“In a feedlot ration, it takes very little DDGS to provide excess protein. But the protein might be a real benefit in a beef cow diet.”
Distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) is now the lowest-cost feed energy source, and is now replacing barley and other domestic feed grain at feedlots in southern Alberta.
“It’s a good feed,” says Darryl Gibb, a nutrition consultant with Viterra in Lethbridge as well as a researcher with Agriculture Canada. “Cattle make the most out of it, especially where some protein is needed. But most feedlots are using it as an energy source and it works quite well.”
Gibb says the fermentation process removes most of the starch but the byproduct is still higher in energy than barley. The lower starch content of DDGS can make feeding easier, says Gibb. The starch in barley or wheat can be digested very rapidly in the rumen, causing acid buildup and the sort of digestive upset that can cause problems. DDGS is highly digestible, so it does make the rumen more acidic, but apparently without some of the complications as the complete grain, so it makes it easier to get cattle started on a high-grain diet.
Gibb sees DDGS as fitting particularly well in diets that need supplemental protein. Corn DDGS has higher protein and oil content, much lower starch and the fibre is more digestible.
Fitting DDGS into feedlot rations is all about energy cost, says Gibb. It’s important to check whether DDGS is corn-or wheat-based. The Husky plants at Lloydminster and Minnedosa have used both wheat and corn. Cornbased DDGS has more energy because of higher oil content and more digestible fibre, making it worth at least 15 per cent more than rolled barley.
Closeout figures clearly show cattle performance on DDGS is better than on rolled grain without DDGS. Intake is higher and both gains and feed efficiency are also better than with straight grain.
Gibb thinks the ideal nutritional value of DDGS is achieved at 15 to 20 per cent of the ration (dry matter) but most cattle feeders include it at 20 to 25 per cent and some go even higher. But, when the percentage of DDGS is too high, feed efficiency drops off and risks of sulphur toxicity (polio) increase. Feeding high levels of DDGS can lower calcium-potassium (Ca:P) ratios, but experts think the importance of this ratio has been
overestimated. Low Ca:P ratios have been linked to water belly – urinary calculi – and some cattle feeders claim they’re seeing higher numbers of water belly problems.
“This isn’t conclusive,” says Gibb. “Occasionally feedlots have a rash of them. Maybe they’d have had them anyway.”
IDEAL STRAW SUPPLEMENT
Feeders using corn silage can afford to pay a little extra for DGGS as it brings protein to a better level, Gibb says. But he thinks the ideal place for DDGS is as a supplement for cows on low-quality forage or straw.
“Cows can maintain themselves on low-quality forage,” he says. “But, you really need to ensure protein levels are adequate to improve the
digestibility of the fibre. In a feedlot ration, it takes very little DDGS to provide excess protein. But the protein might be a real benefit in a beef cow diet.”
The downside to DDGS is that you need troughs, or to feed the DDGS as part of a ration you put through a mixer, ideally silage. It’s a fine, light material that can easily blow away in a wind. And it doesn’t flow well in some bins. The ideal is to store it in a commodity bay, but not everyone has that option.
Gibb says a range pellet that includes DDGS would be great, but the feedmill would have to find a binder that doesn’t make the pellet uneconomic.
Some nutritionists recommend DDGS as a creep feed for calves. Dairy cows can use DDGS as a protein supplement and do as well as with soybean meal. Pigs also do surprisingly well with DDGS for part of their ration, possibly the digestible fibre boosts intake and gains. Even poultry can use some although they do better if enzyme preparations are included with the byproduct.
There should be plenty of DDGS for quite a while. Each bushel of corn produces 18 lbs. (2.72 gallons) of ethanol and 17 lbs. of DDGS. As the U.S. pushes for more and more biofuels, the byproduct DDGS piles up – ethanol production capacity was estimated at of 12.5 billion gallons last year. Not all mills in the Midwest dry their grain byproduct, but DDGS is likely to be around as long as there’s a demand for fuel ethanol.