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Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

Distillers grains is a great value in livestock, poultry feed

January 11, 2012Beef, Poultry

A lot of people don’t realize that when you use corn to make ethanol, the ethanol plants merely take out the starch from the kernel of corn and leave the rest – a high-protein feedstuff for livestock to still utilize. This is a corn co-product, often called distillers grains. In Nebraska, this type of feed is easily found from one of the 24 ethanol plants and is a high-quality feed for livestock – especially beef.

Research conducted at the University of Nebraska and supported by the Nebraska Corn Board has often demonstrated the high value of feeding distillers grains to cattle.

The board has published several feeding guides, including one focusing on beef cattle that came out last fall. In that corn co-product manual, the researchers noted distillers grains (produced by ethanol plants) have a feeding value at an optimum inclusion level in the ration that is 13-50 percent greater than that of corn alone.

The highest feeding values were for the wet and modified (partially dried) distillers grains, while the fully dried distillers grains were on the lower end. Click here to view and download the beef and other guides.

A new report from the USDA looked at the feeding value of distillers grains for all animals. It found that distillers grains has a tremendous feed value and is replacing more corn and soybean meal in livestock and poultry rations than previously thought.

According to the report, 1 metric ton of distillers grains can replace, on average, 1.22 metric tons of other feed consisting of corn and soybean meal. That's because distillers grains essentially concentrates the protein and other key nutrients found in every kernel.

Every 56-pound bushel of corn processed by a dry mill ethanol plant generates 2.8 gallons of ethanol plus 17.5 pounds of animal feed – but that animal feed has a greater value than that number indicates. USDA said the amount of feed replaced by distillers grains represents nearly 40 percent (on a weight basis) of the corn used in the ethanol production process.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association, the report dispels the conventional assumption that every bushel of corn processed by an ethanol plant generates an amount of feed equivalent to just one-third of the original corn bushel.

"The value of the animal feed produced by the ethanol industry has long been misunderstood, understated and misrepresented," said Geoff Cooper, RFA vice president of research and analysis. "Distillers grains continue to be the industry’s best kept secret, despite the fact that we are producing tremendous volumes of this high-value feed product today. Distillers grains and other ethanol feed products significantly reduce the need for corn and soybean meal in animal feed rations. Over the past several years, distillers’ grains have been one of the most economically competitive sources of energy and protein available on the world feed market."

Feed product volumes from ethanol plants approached 39 million metric tons in the 2010-11 marketing year. For more, click here.