August 2012
Feeding Facts

Commodity Feed

August is here and 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 them 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, I think this is a very good time to remind you of some rules of thumb to consider in purchasing and managing by-product feed ingredients.

When selecting a by-product, first consider the amount 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 the leftover is the commodity you are purchasing for winter feeding.

The concern is that different manufacturing plants standards and procedures might be different leaving a product that might be inconsistent in nutrient value. Also remember their number one goal is to remove the desired product from the ingredient. I see several loads of by-products each year that have been burned or scorched making it undesirable to the animal.

My first suggestion is to purchase all your commodity needs at the same time from the same plant. This should allow you to reduce 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 the 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 B vitamin production and a producer could have calves with B vitamin deficiency. The sulfur toxicity issue is a growing concern in areas with cattle drinking sulfur well water and being fed an ingredient high in sulfur. The results of this program have been cattle showing signs of polio and eventual death to the animal. Soy hulls 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. Distillers 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 product from the ethanol industry. Distillers work better as a mixing ingredient versus trying to feed this product as a standalone feed.

As you can see, there are several considerations before you even look at the nutritional value of the feed.

After considering the quality and consistency issues, you must 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 as far as performance and cost per pound of gain on your animals. The decision is not as important if you are mixing ingredients. The wide range in protein percent and quality can cause growth deficiency, reduced milk production and lower weaning weights. Feeding a product low in sugar and starch can starve the microbes in the rumen. The purpose of these microbes is to break down grass and hay. If you utilize a program that does not keep these microbes reproducing, you will experience a decrease feed efficiency, reduced growth and reduced performance. Feeding a product with unknown 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 that AFC cannot guarantee you 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, this does not eliminate the possibility of bloat. Most of the fiber in commodities is finely ground and is not effective in preventing bloat. Also remember that while recommended by some, an ionophore like Bovatec® or Rumensin® in a feed or as a mineral source is not labeled as a bloat preventative and can not be sold or guaranteed as a product to prevent bloat.

I understand why the thought of feeding commodities is so attractive: the cost of these ingredients versus 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. Also, with the use of a complete feed, comes the advantage of a manufacturer who will stand behind their product if there is a problem with that feed.

I would also encourage you to look at research and to talk to other producers about the true cost of using a commodity-based feeding program. A feed that is the cheapest per ton sometimes will cost you much more in cost per pound of gain or cost per nutrients provided. I would recommend, if you are looking to use a commodity feeding program this winter, you look into the use of a product like STIMU-LYX® Tubs as a way to improve the efficiency of the commodity while providing a good mineral and vitamin supplement in a palatable form to the cattle. Remember that 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 to remind you of the considerations for the fall feeding season: choose a product best fitting your needs at an effective cost; consider all advantages and shortcomings of by-products before deciding the direction you want to go; when fed properly by-products can be an excellent product that can offer a producer 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 at 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. or (256) 947-7886.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. He looks forward to hearing from you or visiting with you in the future.