Aaron Stalker: Distillers grain a viable option for drought management
Mixing wet distillers grain with a poorer quality forage and feeding it to cattle could be used as a drought management strategy. According to University of Nebraska Beef Range Systems Specialist Aaron Stalker, researchers have studied using wet distillers grains as a substitute, rather than a supplement, for pasture, based on pasture rental rates.
A recent rental rates report by Bruce Johnson shows Nebraska Sandhills grass – where the Gudmundsen ranch is located – costs $38.60 per month for a cow-calf pair. Based on an estimate of what the pair will eat, Stalker said it would cost $80 a ton (dry matter basis) for rented grass.
“If grazed forage is valued at $80 a ton, then the TDN from the forage is $148 a ton, assuming the TDN is 60 percent,” Stalker explained. “If wet distillers grain is valued at $50 a ton and wheat straw is $50 a ton, then the TDN from a 50:50 mix is $121 a ton,” he said. “This does not account for cost of storage and delivery, but we could potentially feed this mixture for less than what we could rent grass.”
Producers wanting to feed cattle wet distillers grain this summer need to select a poorer quality forage to mix with it, Stalker said. “The forage acts as a filler in the rumen that takes up space so the cattle won’t consume more grass,” he said. “We need to have enough wet distillers grain in there to be palatable, but enough forage to act as a filler.”
Stalker has conducted studies mixing wet distillers grain with meadow or wheat hay and feeding it to cattle. In one study, 70 percent meadow hay was mixed with 30 percent wet distillers grain on a dry matter basis, and fed to cattle in mid-June. At this time of year, Stalker said forage quality is at its peak and so is its palatability; however the cattle will still eat this mixture even when they have access to high quality range.
The producer can use anything from wheat straw, cornstalks or even cattails to mix with wet distillers grain, Stalker continued.
“It doesn’t matter what forage you mix in, just use whatever you have on hand, and the poorer quality the better,” he said. “You just have to adjust the ratio based on what you choose.”
For instance, meadow hay or wheat straw can be mixed 60:40 wet distillers grain on a dry matter basis, which works well as a substitute to grazed forage, Stalker explained.
Research studies from the last seven years have evaluated the influence of wet distillers grain and a poorer quality forage on forage intake and range pasture conditions.
“We don’t see a reduction in the condition of range pastures,” Stalker said of the studies, “although, we have seen slightly more utilization where we are feeding this mixture than our controls.”
Editor’s Note: For more information, Stalker can be reached at 308-696-6707, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.