Finding the maximum amount of distillers grains to include in a livestock ration without affecting animal performance, health or environment is the focus of new Iowa State University research. The researchers are working to safely increase feed use by cattle and poultry producers of the coproduct made during ethanol production. Dry distillers grains with solubles, or DDGS, is rich in protein, oil and fiber.
Because of the large number of ethanol plants in Iowa, DDGS are a relatively inexpensive feed source for livestock and are already used as a supplement in some livestock diets. The research by Mike Persia and Stephanie Hansen, assistant professors of animal science, and Dong Ahn, professor of animal science, is funded by the Iowa Power Fund. “People in the poultry industry will feed 5% or 6% and maybe 8% of the overall diet as distillers grains,” says Persia, whose research focuses on egg-laying hens. “What we’re doing with this study is looking at ways to safely increase that percentage of DDGS in the diets.”
They’re looking at any impact feeding higher levels of DDGS will have on egg quality. “The biggest area where there might be a change is in the yolk,” he says. “DDGS is high in lutein and unsaturated fatty acids, which might change the yolk composition of fatty acids.”
• Studies focus on increasing the flexibility of distillers grains as animal feed.
• Researchers are working to increase DDGS feed use by cattle and poultry.
• Both livestock and ethanol producers could benefit from feeding the right rates.
Potential poultry problem
Another area Persia is focused on is how the DDGS will affect the waste products of poultry. DDGS are high in amino acids, which can break down into nitrogen in the chickens’ digestive system. Excess nitrogen in the manure can lead to increased evaporation of ammonia and can be an irritant that affects bird safety, human safety and the environment.
“It’s not as simple as putting DDGS in front of birds and saying, ‘Go at it,’ because you might run into production and environmental impacts,” he explains. “It’s about working the DDGS into a balanced ration and finding out where that maximum is without affecting performance, environment, product quality, and human and bird safety.”
Hansen, who is researching DDGS in cattle diets, says it already comprises about 20% to 30% of many feedlot cattle diets. Last year, when corn prices were rising and DDGS prices were still low, that percentage went up to 40% or more.
Cattle producers don’t use more of this low-cost supplement due to its sulfur content. Too much sulfur in a bovine diet can be toxic.
“The problem is DDGS have a lot of sulfur because ethanol producers use sulfuric acid in processing ethanol,” says Hansen. “We are looking into how much we can get into the diet without running into problems.” She says the industry is trying to find the best mix, and safety is one of the most important factors.
Because of the risk to the animals, Hansen’s research is focused on developing methods to monitor sulfur levels in cattle. Her goal is to develop an easy-to-use mobile test to determine when an animal is getting too much sulfur.
“We are looking for things a veterinarian could do in the field to determine if an animal is having problems with sulfur or having some other problem,” she says. “It’s hard to distinguish sulfur toxicity from other problems that might be wrong with the animal. We are trying to do a better job of diagnosing.”
Both could benefit
Once the health issues are better understood, Hansen believes a safe increase in the amount of DDGS included in cattle diets can be reached. Cattle feeders and ethanol producers could both benefit.
“We want to maximize the inclusion rates of DDGS, so it can be most economical for the cattle producer and still produce their best product,” she says.
Increasing the use, and potentially the price, of DDGS as a feed source could help ethanol producers realize better profits, too. Since the ethanol industry is still fairly new, Persia says feeding cattle and poultry the ethanol coproduct DDGS is still not a science, as researchers learn more and more about the feed ratios.
“One of the biggest hurdles is the variability in DDGS,” he notes. “DDGS varies in percentage of fiber, oil, protein and sulfur it contains. It varies from ethanol plant to ethanol plant and even within the same plant on different days.”
Source: Iowa State University
GOOD FEED: Steam rises on a cold day at the Valero ethanol plant at Albert City as distillers grains are loaded onto a truck headed for a cattle feedlot.
This article published in the February, 2010 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.