Managing Through Feed Supply Disruptions
By : Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension Beef Feedlot Management Associate, Courtesy of extension.sdstate.edu
- Availability of distillers grains may be limited in some locations because of production slow-downs related to COVID-19 and changes in the supply-demand picture for fuel.
- Alternative protein sources are available, including oilseed meal, commercial supplements with and without urea, and high-protein roughages.
- Cattle feeders should visit with their nutritionist or Extension specialists to make sure that all the implications of changing supplemental protein sources are considered.
Distillers Grains May be Less Available or Affordable
The events of the last few weeks have certainly created a host of unintended consequences and challenges. One of the latest issues to pop up has been the changes in the distillers grains marketplace. COVID-19 mitigation measures have dramatically reduced miles driven in the U.S. and consequently reduced the amount of ethanol produced. Many plants have either reduced output or are considering similar measures. A side effect of all these actions is reduced supply of distillers grains on the market, markedly higher prices for all forms of distillers, and potential availability issues.
This situation poses a challenge for the cattle feeding industry given that nearly all cattle fed today receive some amount of corn processing byproducts. Distillers grains have proven to be an economical source of crude protein, allow diets to have less starch without reducing energy concentration, and in the higher moisture forms provide benefits for improved mix integrity and diet conditioning. It is no wonder that many feeders have never fed cattle without using distillers, or at least not in the last 15-20 years.
Alternative Sources of Protein
We do have options available that will let us meet the cattle’s needs and our performance objectives. The ideal choice will be dependent on product availability and price in your location as well as available storage and handling equipment. Some of these options include:
- Oilseed meal. For most of the cornbelt, soybean meal will be the most widely available, but in some regions sunflower, canola, or other oilseed meals could be options. Soybean meal is often considered the “gold standard” of protein supplements because of its high CP concentration and consistency. Compared to distillers, soybean meal will have less rumen undegradable protein (RUP) which could be of concern with lighter cattle with higher metabolizable protein requirements.
- Commercial supplements. These are available in both dry and liquid formulations. Dry supplements can be formulated with or without urea, while most liquid supplements are urea and molasses based. A key advantage for commercial supplements is that the formulations are consistent and can include all necessary vitamins, minerals, and medications.
- High-protein forages. Certain forages such as high-protein alfalfa or early cut grass forages could supply all or a portion of the supplemental protein required. This strategy will likely result in reduced dietary energy concentration due to the substitution of concentrate for forage. In a recent SDSU silage feeding experiment, steers fed twice the roughage (approximately 6 vs. 12%) required an additional 14 d on feed.
Fixing this issue is not as simple as just swapping out one feed ingredient for another. Producers should consult with a qualified nutritionist to evaluate all the options and consequences changing diets. It may be time to evaluate dietary crude protein levels, especially if the cost per unit of protein is increasing. Replacing distillers with a supplement with increased CP concentration (such as soybean meal) would result in greater corn inclusion and therefore increased risk of sub-acute acidosis. Moving away from feeds such as wet or modified distillers could affect cattle feeding behavior and increase amount of sorting in the bunk. Because distillers grains typically contain relatively high amounts of P, switching protein sources may require a re-formulation of the vitamin/trace mineral supplement as well.
Another resource that is available to help feeders evaluate different feedstuff choices is the Feed Cost Comparison tool. This tool evaluates feedstuffs based on the delivered cost of protein or energy on a dry matter basis considering dry matter and nutrient content and the estimated costs of delivery.