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Beer-fed beef: Considerations for feeding cattle brewers grains

Simon Kern for Progressive Cattleman Published on 23 September 2016

Likely one of the oldest byproduct feeds for livestock, brewers grains are used in all segments of cattle production as a highly digestible protein and energy source.

While it is not produced in great abundance relative to other byproduct feeds, brewers grains do have the advantage of year-round production and availability across the entire U.S. – making it an economical alternative for many in the industry.

Nutrient composition

As grains are soaked in water to initiate the brewing process, brewers grains are a very wet product (74 percent moisture, 26 percent dry matter). Brewers grains are high in both protein (30 percent) and fiber (50 percent neutral detergent fiber) and should also be viewed as a moderate source of fat (9 percent) and energy (74 percent total digestible nutrients).

Nutrient composition of wet brewers grains

As with all grain-derived products, brewers grains are high in phosphorus and low in calcium and potassium.

Large breweries, which specialize in only a few types of beer, will typically turn out a very consistent and predictable product. On the other hand, microbreweries have the potential to turn out a very unpredictable product due to smaller runs of very different beers.

Understanding your product source and expected variability is key in determining the true value of a brewers grain source and ensuring it is fed correctly. Routine laboratory nutrient analysis of brewers grains should be considered a must.

Feeding considerations

Because brewers grains are derived directly from food production, and very near food-grade quality, properly handled product has no inclusion limitations from a toxicity standpoint (trace mineral, mycotoxin, etc.).

However, the high moisture content does limit its inclusion, especially when fed with other wet products such as wet distillers grains, silage or fresh forage.

Below are the recommendations for daily intakes:

  • Mature cows should be limited to 30 to 50 pounds (8 to 13 pounds dry matter equivalent).

  • Youngstock should be limited to 10 to 20 pounds (2.5 to 5 pounds dry matter equivalent).

  • Backgrounding and finishing feedlot cattle should be limited to no more than 30 pounds per head daily (7.5 pounds dry matter equivalent).

These recommendations can be stretched if other ration feedstuffs are low in moisture content, as total ration dry matter is the true limiting factor. The high moisture content of brewers grains can be very beneficial in otherwise dry rations, as it can act as a glue to bind feed ingredients together and reduce sorting.

As with any conventional or byproduct feedstuff, it is vital to provide a supplement which fills any nutritional gaps the macro-ingredients do not provide.

Storage recommendations

Brewers grains are an excellent medium for the growth of bacteria, yeast and fungi, making them ill-suited for stockpiling. It is recommended to feed them as soon as possible after receiving to reduce the likelihood of spoiled product and the associated losses.

As spoilage accelerates in warm weather, the maximum storage duration in summer is shorter (two to four days) than in winter (four to seven days). In northern climates, winter storage duration has the possibility of being extended as long as two to three weeks; however, discretion should be used with extended storage, and any spoiled product should be discarded immediately.

Brewers grains should be stored in a paved bunker or drive-in pit, as it is rather unstackable and stockpiles will typically only stand a few feet tall. Covering piles with plastic or locating them in a shaded place will reduce exposure and extend the storage window. Brewers grains can also be ensiled for long-term storage.

Since most brewers grains are too wet for ideal packing and ensiling, they should be blended with dry roughage products such as oat hulls, soyhulls or chopped/ground forage prior to ensiling. Ensiling will certainly add cost, but if product is delivered at the right price, it can still be cost-effective.

Brewers grains are a very valuable byproduct feed ingredient for both cow-calf producers and feedlot operators located relatively closely to breweries. Brewers grains can be a highly nutritious and cost-reducing byproduct feed ingredient which should not be overlooked.  end mark

Simon Kern
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