Ethanol byproducts an affordable puzzle piece

Trinity Lewis
for Tri-State Livestock News

Ten years ago stories about ethanol consumed a majority of the headlines across the nation. It was about that time that the Energy Independence and Security Act was signed by Congress and the President requiring 15 billion gallons of renewable fuels be used in America’s fuel portfolio by the year 2015. During that period corn producers basked in an excellent corn market while beef producers stretched every dollar working to compensate for their increased feed bill.

Although the roar of ethanol-everything has now been boiled down to a mere sticker on a majority of gas pumps claiming “Contains up to 10% ethanol,” ag producers have settled in to a new face of feedstuffs resulting from the ethanol craze.

Dried Distillers Grain with Solubles (DDGS) have increased in popularity over the past decade much to the increase in availability thanks to the ethanol industry. Originally the distilling process byproduct was mainly a result of distilling alcohol for human consumption. Now with the constant demand for ethanol for fuel DDGS production has sky-rocketed. According to numbers released by the United States Department of Agriculture, ethanol reached a record 15.14 billion gallons during the 2015-16 marketing year compared to 14.66 billion gallons the year prior. As a result 35.7 million metric tons of DDGS was produced in 2015-16 and that number has climbed each consecutive year with the 2017-18 production of DDGS coming in at 37.6 metric tons.

“The main benefits of dried distiller grains are the high protein levels, the high fat levels, and the fact that up to 60 percent of the protein is ‘by-pass’ protein, which is absorbed in the intestine, rather than the rumen.” Lee Jay, owner of W Bar Feeds in Hulett, WY said. “DDG used to be considered a ‘by-product’ of the ethanol production, and the largest expense was the freight. But with the increased market surge and the international trading of this high protein commodity, it is now considered a ‘co-product’, and the demand seems to be steadily increasing, in both the meal and the pelleted form. A lot of producers are using it in their feeding programs, not only in the feedyards, but also in the cow-calf operations. At 30 percent protein and up to 10 percent fat, it makes a very affordable protein and energy supplement for many operators. While the meal form is still the most common, many ethanol plants are installing pellet mills to pelletize the DDG, making it easier for the producers to store, handle, and feed.”

But, like with all feeds, the benefits of DDGS are accompanied by a downside as well. “As with any feed ration, the protein and energy must be balanced, more protein is not always the answer. While the fat is a good energy source, it needs to be complimented by adequate levels of fiber in the diet in order to prevent digestive upset.” Feeding hay along with DDGS seems to be a popular route and one that Jay has seen to be effective. “The by-pass proteins need to be accompanied non by-pass proteins, in order to ensure the rumen is getting enough protein to maintain a healthy microbe population. Probably the biggest area of concern is the high levels of sulfates and phosphorus that can be present in DDG. If a feed rationed is not well balanced and complimented by a solid mineral supplementation program, absorption of some key nutrients can be compromised. No need for alarm, but it should be discussed as part of a feeding plan.”

Jay stated that at their store they often mix in loose mineral with DDGS addressing those concerns. “Nearly every custom mix we build for customers includes DDG as some part of the mix. I try to first find out what the customers end goal is (backgrounding heifers, finishing cattle, etc…) then determine the amount of DDG to add to the mix, along with corn, oats, grower pellets, etc… to achieve the optimum balance of protein and energy. We will often add minerals to the mix to balance the calcium, phosphorus, and make sure they are getting the proper levels of trace minerals needed to reach peak performance. If a producer has potential health issues within their herd that are of concern, we can add approved medications at this time as well.”

As ag commodities begin to creep upward DDGS remains an economical option, at least for now. “Historically, the DDG market has mirrored the corn market, following closely behind. Low corn, low DDG. But with the recent surge for high protein commodities, coupled with the high demand from China and other foreign nations for high proteins, DDG has created a spot in the marketplace all its own and more closely follows the soybean and cottonseed markets.” Lee Jay stated.

On a global scale political trends seem to influence every aspect of agriculture. Few would have thought, however, that the need for cleaner fuel would provide livestock producers with a great option for feed that is now fed, at least on some level, on a majority of operations across the country.