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Finishing cattle on ethanol co-products gives you more bang for your buck

Jeff Caldwell 05/11/2010 @ 9:56am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

A new study shows you may be able to finish cattle on lower-cost ethanol co-products without losing the carcass traits that ultimately fetch top market dollar.

Researchers at the University of Illinois (UIUC) say starting cattle on corn and moving to co-products later on can help better sustain profits while achieving similar high-end results.

"If you can initiate marbling at a young age with corn, calves are smaller and they eat much less, so feeding them corn for 100 days early saves on feed costs," says UIUC animal science specialist Dan Shike. "This system will use considerably less corn and achieve the same effect."

A finishing-cycle study pitted 4 cattle groups: Pasture-fed and those on high-, intermediate- and low-starch diets. All 4 groups were then finished on an intermediate-starch diet. The cattle on intermediate- and low-starch diets earlier on were fed ethanol co-products throughout.

"The cattle on pasture had significantly lower marbling. But there were no differences in the cattle fed varying levels of starch," Shike says. "If you look at the overall profitability, we actually lost a little money on the high-starch group, the pastured cattle barely made any money, but the intermediate- and the low-starch groups showed a big swing. There's about a $45 difference between the high-starch and intermediate-starch treatment groups, and low starch was comparable to intermediate."

Finishing on co-products also helps trim finishing times by up to 5 months, Shike says. Though a totally corn-based feed program may not be ideal in times of high grain prices, the plan is typically most cost-effective in research thus far.

"Additional research is needed," Shike says. "But we believe feeding a high-grain ration to cattle at a young age and finishing them on co-products is the most profitable way to produce high-quality beef."

A new study shows you may be able to finish cattle on lower-cost ethanol co-products without losing the carcass traits that ultimately fetch top market dollar.

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