The Use of Ethanol By-Products in First-Calf Heifer and Steer Finishing Rations
Brian S. Kreft, Paul E. Nyren, and Anne C. Nyren, CGREC



Materials and Methods

Results and Discussion

   Cow performance

   Calf weaning weights

   Post weaning–backgrounding

   Finishing and carcass


Interest in increasing ethanol production in North Dakota has grown due to increased cost for petroleum products. North Dakota’s ethanol production capacity is relatively small, but produces by-products which are very useful to supplement cattle diets. Minnesota and South Dakota supply much of the by-products used here in North Dakota.

We were asked to evaluate some of the products produced by Sweetpro Feeds of Walhalla, North Dakota. They produce 250 lb. protein tubs made from ethanol by-products as well as some other specialized feeds. These products were tested to determine how they can be best utilized in North Dakota beef production.

Materials and Methods

At Central Grasslands Research Extension Center, seventy-nine first-calf heifers and their calves were stratified by cow weight, calf sex, and calf age, and then assigned to either a group that was fed Sweetpro products or a control group that was not. This study will be conducted for two years with two replicates and the animals will remain in their assigned group for that time. All other management is the same for all groups.

The animals were weighed and assigned to their groups on May 20, 2003. Sweetpro tubs were offered free choice throughout the year to the Sweetpro groups. The calves were weaned on October 9, 2003 and October 27, 2004. Weights were taken on November 17, 2003 (39 days post weaning) and February 18, 2004 (132 days post weaning) when the heifer calves were removed as replacements. The steers were finished and went to harvest on July 12, 2004. The cows remained in separate groups throughout the winter, however replicates were combined during the calving period. Weights on the cows were recorded at turnout and weaning. The cows were exposed to Angus bulls for about 55 days per year. The bulls were rotated to a different pasture each week. Conception rates were also recorded. All groups of cows had access to trace mineral salt and mineral throughout the study. Feed intake was recorded on each group.

Results and Discussion

Cow Performance

Young cows, especially first-calf heifers, have a higher nutrient requirement than older cows and many benefit from supplementation to improve weaning weights and conception rates. Table 1 gives a summary of the two-year study. There was no statistical difference within year for cow weight or cow average daily gains. There was a statistical difference between years. Both groups were heavier and gained more weight the second year. As the first-calf heifers matured they became heavier. There was no difference in non-pregnant females. It appears that the supplement had no effect on cow performance.

Table 1. Cow performance using ethanol by-products 2003-04.


Weaning Weight (lbs)

Average Daily Gains (lbs)

Non-Pregnant Percent










1197 a

1186 a

1192 A

0.23 a

0.08 a

0.15 A

2.5 a

5.0 a


1343 a

1379 a

1359 B

0.63 a

0.64 a

0.64 B

5.0 a

9.0 a

Rows of treatment means followed by different lower case letters are significantly different within a year (P<0.05).

Columns of means followed by different upper case letters are significantly different due to year (P<0.05).

Calf Weaning Weights

The calf weaning weights were analyzed by set, treatment and year. Table 2 shows that there was a statistical difference between the control and Sweetpro heifers in 2003 but not in 2004. The Sweetpro steers were significantly heavier and gained faster than the controls. The Sweetpro calves averaged forty-five pounds heavier and gained 0.3 lbs/day faster than the control calves. This weight difference was due to their intake of the Sweetpro product and probably from increased milk production from their mothers. No milk production data was collected however.

Post Weaning - Backgrounding

This study has only collected one year of post weaning data to this point. Calves are believed to have less weaning stress and increased weight gains if they are familiar with their rations after weaning. Weights were recorded 39 and 132 days post weaning to examine any differences that exist (Table 2). The Sweetpro heifers tended to be faster gaining and the steers were significantly faster gaining until day 39 post weaning. As they were fed longer, the control calves compensated and adjusted to their rations. On February 18, the control heifers had significantly out-gained and the steers had equal gains compared to their Sweetpro fed counterparts. Feed intakes were similar for all treatments. It appears that Sweetpro may be beneficial during weaning stress but has little to no effect if fed longer.

Table 2. Calf performance from post-weaning to the finishing phase using ethanol by-products rations.


Post weaning







Calf Wt (lbs)

ADG Calf 39 Days


Calf Wt


ADG Calf 132 Days (lbs)

Calf Wt


ADG Calf 145 days (lbs)

Heifer Calf Performance



   1.40 a*


2.11 a





1.74 a


1.88 b



Steer Calf Performance



1.65 a


2.38 a


3.01 a



2.17 b


2.38 a


3.14 a

All Calves Performance



1.53 a


2.25 a





1.94 b


2.11 a



*Columns of means followed by different letters are significantly different due to treatment (P<0.05).

Finishing and Carcass

The steers started the finishing phase on February 18, 2004. They were fed a common self fed diet of corn, wheatmidds, and a supplement that balanced the ration and also contained Rumensin. All groups were offered free choice long stem hay. Additionally the Sweetpro steers had a product called Fresh Start added to the ration and the Sweetpro tubs were discontinued. Fresh Start is a distillers product with additional yeast and some alcohol remaining in it. During the last 45 days the Sweetpro steers received two quarts/head/day of an undistilled mixture of grains which contains about 6% alcohol. The steers were weighed on July 12, 2004 and harvested in Dakota City, Nebraska. There was a slight increase in average daily gain for the Sweetpro fed calves (3.14 lbs vs. 3.01 lbs) however it was not significant. The Sweetpro steers averaged 1311 lbs while the control steers weighed 1228 lbs. Most of this difference in weight occurred before weaning. Table 3 shows the carcass information. There was no statistical differences in marbling scores, ribeye area, or the percent of steers grading choice or higher. There were significant differences for carcass weight, yield grades, backfat, and kidney pelvic and heart fat. The Sweetpro steers tended to have carcasses that were heavier and contained more fat than the control fed steers. Perhaps they could have been harvested earlier than the control group. Feed intakes were similar in all groups. Funding was not available to do shear force or taste testing on this group of steers, but perhaps it will be available next year.

Table 3 Summary of Sweetpro carcass data for 2003 ( steer calves).



Carcass Weight




Kidney, Pelvic & Heart Fat

% Choice


   491 a*

733 a

2.92 a

0.37 a

12.46 a

2.14 a

80 a


526 a

802 b

3.19 b

0.48 b

12.93 a

2.33 b

95 a

*Columns of means followed by different letters are significantly different (P< 0.05).

The Sweetpro group of cows consumed 205 lbs of product from May 22, 2003 until weaning on October 9, 2003 or about 1.46 lb per day for that period. The calves consumed 83 lbs of product during their wintering period or about 0.63 lb per day. The cows were offered the tubs throughout their wintering period and consumed 167 lbs per cow until they were turned out to pasture and consumed 136 lbs per cow throughout the summer until weaning. In this one year production period from weaning until weaning, the cows consumed a total of 303 lbs of Sweetpro products.

The Sweetpro tubs improved weaning weights and early post weaning growth but showed little or no advantage on cow performance or calf backgrounding performance. The products used during the finishing phase had little effect on carcass merit, however the calves were heavier with increased fat in their carcasses. More work may be warranted in this area. We will continue to observe this year’s calves through their backgrounding and finishing phases. A complete summary will be presented next year.

NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center
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