AMES, Iowa -- As ethanol plants continue to pop up across the Midwestern landscape, the interest in ethanol co-products as a feed source increases. Beef producers looking to add the co-products into their ration programs need to compare the co-products to other feeds on a relative value per pound of nutrient, according to specialists at Iowa State University (ISU).
According to the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, Iowa’s plants have a total production capacity of 864 million gallons of ethanol annually, which results in an equal amount of co-products produced annually. “This sizable local feed supply is compelling beef producers to look into co-products such as distillers grains and how it can improve their bottom line,” says Dan Loy, professor of animal science at ISU.
“When comparing distillers grains to other feeds on a cost basis, price per pound of nutrient on a dry matter basis is the item to evaluate,” says Russ Euken, ISU Extension livestock specialist. Research has shown that distillers grain can be a good source of energy and protein. “The relative value of ethanol co-products includes comparing the cost per pound of energy or protein to commonly used feeds such as corn or soybean meal,” he adds.
“Producers also need to consider how corn co-products will fit into a ration or a feeding system, and if there is a limit on how much can be feed. If a ration needs both energy and protein, especially bypass protein, distillers grains may be a good fit” says Loy.
For many feedlot rations, feeding 15 percent distillers grains on a dry matter basis in the ration will meet the protein requirements for the animal. If the protein requirements are met, then feeding higher levels of distillers in the ration would mean that distillers grains would need to compete against an energy source like corn on a cost basis.
In a winter ration for a beef cow, corn co-products can be a good supplement for low-quality forages. Producers need to consider what other feeds they have on-farm. If they have a substantial amount of high-quality hay to feed, then they may not need a protein source. However, they may be able to sell the high-quality hay, and feed a lower quality roughage along with distillers.
Producers have several options for comparing price on corn co-products. The first and simplest is to compare the cost of co-products to the cost of other feeds on a dry matter basis, per pound of one nutrient.
A second procedure would be to use a spreadsheet program to compare the value of corn co-products to other feeds based on several nutrients such as energy, protein, calcium and phosphorus. This provides a relative value for the feed and assumes all nutrients considered would be used by the beef animal. “Producers can call their local Extension beef or livestock specialist for assistance in calculating the relative value potential of corn co-products in their own rations,” says Euken.
Also available is ‘Corn Co-Product Values for Finishing Cattle,’ an interactive spreadsheet that allows cattle producers to input different values and costs when creating a ration. This spreadsheet, developed by Allen Trenkle at ISU, will enable a producer to look at distillers grains or corn gluten feed in comparison to corn and urea, and looks at specific situations for feedlot cattle. The software is free of cost and can be found on the Ethanol Co-Products page of the Iowa Beef Center Web site (www.iowabeefcenter.org).
Finally, one of the best ways for producers to look at using corn co-products is to use a ration analysis program like BRANDS (Beef Ration and Nutrition Decisions Software), available from the Iowa Beef Center. If the producer knows what feeds are available, and the prices for those feeds, the ration analysis program will let them compare various feeds in the ration very quickly as well as the cost of the ration.
Of course, like corn, the price of the ethanol co-products varies. James Broghammer, general manager at Pine Lake Corn Processors near Steamboat Rock, Iowa, explains that their dry distillers grains are priced weekly and based on the protein content of the product. Producers need to know the nutrient analysis of the co-product which varies from plant to plant, and know the current price to be able to determine if it is economical to use in a ration.
For more information about relative value of ethanol co-products, and to compare them to soybean meal or corn in your beef ration, contact your ISU Extension livestock specialist. For more information about ethanol co-products for cattle feeding, visit www.iowabeefcenter.org.
Rachel E. Martin, Iowa Beef Center, (515) 294-9124,