The value of distillers grains (DG) as a supplement for corn or sorghum in feedyard rations has made the ethanol coproduct valuable for fed-cattle rations, But many of those benefits should also be apparent for ranch or stocker operations where managers depend on supplements to garner efficient gains.

“Coproducts are excellent feeds to supplement energy and protein of lower quality forages,” says Allen Trenkle, Iowa State University livestock nutrition specialist. “Because of DG’s low starch content, these feeds have fewer negative effects than high-starch feeds on fiber digestion in the rumen. When fed to supplement low-phosphorus forages, the phosphorus in DG will be of value.”

Trenkle says potential uses of DG include creep feed for calves, and supplements for grazing cattle and low-quality forages such as crop residues that might be fed to growing calves, wintering beef cows or developing beef heifers.

Feed value

Research has shown wet corn DG with solubles (WDGS) can be added to corn-based rations for finishing cattle at levels ranging from 10-40% of total ration dry matter.

“WDGS is palatable and readily consumed by cattle,” Trenkle says. “Because the concentration of starch is less than corn grain, WDGS is less likely to cause subacute acidosis in cattle fed low-roughage rations.”

He points out that if a ration contains 10-25% WDGS dry matter, WDGS’s apparent energy value is greater than corn. “When used to replace part of the corn and supplemental protein, WDGS improves feed conversion and reduces feed cost of gain when cost of WDGS (including transportation and storage) is equal to or less than cost of corn on a dry basis,” he says.

“For each 25¢/bu. increase in corn price, the value of WDGS (30% dry matter) as a feed for finishing cattle increases $3.75/ton.”

The same is true for dried DG with solubles (DDGS), which was an energy value equal to corn when fed to finishing cattle at levels ranging from 10-20% of total ration dry matter, he says. “DDGS also is palatable and readily consumed by cattle,” Trenkle adds.

Feed cost of gain will be reduced if the cost of DDGS isn’t greater than cost of corn grain on a dry basis.

For each 25¢/bu. increase in corn price, the value of DDGS (90% dry matter) as a feed for finishing cattle increases $9.50/ton.

Then there’s condensed DG with solubles (CDGS), a liquid that typically contains 30% dry matter. “When CDGS is fed to finishing cattle at 10% or less of ration dry matter, its apparent energy value is equal to or somewhat greater than corn grain,” Trenkle says.

“Feeding at levels greater than 10% of ration dry matter might reduce feed intake. For each 25¢ increase in corn price, the value of CDGS (30% dry matter) as a feed for finishing cattle increases $3/ton.”

Right for the range
David Lalman, Oklahoma State University Extension beef specialist, sees strong benefits of DG in range and preconditioned cattle. “We’ve found DDGS to be an excellent replacement for grain and oilseed meal (primarily cottonseed) for forage-fed cattle,” he says. “A DDGS/cottonseed meal (CSM) blend actually outperformed CSM when stockers grazed late-summer pasture.”

Lalman has documented similar performance for beef cows when DDGS replaced CSM as the primary winter protein/energy source to low-quality forage. “We also used DDGS in a simple preconditioning program where calves received prairie hay and increasing levels of DDGS. Feed conversion and weight gains were excellent, although gain on wheat pasture was reduced with the increasing level of DDGS during preconditioning.”

Cassie Schulte, nutritionist and manager of technical services for Quality Distillers Grain LLC in Hereford, TX, supplies ranchers, stocker operators and feedyards with ethanol coproducts.

“For backgrounding, we’re seeing producers use WDGS in 30-40% of their ration, along with a low-quality roughage, such as cotton burrs or wheat straw,” she says. “Since these cattle normally can’t receive the energy from steam-flaked corn or milo like feedyards can provide, WDGS enable them a similar benefit.

“Some stocker operators are also spreading WDGS over wheat pasture during grazing,” she adds, “providing a free-choice supplement for cattle on wheat, and added growth potential.”

Jason Sawyer, Texas AgriLife Extension beef specialist in College Station, has seen good success using DDGS as an ingredient in grow rations. “In complete rations, we’ve used between 30% and 40% of the diet as DG, similar to its inclusion in finishing diets, but obviously with higher levels of roughage,” Sawyer says.

“Depending on other ingredients available, it’s replaced corn completely or up to 65% of the original corn in the formulation. As a supplement for pasture cattle, DG may have more utility than corn (nutritionally). Obviously, there are some challenges with feeding it due to its physical form (wet or dry both have challenges), but in the right setting can work very well.”

Sulfur a concern

Sawyer notes that if DG is fed in a free-choice program, sulfur toxicity is a concern. “Recent work suggests cattle will consume large quantities if unrestricted access is given. So ultimately, I would say knowledge of the product specs and its variability is a limitation and failing to account for these is a mistake,” he says.

What percentage of DG should be used as opposed to corn? For preconditioning or backgrounding programs, around 1.2% of body weight is suggested. “That would be a practical and conservative maximum inclusion rate,” Lalman advises.

“For cows, this high feeding rate is rarely necessary or economical. However, our research suggests normal supplementation rates, 2-8 lbs. DDGS/head/day, are very effective.”

In Lalman’s program, fall-weaned steer calves were fed increasing amounts of DDGS during a 56-day preconditioning period. Pens were randomly assigned to treatments of 0.30%, 0.75%, 1.20% or 1.65%

DDGS/steer body weight. The 1.65% level was chosen to maximize DDGS intake without exceeding maximum tolerable dietary sulfur concentration, says Lalman.

After the 56-day trial, calves grazed wheat pasture prior to feedlot entry. As DDGS levels increased, average daily gain increased. Prairie hay intake decreased as level of DDGS increased. Increasing amounts of DDGS resulted in increased dry matter

intake.

Similarly, feed conversion improved with increasing DDGS.

Storage

DDGS storage is another consideration in a supplementation program. “A flat storage facility with a concrete floor is probably the safest storage method,” Lalman says, “but we’ve been storing DDGS in our overhead cube bins for two winters now.

“We’ve found it flows out of the feeders early, but needs more ‘encouragement’ over time. I wouldn’t recommend storing it in overhead, gravity flow bins during warm weather.”

Lalman says OSU has also experimented with cake feeders for delivery. “Although we have more feed loss through leakage due to the fine texture, it’s worked well,” he reports.

Mistakes seen in using DG in a pasture or preconditioning program include using an inappropriate mineral supplementation program. “Primarily, this should be a mineral low in phosphorous and high in calcium, much like a wheat pasture mineral,” Lalman says.

Producers are reminded to double-check for DG quality, just as for corn or other grain, due to the delayed harvest conditions that faced Midwestern farmers last year. “There have been some reports of vomitoxin in DDGS,” Lalman says. “Be sure to ask the supplier about this and request a lab analysis or a maximum guarantee.”

Larry Stalcup is an Amarillo, TX-based freelance writer.