Distillers grain by-product can benefit grazing stocker cattle by adding additional pounds of gain while they are grazing, according to Lyle Lomas, of Kansas State University Southeast Agricultural Research Center in Parsons, Kan. Lomas spoke about the utilization of by-products on pasture during the Nebraska Grazing Conference in Kearney.
With corn prices climbing, grazing forage and supplementing cattle with dry distillers grain may be a viable option this year. “Distillers grain can also be an ideal supplement when forage supplies are limited or forage is deficient in one or more nutrients,” he explained. “It can also be used in the delivery of feed additives for animal health and parasite control.”
“They get to where they really love it, and will come running when they see the feed truck,” said Terry Klopfenstein of the University of Nebraska, who has also conducted research on the byproduct, and gave a presentation about it during the meeting. “It can be a great way to check cattle. The ones that don’t come for the supplement, probably need to be treated.”
Value of Supplementing Cattle
If a producer is considering supplementation, it is important for them to determine if the value of supplementing the cattle will exceed the cost of supplementation. “They will need to determine the amount of supplement it will take for that pound of gain, and what it will cost,” he explained.
One bushel of corn will produce 2.7 gallon of ethanol, 18 pounds of distillers grain, and 18 pounds of carbon. “Distillers grain can be a nice fit for grazing cattle because it is high in protein, fat and phosphorus making it an ideal supplement,” Lomas said. In fact, distillers grain has three times the nutrient value of corn. It has 27-30 percent crude protein, 10.3 percent crude fat, and .83 percent phosphorus. “It complements the nutrient composition of mature forages to meet the requirements of grazing cattle. It is also highly palatable,” he said.
The high phosphorus content of distillers grain can be a management problem in confined feeding because distillers grain contains three to four times more phosphorus than what an animal requires. “Because distillers grains generally have high concentrations of energy, protein and phosphorus, their nutrient composition complements that of mature forages, which are typically deficient in these nutrients,” Lomas explained. The product is also high in sulfur, which could be a concern if pastures contain too much sulfur.
“In addition to a feed supplement, distillers grain can also make a great fertilizer,” Lomas continued. Dry distillers grain contains 4-5 percent Nitrogen. “Less than 10 percent of the Nitrogen in distillers grain is retained by grazing cattle. The rest is excreted back into the soil in the form of feces or urine. In a 200-day grazing season with a stocking rate of one steer per acre, distillers grain fed at 0.75 to one percent body weight per head daily can provide 50-60 pounds of Nitrogen per acre for grass and reduce the quantity of commercial fertilizer needed.”
In Kansas, Lomas said there are currently 11 dry mill ethanol plants yielding approximately 1.5 million tons of dried distillers grains annually. The product can be fed to cattle either wet, which is 35 percent dry matter, or dry, which is 88 percent dry matter. In July 2011, Lomas said wet distillers grain in his area was selling at $69 a ton, which is equivalent to $0.099/pound of dry matter. Dry distillers grain sold for $205/ton, which is equivalent to $0.116/pound of dry matter. Lomas said 2.5 pounds of wet distillers grain is equivalent to one pound of dry distillers grain on a dry matter basis.
During the last several years, several research projects have been conducted in both Kansas and Nebraska to determine the benefits of feeding distillers grain to grass cattle. During the studies, researchers have experimented with different stockings rates, supplement rates, and feeding schedules for the byproduct. Lomas showed one research project where 473 pound steers with a continuous stocking rate of 0.8 steer per acre or 1.25 acres per steer were supplemented with 0, 0.5, or 1.0 percent body weight of dry distillers grain per head per day in bunks. The primary forage was smooth bromegrass, which they grazed for 180 days from April 6 to October 3.
During the study, steer gains and available forage were measured and the amount of dry distillers grain fed was adjusted every 28 days. No feed additives or implants were used during the grazing phase.
This group of steers were implanted with Synovex-S, and fed a finishing diet of 80 percent ground grain sorghum, 15 percent corn silage, and five percent supplement for 124 days before they were slaughtered and carcass data was collected.
Lomas showed the calves with no supplement averaging 738 pounds coming off grass, while the 0.5 supplement group weighed 844 pounds, and the 1.0 supplement group weighed 871 pounds. The average daily gain was 1.48, 2.06, and 2.21, respectively. Interestingly, during the finishing performance phase the last 124 days, the cattle receiving no supplement while they grazed gained an average of 3.85 pounds per day in the feedlot, while the 0.5 supplement group had an ADG of 3.67 pounds, and the 1.0 supplement group had an ADG of 3.51 pounds.
Other studies Lomas showed the group had similar results. Based on research, Lomas said supplementation of grazing stocker cattle with dry distillers grain increased grazing gain and gain per acre. “Grazing gains of grazing stocker cattle increased as the level of dry distillers grain supplementation increased, however the supplement conversion was usually more efficient at lower levels of dry distillers grain supplementation and/or when forage was not meeting nutritional requirements of grazing cattle,” he explained.
“Also, cattle supplemented with dry distillers grain on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, every other day, or even every third day had as good of gains as cattle that were supplemented every day,” he continued. “If the cattle are supplemented with dry distillers grain, pastures could be stocked heavier.”
Lomas also concluded that cattle supplemented with dry distillers grain while grazing usually had a lower finishing gain and higher feed to gain than calves not supplemented. “If you are the producer, you have heavier calves to sell, but if you are the feedlot operator and you purchase calves that were supplemented on dry distillers grain while on grass, they may not gain as well as non-supplemented calves,” he said.
“However, the cattle supplemented with dry distillers grain while grazing were also heavier at the end of the finishing phase and yielded heavier carcasses than those not supplemented during the grazing phase,” he said. “Supplement conversion, supplement cost and the cattle market will determine the optimum level of supplementation,” he concluded.