Consider By-product Feeds in Rations This Winter

Erika Lyon, OSU Extension Educator, Jefferson & Harrison Counties (originally published in The Ohio Farmer)

By-products such as distillers grains, gluten or soyhulls can serve as lower cost feed alternatives.

The last two years made it challenging for many producers to find good quality, let alone a good quantity of, feed for livestock. Spoilage and high costs for subpar hay and grain can be discouraging. Health issues associated with poor quality feed may range from starvation-like symptoms due to lacking nutritional value of feed to death from contamination. Producers may want to consider supplementing other types of feeds into winter rations to make up for the loss in nutritional value of traditional feeds and to help off-set costs. Feeds produced from by-products can often provide an adequate amount of protein and energy and are often cheaper than conventional feeds, especially when conventional feeds are in short supply.

Feedstuffs such as soybean hulls and corn gluten are often used to replace poor quality hay during the winter months. Soybean hulls are the product of soybean oil and meal production and may require heat treatment to prevent enzyme activity that results in nutrient loss. The fibrous content of soybean hulls can improve digestibility of many forages for cattle in grazing systems. Corn gluten comes from the wet milling process and is also a good source of digestible fiber. It contains crude protein, energy, and minerals in abundance. Nutrient content of corn gluten does tend to vary among batches, so this by-product may need to be tested before adding to a ration. There may also be cost differences between wet- and dry-corn gluten feeds since dry feeds are easier to transport over long distances. On the flip side, wet corn gluten tends to have better nutritional value over the dry form.

Distillers grains left over from ethanol production are another example of a lower cost by-product feed. Since the starch is removed in distillers grains for fermentation, the remaining protein, fiber, minerals, and fat are more concentrated compared to what is found in conventional corn feed. In dried distillers grains, protein typically ranges from 25 to 35% based on percent dry matter. The amount of fat within dried distillers grain solubles can reach up to 14%, although without the solubles component, this value drops to around 5%. Distillers grains should not exceed 30% of dry matter intake in a diet. It is a good idea to have distillers grains tested as the nutritional content will vary depending on the processes used by the ethanol plant and the form that the grains are in (dry, modified dry, wet, modified wet). Which form you decide to use will be based primarily on storage conditions as well as nutritional goals. As with corn gluten, wet distillers grains are more expensive to transport over long distances.

If your farm is located fairly close to a brewery, you may have easy access to wet brewers’ grains. These grains include barely, rice, and/or corn and are especially good feed supplements for ruminants. As with distillers grains, the malting process removes starch for fermentation, leaving behind concentrated amounts of protein, fiber, and fat. Wet brewers’ grains are a good source of digestible fiber, which makes it a valuable addition to some forage-based diets. Keep in mind that wet brewers’ grains will have a high percentage of moisture and can spoil in a matter of a few days, especially during the dog days of summer. Therefore, storage should be a consideration when deciding whether or not to use these grains as part of a ration. Producers should also check the limits in the quantity per day that can be fed to cattle of different ages.

These are just a few of the supplemental feeds available to livestock – there are many more options and numerous combinations to consider. The feed used will ultimately depend on each farm’s unique situation as well as what is nearby and easy to access. During years where quality of conventional feeds is less than ideal, diversifying feeds can help to improve the nutritional value of a ration. When developing a ration, be sure to consider the costs of labor as well as energy value of the feed, and evaluate the pros and cons to each feedstuff. Consider what is not in some of these feeds – will mineral supplementation be required? Also watch for excess nutrients – by-products such as distillers grains can have concentrated amounts of phosphorous and sulfur. Regularly test the nutritional content of any feed to make sure it meets the needs of your herd. Understand all of your feed options to get through shortages and waste not this winter.

EDITOR’s NOTE: Selecting and efficiently incorporating by-product feedstuffs into both feedlot and cow rations will be included on the agenda when OSU Emeriti Dr. Francis Fluharty speaks during the first session of the 2020 Ohio Beef Schools which are being hosted in Sandusky and Licking Counties on January 29 and 30, respectively. Hold those dates, and more details will be available soon.