Disruptions caused by COVID-19 continue to grow each day. Volatility in the cattle market was one of the first disruptions, and now with ethanol plants slowing production or shutting down, local availability of corn coproducts such as distillers grain are becoming increasingly limited.
With fewer people driving cars as they shelter in place and work from home to avoid the coronavirus, fuel demand has plummeted, and ethanol plants are losing money. When ethanol plants reduce or cease production, less corn distillers grain is produced.
Making plans now based on current and potential feed input availability will help beef cattle producers determine their next steps. That advice comes from Dan Loy, director of the Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University.
"This situation is very local, continuously changing, and will vary from producer to producer and community to community," Loy says. "Supply disruptions could potentially affect other inputs, such as feed additives, implants and trace nutrients. Hopefully, these disruptions will be short-lived."
Loy offers three tips to help cattle producers manage the current challenges for their feeding operation:
1. Soybean meal or urea-based supplements. In feedlot diets, soybean meal or urea-based supplements (dry or liquid) can replace all the protein from corn coproducts. However, smaller calves, calves with lower feed intake or those on growing diets may not be able to use all of the protein from urea. Formulating rations on basis of metabolizable protein accounts for this. The high solubility of urea also comes with limits. Consider these limits for the safety of beef cows and backgrounding cattle.
Other potential protein sources that may be on hand include whole soybeans. At 40% protein content, soybeans can be a good protein source for beef cattle. The fat content (20%) limits the amount that can be fed. Also, cereal rye, harvested at the boot stage can be as high as 20% protein or higher.
2. Higher-protein supplements. When substituting a higher-protein supplement for distillers grain, you’ll likely be substituting corn for distillers as a source of energy, adding more starch to the diet. Be sure to use an adjustment period and consider adding more fiber to the diet and managing feed bunks more closely.
3. Outside advice. Lean on your nutritionist and other knowledgeable advisers. In Iowa, your regional ISU Extension beef specialist is a good resource for advice on options available. If adjustments need to be made to your beef cattle implant or feed supplementation strategies, base your decision on the options available and on research-based information.
Visit the Iowa Beef Center’s COVID-19 page online for information on changes in programming and management recommendations. “The information on our webpage is updated as we receive new information,” Loy says.