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Not all coproducts are created equal

Nebraska is known as the Cornhusker state for good reason. But the state also boasts one of the nation’s most prolific ethanol production industries with a capacity of 2 billon gallons, or 13% of the nation’s overall ethanol production capacity — second only to Iowa.

With 25 ethanol plants operating in the state, gobbling up 769 million bushels of corn, or 52% of Nebraska’s corn production, there are numerous coproducts from those plants that are utilized by cattle producers, mostly in the form of meal, pellets or cubes.

According to Dennis Bauer, University of Nebraska Extension educator, not all coproducts are the same, and nutrient content is not equal.

Unique processes

Of the corn consumed by plants to produce ethanol, around 254 million bushels, or 33%, is fed as distillers grain or other co-products to cattle, replacing corn in their rations, says Bauer, who serves in Brown, Keya Paha and Rock counties. Because of the high cost of corn, more producers are utilizing cheaper coproducts in their rations. But unique processes utilized at ethanol plants produce different types of coproducts.

Only two plants in Nebraska utilize the wet milling process. ADM at Columbus and Cargill at Blair are “bigger and more expensive to build, and have been around a while,” Bauer says. “But they make more products.” From wet milling, coproducts like steep, starch, sweetener, alcohol, wet corn gluten feed and dry gluten feed are produced.

Corn gluten feeds normally have between 19% and 24% crude protein, with energy content about the same or slightly higher than corn. “Gluten feed is easier to pellet because it doesn’t have the fat content in it like distillers grains,” Bauer says. “To pellet distillers grains, they can’t use 100% distillers because of the high fat content, so they blend about 60% distillers grains with soy hulls or wheat midds.”

Dry mill products

The plants that utilize dry milling procedures produce distillers solubles and the better-known distillers grains that can be wet, modified or dry. Distillers grains in all forms normally contain about three times the amount of nutrients as corn, including 30% crude protein, Bauer says. Energy content is about 125% of corn, but can run as high as 140%.

The liquids, like liquid steep from the wet milling plants or distillers solubles from the dry milling plants, are the cheapest forms of coproducts to feed. As the products work farther along in the milling process, they become more expensive, with dry gluten feed from the wet milling plants or dry distillers grains from the dry milling plants in the pellet or cube form as the most expensive.

Bauer says that producers who like to use pellets or cubes can often purchase those directly from some ethanol plants, but several feed mills also make them.

“Both gluten feed and distillers grains contain about 0.8% phosphorous,” says Bauer. “Feeding 2 pounds of either product on a dry matter basis is like feeding 2 ounces of a mineral containing 16% phosphorous, thus eliminating the need for phosphorous in the mineral supplement.”

He says, “The protein in gluten feed is 70% digestible intake protein, or DIP, which is utilized by the microbes in the rumen, while the protein in distillers grain is approximately 65% undegraded intake protein, or UIP, which bypasses degradation in the rumen and is utilized directly by the animal for growth, maintenance, pregnancy and lactation.”

Learn more about corn coproducts by contacting Bauer at 402-387-2213, or by


PILE IT UP: Distillers grains, like this pile of wet distillers with soluble (WDGS), and other ethanol coproducts are high in energy and are a good feed buy for balanced rations in these days of high corn prices.

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.