting ready to feed NDM for the first time as part of the 2003 program.

“This has been a lifesaver for beef producers and us both. There would have been a lot more cows going to town without the program,” says Bill Burchell, the feed mill manager at Farmers and Ranchers Cooperative in Ainsworth, NE. “We've moved a lot of it. The majority of producers we've been storing it for through the summer are waiting until November when they start caking again.”

Likewise, Matt Hoobler, agriculture programs coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture says, “Any drought-relief program is welcomed with open arms; you can see that in the sign-ups.” Between April 9 when the 2003 program was announced and the middle of June, he fielded more than 1,000 phone calls from producers wanting to know how they could participate.

Next to Nebraska, he says Wyoming producers have utilized the program more than any other. “In Wyoming we've been able to deliver $2.2 million worth of credit to livestock producers,” says Hoobler.

In the current program, eligible producers had two options:

  • receive NDM directly — thrice-wrapped in 55 lb. bags

  • or apply the equivalent credit value of their allotment toward having a participating feed dealer use the NDM in processing and/or manufacturing a feed supplement for them.

The program represents surplus stocks owned by the Commodity Credit Corporation that are beyond expiration dates for human consumption. However, the expired stocks make first-rate livestock protein.

“Non-fat dried milk is an excellent source of rumen-degradable protein for low-quality forage diets,” says Rick Rasby, animal science professor at the University of Nebraska. “Protein runs 34-37% and its energy is equal to or better than corn (TDN is 90%). It's an excellent source of degradable intake protein (DIP), which is exactly what you need with dry forage. It works well as a DIP source in diets based on corn silage, grass hay, crop residues such as corn stalks or wheat straw, and it will work well in grazing low-protein range.”

Digging with a narrower scoop, Rasby explains, NDM is a 100% DIP, which means it degrades in the rumen. That's opposed to undegradable intake protein, which bypasses the rumen. Consequently, feeding more than called for to meet DIP requirements won't increase protein supply to the animal. What's more, Rasby says, “Higher than required levels can also cause negative associative effects from the lactose in forage-based feeds.”

Part and parcel with that, Steve Paisley, state beef extension specialist at the University of Wyoming points out, “Since it's easily digestible and fermentable, there's the potential for acidosis if livestock get too much of it at one time.” USDA recommendations call for feeding NDM at a maximum of 2 lbs./head/day.

Furthermore, Paisley suggests diluting this potential effect by feeding NDM along with a highly digestible source of crude fiber such as oats, wheat midds or soybean hulls.

Handling Challenges

Schlosser has fed NDM to cows for a year. He began feeding it to early-weaned calves the end of August. His calf ration consists of 1 lb. each of NDM, creep, dried rolled corn, oats and molasses, as well as 3 lbs. of hay and 0.25 lb. water.

“It's definitely cut our feed cost. I'd estimate it's cut our overall cost by 10%,” Schlosser says. Keeping in mind the nutritional cautions cited above, he adds, “It's a real good feed. The only thing is that it's dusty and hard to handle.”

NDM is basically derived by drying defatted milk with the cream and water removed. In fact, the microscopic particles have been known to clog up defrosters on vehicles loading up with the powdery substance. Add moisture to it, and then wait too long to feed it, and some users say the same NDM dust makes cement look like play dough.

In other words, “It's difficult to handle as a loose supplement, and its storage life as a wet supplement is short,” says Rasby. That helps explain why many producers receiving NDM vouchers in the Livestock Feed Program apparently opted to trade their allotment for processed feeds already containing the supplement.

“The price of $80/ton (the USDA value placed on NDM) for protein sounds cheap, but you have to have a way to feed it,” says Burchell. Throw it into the mixer with dry hay and it falls to the bottom. Top-dress range hay with it and it simply blows away. Fold it in loose and dry with grain and the loss can be substantial.

While there's no single industry-wide answer, and folks are still searching for improvement, plenty of producers are finding ways to effectively handle bulk NDM.

Burchell, for example, says some of his customers are successfully mixing it with silage. Others like Schlosser are blending it into a moist feed to be delivered immediately. Some have even been known to combine NDM and dry-rolled grain in a mixer box, then hosing it down with water.

“Anyone who has feed handling equipment gets along well with it,” says Paisley. “Producers who have had it delivered as a processed feed, or who incorporated it into a mineral or liquid supplement had no complaints about it.

“The problem comes for range producers and how to deliver it to cows,” he adds. “Right now we're using vegetable oil [2½-5% of ration along with light test-weight oats] and getting along very well,” says Paisley. “It gets rid of the dustiness but still allows the ration to flow through self-feeders.”

Looking For Solutions

In situations where not even feeding tubs are practical, Paisley says UW is experimenting with everything from incorporating it into a salt-limited supplement to spraying it on hay augered out of the bale processor. The latter process uses a tank and spray nozzels designed for a four-wheeler.

“We're looking for any answer we can find that will help producers,” Paisley says.

While it comes with its own set of challenges, Rasby emphasizes, “NDM can be used effectively with dry dormant forage. You can probably use it and increase body condition in cows before winter hits.”

For instance, Rasby says a ration for carrying cows over to corn stalks might include 10 lbs. of hay, 8 lbs. of grain, then 2 lbs. of NDM. He also suggests producers look for complementary protein sources to leverage the value of NDM.

According to Rasby, “A 50-50 mixture (dry matter basis) of NDM and dried distillers grains will supply a 35% protein product that is 70% for digestible intake protein. This mixture is equivalent to soybean meal in degradability, but lower in total protein, while feeding rates may be higher than with soybean meal.

Rasby continues: “This mixture ensures that microbial protein requirements are met in the rumen (DIP), while supplying enough bypass protein to meet the animals protein requirements. Other bypass sources can be used with NDM to help complement its profile.” He notes that low-cost alternatives can usually be had.

“Last year in July and August, we had a lot of guys lay in gluten pellets, which were extremely economical,” says Rasby. “If it looks like protein or energy are going to be short, producers should take a look at grain co-products like glutens and distillers grains. They're usually economical and work well.”

While no one is looking a gift horse in the mouth, short of extra moisture, Hoobler hopes the program is a precursor of things to come.

“The real issue is the relief itself and the government recognizing drought as a national disaster and national emergency,” Hoobler says. “Even though a drought like this one [four years and counting in WY] is just as devastating as a major tornado, hurricane or some other natural disaster, you don't see the same kind of money go toward relief of the impact.”

Table 1. Sample Gestation Rations* Using Non-Fat Dried Milk (NDM)
47 lbs. corn silage and 2 lbs. NDM
25 lbs. grass hay and 2 lbs. NDM
22 lbs. residue, 2 lbs. NDM, 0.8 lbs. Dried Distillers Grains, 1.7 lbs. concentrate
9 lbs. residue, 2 lbs. NDM, 9.15 lbs. concentrate
*In this example, concentrates contain any of the following: corn, milo, corn gluten feed, soybean hulls, wheat midds or dried distillers grains (DDG). DDGs should be limited to no more than 10 lbs./day). Residue examples include wheat straw, corn, milo or comparable crop residue.
Source: University of Nebraska

For more on NDM, go to the University of Nebraska Web site at: http://beef.unl.edu/stories/200304090.shtml.