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Ethanol provides more than just fuel

As the ethanol industry continues to grow each year, many swine producers are turning to the alternative fuel source for transportation as well as for their livestock.

Some 3.2 million metric tons of distillers dried grains (DDGS) are currently used in the animal feed industry to create a high-energy, high-protein feed ingredient that has been found to have three times the level of non-starch nutrients than original corn. According to Dr. Chad Hastad of Swine Nutrition Services in Truman, Minnesota, distillers grains -- which were traditionally fed to ruminants because of the low protein and high fiber content -- are now being fed in poultry and swine diets as well.

"Producers have been trying to use DDGS as an ingredient since the 1950s, but early feeding attempts were not as successful because the amounts of nutrients in DDGS were not right for pigs," says Hastad. "Now, modernized engineering of ethanol plants with new technologies, processing techniques and better quality control have led to improved DDGS nutrient profiles that have grabbed the attention of the swine industry."

Hastad, who conducted a number of research trials on DDGS as a graduate student at Kansas State University, spoke at Alltech's Distillers Grains Forum in October on the growing potential for using DDGS in swine nutrition.

According to Hastad, DDGS can provide an excellent alternative feed ingredient for swine production as the product can bring value while partially replacing other feed ingredients such as corn, soybean meal and dicalcium phosphate. Distillers dried grains have a highly available phosphorus content compared to other grains and grain co-products. This allows the nutritionist to use less supplemental inorganic phosphate and reduce diet cost.

"About 15% of our customers use DDGS for pigs, almost exclusively in finishing pigs," says Dr. Walter Tibbetts, a nutritionist at Agritronics in Elkhart, Iowa. "That percentage should increase as more of the proposed ethanol plants come online, especially in Iowa."

While Tibbetts pointed out that DDGS are still a product better suited for cattle, swine producers can also reap benefits from inclusion in hog diets. Some producers claim the fiber in DDGS may actually benefit them in terms of gut health, particularly in the presence of ileitis. There are also farms in Iowa where farmers use DDGS without reducing inorganic phosphorus so that they get the additional phosphorus for the fields when manure is spread.

Besides the added fiber and phosphorus components, Tibbetts said producers should also consider the use of DDGS from an economic standpoint.

"For the most part, DDGS only work in non-ruminant rations when the price is low enough to offset performance loss. It is not atypical to lose some growth rate, some feed efficiency, and some yield when incorporating DDGS in the ration," Tibbetts says. "No one likes to sacrifice performance, but if the dollars lost on performance may be offset by lowered ration cost, then producers will still use DDGS."

Hastad points out that one of the main challenges of using corn distillers grains in diets for swine is knowing the nutrient content of the specific ingredient source. Differences in product may occur because of corn varieties and geographic locations, processing factors and the ratio at which solubles are added to the grain fraction.

"These all contribute to the degree of variability found in DDGS and illustrate the importance of finding a high-quality, single source and monitoring product quality and composition," Hastad says.

As the ethanol industry continues to grow each year, many swine producers are turning to the alternative fuel source for transportation as well as for their livestock.

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