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Managing feedlot rations with ethanol coproducts

By Staff | May 13, 2020

-Farm News file photo With the lack of ethanol coproductis available for cattle feed, growers are having to rely on other protein and energy sources for their beef cattle.



Feeding ethanol co-products has become a reliable feed source for several of Iowa’s beef producers. But with the cutbacks within the ethanol industry there are now limited supplies of ethanol co-products available for cattle feed.

“COVID-19 has affected the lives of billions of people around the globe. Businesses have closed, the economy is at a standstill in many places. Agriculture and the producers of food have continued to produce their products as food is essential for life and therefore, so is their work. As we all know, beef is the preferred protein. Supply disruptions are affecting the beef industry with the immediate impact on the feedlot sector,” said Dan Loy, director of the Iowa Beef Center.

The beef feed lot industry throughout the upper Midwest, Loy said has become reliant on those ethanol coproducts as major ingredients for cattle feed.

“We have a product that is higher in protein, equal to, or higher in energy in corn grain and for much of the past 15 years has been priced lower than corn grain,” he said. “The net result is our cattle feeders have been incentivized to feed just as much as they safely can feed.”

What are some other sources for protein producers can consider for the time being?

Loy said with the reduced availability of dried distiller grains and modified distiller grains, soybean meal, soybeans, urea, corn, alfalfa can be utilized in a beef cattle diet.

“These are the traditional protein sources we fed prior to the ethanol era to beef cattle,” he said. “Basically on a cost per unit of protein, they’re all quite similar. So if they are available, they can fit the need.”

Dave Rueber, beef production specialist for Innovated Ag Services in northeastern Iowa recommends beef producers reach out to the experts before switching their cattle’s diets.

“Make sure you are utilizing your nutritionists, or a beef specialist utilize those folks,” he said. “Extension does and an awesome job, the Iowa Beef Center does a good job. The folks are out there.”

In Rueber’s area, he said they are fortunate to be able to continue to feed corn gluten.

“The availability of gluten has been pretty good,” he said. “We have had some brokers and feedlots that booked a little bit heavy, so what we have been doing for some folks that can’t get a hold of distillers, we have been switching some product around from different places. People that are unfortunately having to switch off from a wet distillers product can switch off to wet gluten.”

The availability of distillers, Rueber said has been difficult. And if they are available the cost is becoming a factor.

“Three of the main ethanol plants in our area are looking at mid-May for either drastic reductions in tonnage or shutting down completely,” he said. “We are planning accordingly with that. Even those plants that have stayed running, if you don’t have the wet distillers contracted, the price has become cost prohibitive when you start talking $100 to $100 a ton for modified distillers when corn is at $3 or under. The pencil doesn’t make that work economically.”

In some cases, Rueber said producers have been trying to get by, keeping their cattle on the ration they had while letting the cattle finish.

“We have some people continuing to use distillers even though it wasn’t necessarily economical,” he said.

What have been some alternatives?

“We have had some producers going the soybean meal route, with more interest going to a urea based supplementation program which could be a combination of liquid feeds or dried protein pellets,” he said. “The beauty of this is there is a lot of different options. The gluten has made it easier in our neck of the woods. We are in a situation where we are certainly changing some things. Make sure your nutritionists are involved in the decision making.”

Dustin Puhrmann, beef production specialist for United Farmers Cooperative in northwest Iowa said the availability of the ethanol co-products in his area as well as the surrounding tristate area has been drastically reduced.

“We have had a lot of plant closures, or a lot of plants have slowed down for scheduled maintenance that maybe would have taken a week before, is taking maybe two weeks or longer,” he said. “Availability is really dependent on what broker you were working with to get your feed, whether or not you can get feed anymore. If you do have a broker that is getting feed, what percentage of that feed can you get? I say some brokers that are getting feed are getting 50% of what they were getting. We are trying to stretch those pounds and tons as far as we can and we also have gone to a fair amount of more urea based supplements, on the liquid side for the most part.”

Puhrmann said they have begun taking distillers completely out of quite a few of the diets in his area over the last three to four weeks.

“We added some alfalfa hay there to fill in the gaps where the urea wouldn’t quite fit,” he said. “One of the other changes we see is those byproducts gave us some buffer in the rumen and the percentage of starch goes up and all of a sudden our dry matter starts to increase, our starch levels increase, and bunk management becomes even more critical as we grow those cattle. It’s been a challenge.”

Rueber said when it comes to making these diet changes, he recommends doing everything gradually.

“Those cattle may have seen little or no urea. It if is soybean meal coming in, that is an easy transition, the only thing with meal is you have to watch for separation if you are coming in with a pound to pound and a half meal type feed you will want to have moisture in that ration to help tie that bean meal up so it is not separating,” he said. “With urea, if it comes as a liquid protein source it is a little easier to manage. If it comes in a dry form, it can be a little more difficult. Managing for dry matter and that urea change, do everything gradual. Bunk management principles don’t increase more than half to three quarters of a pound at a time and hold for couple days before you change again. Go back to the basics.”

Both Rueber and Puhrmann agree that soybean meal should be readily available but that urea may be the go to feed source.

“I think urea will probably be the over-riding source of protein as we go forward,” said Rueber.

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