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Cattle feeding strategies for high corn prices

Beef producers from western South Dakota and Wyoming gathered to learn more about combating high corn prices in their operations during a one-day conference held Nov. 27 in Rapid City, SD

Beef producers from western South Dakota and Wyoming gathered to learn more about combating high corn prices in their operations during a one-day conference held Nov. 27 in Rapid City, SD.

South Dakota State University economist Matt Diersen anticipates the demand for corn by ethanol makers will continue. Thus he says the beef industry will need to become more efficient and needs to find ways to use the available by-products.

Likewise, Kip Karges with Poet Nutrition in Sioux Falls, SD, presented a big picture view of the future of ethanol production and its byproducts, and concludes, “Dried distiller’s grains are going to be a major, economical feed commodity. If you’re not using them, you need to be looking at ways that they may work in your operation.”

Karges says projections indicate there will be 30-40 million tons of dried distiller’s grains (DDGS) available by 2010. Currently, about 12 million tons of the feedstuff is available to the industry.

Diersen’s message to beef producers was to be prepared for a changing ag industry. He used the quote: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Diersen said, “That’s what’s happening on the crop side. The price of everything is going up – beans, alfalfa, grass hay and even grazing fees. Because if those commodities don’t pay, they could switch to corn production.” He also anticipates that CRP acres will likely go back to corn in the next five years.

Looking ahead, Diersen projects that if ethanol expansion continues the beef industry will be feeding cattle longer because of trying to finish them on other feedstuffs besides all corn.

Diersen concludes that the reality is livestock producers need to become more flexible using co-products. He expects that there will be more drylot feeding using co-products. And, in areas with ample grazing he believes there could be a shift back to grazing for backgrounding.

Tips for using co-products
If you are looking to use co-products, SDSU Extension beef specialist Cody Wright says ethanol co-products can be used in several situations such as:
1) Replacing soybean meal as a protein source in creep feed. It can be included up to 50% of dry matter in these situations and has been shown to have no negative effect on feedlot performance or carcass characteristics.
2) Rations for developing heifers. Wright says distillers grains an be fed as high as 40% of dry matter in limit-fed diets with no negative effects on performance, birth weight or calving difficulty. He adds that some studies have shown feeding distillers grains as a supplement will actually reduce forage intake, which can be beneficial if forage is limited in a drought year.
3) As a supplement to brood cows on low-quality forage like corn stalks. Wright says in these situations the mineral program may need to be modified slightly as there is some concern with excess sulfur, copper and phosphorus.
4) Distiller’s co-products can also be used successfully in growing and finishing cattle diets at about 30% of diet dry matter. Again, the mineral concentrations need to be monitored, especially for sulfur. Wright says it is important to test your water sources and even forages for sulful, so you know what the cattle are actually getting and don’t get to a toxic level.

From his experience, Karges reports that many producers like the syrup (Condensed Distiller’s Solubles) which can be mixed with grain hulls or other ground forages. Wright adds that SDSU researchers have been pioneers in bagging the distillers grains and solubles with a mix of chopped forages or grain hulls.

In range situations, Karges has talked to some producers who are looking to feed the dried distiller’s grain in bunks to cows as a winter protein and energy supplement.

Wright says the bottom line in adding distillers grains to your operation is to make sure the economics pencil out. He and Karges also caution to make sure you are getting good product – color should be golden and odor should be sweet. Otherwise there may be some digestibility issues if the byproduct has been heat damaged.

Karges suggests working with one supplier, as product can be highly variable from different plants.

While there are currently some storage issues with these co-products, Wright says new technology for pelleting and cubing distillers grains is on the horizon that should improve the product.