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Managing feedlot rations without ethanol co-products

Kimberly Williams Brackett for Progressive Cattle Published on 12 May 2020

A webinar hosted by the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Iowa Beef Center informed cattle producers about feedlot considerations amid the pandemic focused on managing feedlot rations without using ethanol co-products.

The format was a main-speaker presentation on considerations when using co-products by Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center director, followed by a moderated expert panel with Dustin Puhrmann, Cooperative Farmers Elevator, and Dave Rueber, Innovative Ag Services, discussing basic nutrition questions related to the primary topic. Both Puhrmann and Rueber are beef production specialists.

“The ethanol products are in short supply because of closures and slowdowns by the ethanol plants,” Loy said. “The reason for the closures is due to decreased ethanol and fuel demand globally. Distillers grains [an ethanol byproduct] were fed in almost all feedlot diets in the region, the Upper Midwest and Corn Belt. The market conditions that will ease the disruption is basically getting the global economy back on its feet, including transportation.”

For most of the ethanol era, corn co-products have been cheaper than corn. It is an energy source, and because of the high protein levels, there is an incentive to overfeed protein. At higher prices, distillers grains becomes a protein source. With distillers grains out, a cattle feeder could add corn and a protein supplement to replace the protein. Changes, however, have to be gradual.

A ration of hay, supplement and corn may adequately replace a distillers grains ration. However, Puhrmann said, with this ration, there may be feed refusal issues or spoilage in the bunks.

Rueber discussed how to convert to less distillers grains in bunk management with a transition over four to five days. Dry matter becomes the issue. If silage or corn has more dry matter than anticipated, then dry matter can get too high, and cattle can go off feed. His preference is to feed too little and catch up, then to feed too much and then have them go off feed.

Puhrmann recommended alternatives to distillers grains such as molasses, soybean meal, oilseed meal and urea. “Urea is probably the most economical alternative. Most alternatives are readily available,” he said.

Bacteria in the rumen can make protein from non-protein nitrogen (also known as NPN). Because rumen microbes can manufacture amino acids, feeders only need to add amino acids that the microbes can’t manufacture. Any ration is required to feed both the animal and the bacteria.

Consultants recommend crude protein levels of 14% for receiving diets and 13% for finishing diets. If urea is added, a .5% for receiving diets, 1% for finishing diets. Rumen-degradable protein should be 8.5% for finishing diets. After balancing ration without distillers grains, the crude protein levels will be lower. An economical way to increase crude protein is to add urea, but only up to a limit.

To avoid toxicity, only a maximum one-third of the nitrogen requirement can come from NPN. Urea should be no more than 10% to 15% of a protein supplement. NPN should be no more than 1% of the diet or 3% of the concentrate. It should contain no more than 5% of a supplement used with low-quality forages.

Touching on mixing issues, Rueber said, “Distillers grains are high in moisture. Feeders need moisture from silage or other source.” He has added 100 gallons of water per ton of feed to drier rations, just to bind the ration together.

It will be difficult to run rations above 12% crude protein without distillers grains, Rueber said. Feeders may have to be satisfied with 11% crude protein in the ration. If protein is underfed, it will impact gains.

Puhrmann said producers may not want 4.5 to 5 pounds-per-day gains in the feedlot but to hold or slow cattle for uncertain market timing.

Feeders need to look at fiber levels without distillers grains, Rueber said. Ranchers may need to buy hay, cornstalks or another fiber source. To replace the distillers grains, adding moisture makes it easier to mix rations, and adding protein and fiber to the ration will be necessary. The new ration will need to be analyzed to make sure “you’re mixing what you think you are,” Rueber said.

To switch off of distillers grains, all supplementation needs to be reevaluated, Puhrmann said.

Rueber recommended producers “utilize the local nutritionist. With the price of corn down, it is more economical to feed corn.”

Likewise, Loy said cattle feeders have several creative alternatives such as replacing distillers grains with a cereal rye cover crop harvested as silage to replace protein and moisture, but the lower energy levels must be managed.

When asked how long this disruption will last, Loy said, “How long that will take is dependent on the course of the pandemic.”

The session video recording is available on the main webinar pageend mark

PHOTO: Ethanol co-products are in short supply and has pushed some feedlots to look for alternatives. Staff photo.

Kimberly Williams Brackett is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

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