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Hogs dig DDGs

01/05/2012 @ 9:01am

With the enormous expansion in Midwest ethanol production, hog producers in the region would be remiss if they didn't examine the use of dried distillers grain (DDG) in their feed rations.

Sometimes they can save a little money with DDGs, sometimes they can save a lot.

DDG swine rations appear to be a success story within both the hog industry and the ethanol industry. And corn farmers would be remiss too if they didn't sit up and take notice, as the more DDGs that hog farmers buy, the less whole corn (and soymeal) they need.

Some hog producers are very familiar with DDGs, while others are not. But even the veterans should keep up with co-product trends that are taking place, because it's not a static industry.

Ethanol In Transition

One Midwest corn miller says it's an industry "in transition," with the possibility of a different menu of feed products -- and different pricing -- within the next five to ten years.

It's called "fractionation," or the process of selling the corn kernel off in smaller and smaller pieces. And livestock producers, as well as corn farmers, can expect to hear a lot more about it. In fact, a new research center on the topic just opened last fall at Southern Illinois University. But current research claims that fractionation added 15 cents a bushel to the 2009 corn crop. So you can expect processors to do more of it.

For hog farmers, fractionation is already a concern because some ethanol plants are removing the high-energy corn oil from DDGs. There's even the possibility that the DDG solubles may be sold separately.

DDG Buyer Beware

Table courtesy University of Illinois.

While the industry talks of dried distillers grain, most of what's currently sold is DDG with solubles, called DDGS. That's what most of the hog-nutrition research is based on. Solubles are dissolvable nutrients in the water when corn is fermented for ethanol. After fermentation (which removes the corn starch), the liquid is wrung out of the remaining undissolved grain. That dried undissolved grain is called DDG.

At the same time, the liquid is dried, yielding "soluble" nutrients that are added back to the DDG. The solubles are rich in protein and energy for the hogs, and must be part of the ration. Since plants can sell their solubles separately, hog producers need to make sure they are getting solubles with their DDG.

Currently underway at some plants is the removal of corn oil from DDGS. In fact, farmers who feed DDGS have started to classify ethanol plants as "high-fat" or "low-fat," depending on how much oil is in the DDGS. A high-fat plant may sell DDGS with as much as 10-12 percent oil, but University of Illinois nutrition researcher Hans Stein has seen levels as low as 4 to 6 percent. (He also reports that some DDGS is de-oiled.)

Through fractionation, even protein levels can vary widely, and the feed buyer needs to know what he's getting from each plant. "Despite a lot of progress in the ethanol industry to produce a consistent (DDG) product, there's still quite a bit of variability for some nutrients," says northern Iowa hog producer Leon Sheets. "You can't buy DDGS based solely on price -- you have to look at the nutrient value that each plant is supplying," says Sheets, who has used DDGS for about 10 years.

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