As wet corn distillers grain continues to be available and economical as a source of dairy feed in Illinois, producers may want to consider some guidelines for using it in conjunction with corn stalks, says a University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist.
"Each feed is a complement to the other in terms of balancing nutrients," says Mike Hutjens. "For example, distillers grains are high in protein, fat, energy content, and phosphorous. Corn stalks are high in fiber and low in phosphorous and crude protein."
Hutjens says that research by South Dakota State University involved combining 70% corn stalks and 30% distillers grain (on a dry matter basis).
"This diet may be an alternative for older dairy heifers and far-off dry cows," he notes. "Heifer growers will see this is as a potential economical base ration with additional minerals and vitamins."
In the South Dakota trial, the combined ration was fed to 850-pound heifers to achieve an average daily gain of 1.8 pounds. Another group was fed a traditional ration. Comparable weight gains and wither/hook height growth were achieved compared to the traditional heifer ration; but the cost per day for the conventional ration was $1.26 per heifer per day, compared to 40 cents per heifer per day for the distillers-corn stalk ration.
"For smaller heifers, 450-pound heifers, the cost for the conventional ration was 70 cents per heifer per day compared to 27 cents per heifer per day for the test ration," says Hutjens. "The distillers grain-corn stalk ration could also be fed to far-off dry cows, similar to the high straw-based diets popular in the Midwest."
Hutjens noted that there are some management considerations to be observed when feeding the distillers grain-corn stalk ration.
"Sorting can be a problem if the final ration is too coarse with corn stalks," he says. "Processing of the corn stalks is a must. The length of the corn stalks needs to be reduced to less than two inches using a chopper, TMR vertical mixer, and/or tube grinder.
"Feed moisture should be monitored with the wet distillers grains. If the final feed is too dry, consider adding water. Try to get the bagged corn stalks and wet distillers grains to over 50% moisture to get compaction and avoid heating and spoilage. The ration in the South Dakota study was mixed fresh each day from stored corn stalks and bagged distillers grains."
He added the feeding heifers more than once a day is recommended.
"Monitor feed intake - the dry matter consumed, feed refusal - both the amount and sorting concerns, and manure consistency," he says. "Balance mineral, vitamin and protein levels.
"If corn stalks are baled or stored outside, watch for mold formation and feed quality."
Producers should measure heifer growth to ensure growth goals are achieved.
"Most producers prefer to mix the wet distillers and processed corn stalks as needed to avoid bagging charges and save time," he says. "If the final mixture is not bagged correctly, ensuring enough moisture and packing pressure, it can heat and lead to spoilage.
"Wet distillers grain leaves the ethanol plant at a pH of 3. Little fermentation occurs in bag storage due to the low pH of the distillers grain and the limited amount of fermentable carbohydrate in the corn stalks."