With corn prices rising, producers look at alternative feeds
Cattle are the ultimate recyclers. They can take forage and grains and convert it to energy and protein to produce beef for consumers. Beyond the normal feed ingredients, however, cattle are able to use other coproduct feed ingredients to grow and perform, similar to a grain-based diet.
As corn prices continue to climb, many cattle producers and feeders are looking for alternative feed sources to put into rations—even in their own backyards. For instance, a pasta plant in Carrington, N.D., produces shaped macaroni and spaghetti. The rejected pasta from that plant is ground up and used as an energy source in cattle and pig rations. In other areas, proximity to gummy bear manufacturers offers unique coproduct options that cattle can consume and gain well on.
At Beef Northwest Feeders in Oregon, commodity bays that once held corn or silage now contain mountains of french fries, Tater Tots and hash browns. When you have an Ore-Ida plant just down the road, it makes sense to look at potato coproducts to feed cattle. Tons of rejected potato products, much of it still frozen, arrive daily. It is then mixed with corn and other feed ingredients to create a well-balanced and palatable ration that the cattle grow very well on.
Barry Kane, manager of Beef Northwest’s Nyssa, Ore., feedyard, says cattle love the potato products and that feed conversions and carcass quality are good. "The potatoes offer very competitive rates of gain, and we have definitely been satisfied in cattle performance. Having access to the potato coproducts helps keep cost of gain competitive."
Pasta and potato products are just two examples of alternative feed for cattle. Other ingredients vary by region based on the crops grown and food and ethanol manufactured.
North Dakota produces more than 3 million tons of feed coproducts each year, says Vern Anderson, an animal scientist at the Carrington Research Extension Center in the eastern part of the state. The availability and variety make it a very viable option for replacing some if not all of the corn in a ration. "We have studied a number of coproducts in this state, and every one has different nutritional values," he says. "That’s why it’s good to work with a nutritionist to formulate rations."
Know the nutritional value. Alternative feeds can vary widely in nutrient content, making an analysis of the feed value necessary, Anderson says.
To create a balanced ration, you need to know the energy, protein and mineral levels. "With alternative feeds, we recommend wet chemistry analysis to determine nutrient content," he says. If near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is used, ensure that the laboratory has calibrated its equipment for a specific feed; otherwise, the analysis will not provide accurate data.
How often should you test? Anderson says the nutrient profile of coproducts is pretty consistent.
"Periodic analysis every few months is acceptable, but some nutritionists like more frequent samples—it depends on how precisely the feeding is done. There may be some variation from year to year for grain quality, which affects coproduct nutrients," he says.
Ki Fanning, a nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting (GPLC) in Eagle, Neb., warns that with coproducts you have to watch the levels of fat, sulfur and highly processed carbohydrates in the diet.
There is still a lot of discussion on the maximum levels of sulfur before polioencephalomalacia (PEM) symptoms occur, Anderson says. "National Research Council guidelines say 0.4% of the diet. Practical work has observed levels of 0.5% to 0.6% with no serious issues." Test and consult a nutritionist to avoid problems.
Storage options. The high moisture content of many coproducts makes delivery, storage and feeding a challenge. Proximity to the processing plant where the coproduct is coming from is essential to keeping costs in check. High moisture content may limit storage time and can freeze in the winter.
For the most part, no special equipment is required. Most products can be handled with a front end loader, except for liquids, which may require a pump to move product into feed trucks.
Do expect a bit more wear and tear on feed trucks or mixers, Kane says. "The moisture content from the potato coproducts tends to corrode feed trucks, which increases equipment replacement."
"Vertical mixers are popular as a way to feed several types of forage," says Zeb Prawl, a GPLC nutritionist. "They allow producers to utilize poor-quality forages by mixing with higher-quality coproducts without having to grind hay separately."
Find Alternative Feeds
Alternative feed ingredients can vary depending on region. Vern Anderson, an animal scientist at North Dakota’s Carrington Research Extension Center, says basic economics dictate if, when and how much coproduct can be included in the ration. Other limitations include:
- seasonal price variation;
- amount available;
- processing; and
- nutrient suitability.
As with any commodity, contracts or volume purchases may be negotiated at less than spot market prices.