DDG, beet pulp, wheat straw good mix for late gestation beef cows

Mar 8, 2013
by DTN

With sky-high alfalfa prices and alfalfa supplies short because of the drought, a recent University of Nebraska feed trial shows that a mix of co-products and wheat straw can make an economical substitute that will not sacrifice performance.

Dr. Terry Klopfenstein, professor of ruminant nutrition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told DTN about a recent study feeding wheat straw, distillers grains and beet pulp to late gestation beef cows.

Klopfenstein said Karla Jenkins and Matt Luebbe, assistant professors of animal science at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center at Scottsbluff, NE, were the lead researchers on the trials.

The idea for the experiments came from the shortage of hay in the Nebraska Panhandle after the winter of 2011, which was only exacerbated by last year’s drought. With beef producers searching for alternatives to high-priced alfalfa, the researchers knew that wet byproducts mixed with wheat straw made a good fit.

“Especially in western Nebraska, the drought became a critical issue. There is a tremendous shortage of forage,” he said. “With not as much grass and much less hay produced, there was not much else to fall back to but crop residues.”

Despite current high prices, distillers grains are still a good value for beef producers, Klopfenstein said.

“For years, I taught my students that the cheapest source of protein was alfalfa, but now it is distillers grains,” he said.

Another good choice is beet pulp, which is fibrous and highly digestible. It makes a great cattle feed, and is generally available beginning at beet harvest in October until the processing is finished, sometime in February/March. Beet pulp is sold primarily to cattle feeders, similar to wet distillers grains.

Beef pulp is a good energy source, while distillers is a great protein source. Even with the wheat straw, the diet is limit fed to cows to avoid overeating as the distillers is very palatable.

Two experiments were conducted at Scottsbluff, both involving late gestation beef cows. In the first experiment, cows were fed distillers and wheat straw or alfalfa hay. At the end of the trial, the cows fed distillers and wheat straw gained as much weight and had equal body condition to the cows fed just alfalfa hay.

In the second experiment, cows were fed either a 30:70 mix of wet distillers and wheat straw, a 20:20:60 mix of wet distillers, beet pulp and wheat straw, or just alfalfa hay. The cows fed the wet distillers/wheat straw diet and the wet distillers/ beet pulp/wheat straw diet gained more weight and had improved body condition compared to the cows fed just alfalfa hay.

Klopfenstein said that increased performance is due largely to the energy value of distillers grains and the beet pulp.

“Distillers has more than twice as much energy as alfalfa,” he said. “In fact, we had to limit the amount of the distillers and wheat straw diet, or the cows would have gotten too fat.”

Klopfenstein said producers still need to weigh prices of available feed ingredients to come up with the lowestcost ration.

“It is all about the economics,” he said. “Beet pulp is a great buy if you can get it, but this year you had to have it contracted as it was in high demand. And wheat straw was more expensive this year than others, also because of high demand.”

All in all, Klopfenstein said crop residues and wet co-products can be a great solution for beef producers.

“If the economics are favorable, you can feed crop residues and wet distillers or beet pulp to cows to meet their nutritional needs,” he said. “When hay is highpriced because it is in short supply, this is a great alternative to hay.”

Although drought is somewhat normal in western Nebraska, the degree of drought currently has made the research especially relevant, Klopfenstein said.

“It was fortunate that Karla got this research going,” he said, “so that when we’re dealing with producers, we have the research to demonstrate that they can use crop residues with coproducts.” — Cheryl Anderson, DTN