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Feeding distillers grains? Keep this in mind

Jeff Caldwell 11/15/2011 @ 7:55am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Are you feeding distillers grains to your beef or dairy herd?

Despite recent slides in the grain markets, corn is still relatively expensive as a feedstock. It's making distillers grains a more attractive feed source option for even younger animals as long as it's managed properly.

Previous research shows young heifers can glean more protein from distillers grains than corn at a lower cost. But, other more recent data from Purdue University shows distillers grains can be fed earlier than that, as early as in calf starter diet.

"We found that it doesn't matter if an animal is being fed in a feedlot and has a diet based on harvested forages or if that animal is grazing. Distillers grains can be an option in either situation," says Purdue Extension dairy specialist Tamilee Nennich.

It does come with a catch; since the corn's starch is removed during the ethanol refining process, protein, fat and mineral content is higher. That makes it important to closely monitor distillers grains rations.

"It's really important to monitor the nutrients animals are getting in their diets," Nennich says in a university report. "The most important reason is because we want to make sure we are meeting nutrient requirements. If animals are short on protein or energy, they might not achieve the growth rate we'd like them to."

There's one more consequence of feeding distillers grains. Cattle don't completely absorb those higher levels of nutrients, so it requires additional planning with manure management.

"If producers are feeding a fairly high level of distillers grains, they're most likely going to exceed the heifer's nutrient requirements," Nennich says. "Those nutrients will be excreted in higher levels in the manure. Because of that, farmers are going to need to account for the nitrogen and phosphorus in the manure when they are planning application rates and the amount of acreage they need to apply that manure."

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