UNL finds DDGs good source of energy, improves reproduction
University of Nebraska research shows that feeding dried distillers grains to developing heifers not only provides an excellent source of energy and protein for growth but also improves reproduction.
UNL animal scientists conducted a two-year study at two locations in Nebraska to determine if supplementing beef heifers with dried distillers grains as an energy source affected growth or reproduction.
Dried distillers grains are co-produced during the fermentation process of ethanol production, making them an economical feed choice for cattle producers due to Nebraska's ethanol industry, said Rick Funston, beef cattle reproductive physiologist at UNL's West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte.
"Ethanol production is an important industry in Nebraska, and this could potentially enhance the profitability of ethanol production from corn," Funston said.
However, cattle producers have concerns about lack of research related to possible effects of feeding dried distillers grains in developing heifer diets.
UNL scientists found that supplementing beef heifers with dried distillers grains during development did not affect age at puberty, and actually improved artificial insemination conception and pregnancy rates compared with a supplement similar in energy, crude protein and fat. Distillers grains have about 120 percent the energy of corn in forage diets and contain relatively high levels of crude protein, Funston said.
"This can make them an economically feasible energy source in replacement heifer diets," he said.
With Nebraska producers maintaining an inventory of about 2 million beef cows, at a modest 15 percent replacement rate, this represents almost 300,000 replacement heifers annually, which could equate to an additional demand of 210,000 tons of distillers grains, he said.
The studies were conducted at UNL's Dalbey-Halleck farm near Virginia and at the Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead.
In each two-year study weaned heifer calves were fed dried distillers grains or a control supplement of dried corn gluten feed, whole corn germ and urea.
In addition to this work, current UNL research also shows favorable results when it comes to feeding other beef females dried distillers grains.
"It offers a competitive advantage of feeding cattle because of ethanol plants and gives cow-calf producers an economic advantage of using these co-products as well," Funston said.
However, Funston warned against taking the "more is better approach with this--don't exceed protein in the diet," Funston said. "We found that overfeeding protein is costly and greatly overfeeding protein can have negative effects on reproduction."
The research also counters previous research of other bypass protein products which demonstrated concerns of feeding bypass protein on reproduction. Dried distillers grains are high in bypass protein which means a portion of the protein bypasses the rumen and is absorbed in the small intestine. Previous work was conducted with bypass protein sources--now with limited to no access--such as feather meal, blood meal and animal products.
"As ethanol production in Nebraska and the Great Plains expands, dried distillers grains alone may be able to provide the majority of supplemental nutrients required in forage-based heifer development diets," Funston said.
This UNL Agricultural Research Division research is funded by the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research, Nebraska Public Power District and by funds provided through the Hatch Act.