August 2009
Feeding Facts

Feeding Facts

August is here. We are experiencing what is so great about the Southeast—hot and humid weather. These days will not last much longer and thoughts will again turn to winter feeding at the most economical cost.

At this time of the year, a lot of producers will start making decisions on their weaning and winter feed products. Several of these producers will take a long look at commodities due to the cost and, to a degree, the nutrition of these by-products. As you consider these alternative feed sources, this is a very good time to remember some rules of thumb in purchasing and managing by-product feed ingredients.

The first consideration when selecting a by-product is there is a lot of variation among the same ingredient. A by-product, as the name implies, is what is left over after further manufacturing has removed the product desired. The product removed could be sugar, fat, protein or starch, and what you have left over is the commodity you purchase for your winter feeding. The concern is that different manufacturing plants standards and procedures might leave a product inconsistent in nutrient value.

Also remember their number one goal is to remove the desired product from the ingredient. This could leave you with a left over product that is inconsistent in quality as well. I see several loads of by-products each year that have been burned or scorched leaving an undesirable product for the animal.

With this being said, my first suggestion when considering a by-product is to purchase all your commodity needs at the same time from the same plant. This should allow reduction in some of the inconsistencies in the product occurring over a period of time at a given plant. I would also encourage you to inspect the product when it arrives at your farm. If it smells scorched, has an off-color or does not look consistent, I would not purchase the product. Each winter, I receive calls from producers who have ingredients the cattle will not eat. The problem is, the plant does not have to guarantee the quality of the product only the nutritional value on the tag. In general this means you have no recourse if you purchase a load of ingredients that cattle will not eat.

Another consideration when purchasing by-products is the process by which the manufacturer removes the desired ingredient. This could leave high levels of certain products or minerals that could cause problems when fed free-choice. For example, corn gluten has a high level of sulfur, and when fed free-choice, the possibility exists that sulfur could tie up vitamin B production and a producer could have calves showing signs of vitamin B deficiency.

Soyhulls have a very high level of calcium and, when fed at heavy rates to cows, can cause milk fever, especially at calving time on fields fertilized with chicken litter. Distiller grains is another example of a product that can be inconsistent from plant to plant. Distillers come from either the whiskey industry or ethanol industry. The product from the whisky industry seems to be more consistent and of a higher quality than that coming from the ethanol industry.

As you can see, there are several considerations before you even look at the nutritional value of the feed. After giving consideration to quality and consistency issues, next consider the nutritional value of the product. There is a wide variation in protein, starch, fat, sugar, minerals, vitamins and fiber levels across ingredients.

Depending on what you are using the product for, this could be a very big consideration for your operation. If you are using the by-product as your sole feed-source, knowing and understanding these differences can be huge for performance and cost per pound of gain of your animals. The decision is not as big if you are mixing ingredients, but when feeding alone, it can make a big difference in the profitability of your operation. The wide range in protein percent and quality can cause growth deficiency. Feeding a product low in sugar and starch can starve the microbes, decrease feed efficiency, reduce growth and reduce performance. Feeding a product without knowing the mineral and vitamin levels can lead to another set of problems like mineral toxicities, poor reproductive performance, poor immune response, milk fever and reduced milk performance.

A final consideration when feeding a commodity, especially free-choice, is the manufacturer cannot guarantee the cattle will not experience problems like bloat, founder and acidosis. When offered free-choice, cattle can consume large amounts of these products at a given time and this can lead to such disorders. While founder and acidosis usually come from an overload of starch, bloat comes from a lack of effective fiber in the calf’s diet. Remember, just because the ingredient may be high in fiber, it does not eliminate the possibility of bloat. Most of the fiber in commodities is finely-ground and is not effective in preventing bloat. Also, while recommended by some, Bovatec® in a feed or as a mineral source is not labeled as a bloat preventative and cannot be sold or guaranteed as a product to prevent bloat.

I realize why the thought of feeding commodities is so attractive—-the cost of these ingredients versus that of a complete feed can be very different. At the same time, remember a complete feed is a group of ingredients, minerals and vitamins formulated to give the very best performance at a very competitive price. With the use of a complete feed, comes the advantage of a manufacturer who will stand behind that product if there is a problem with that feed. Also remember with each commodity comes a new set of management practices to implement for the very best performance in your herd as well as the lack of support from the companies making the product.

I am saying all this as a reminder; as we make considerations for the fall feeding season, choose a product best fitted to your needs at an effective cost. Consider all advantages and shortcomings of by-products before deciding the direction to go. When fed properly, by-products can be an excellent product offering numerous advantages.

If you have any questions about the nutritional value of ingredients or if you would like any assistance in selecting the very best product for your situation, please contact me.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If you would like to contact him, please feel free to call at (256) 947-7886 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He looks forward to hearing from you or visiting with you in the future.