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The Effect of Supplementation of Distillers Grains to Calves on Hay Intake, Feeding Behavior and Growth Performance

Research projects have concluded ethanol byproducts can be an effective supplement. NDSU researchers are going further investigating the effects these byproducts might have of feeding behavior.

Feed costs represent a large proportion of the total costs of production and greatly influence profitability of beef production (either in feedlot cattle fed high-concentrate diets, backgrounding cattle or cows grazing or fed foragebased diets). Therefore, developing strategies to improve the efficiency of feed utilization and reduce feed costs is important.

Significant research has been conducted on supplementation programs for grazing or forage-based feeding programs. In general, supplementation usually improves performance by increasing the digestibility and intake of the forage and/or supplying additional energy or protein. The use of ethanol byproducts, such as corn dried distillers grains plus solubles (DDGS), as a supplement source for forage-based feeding/grazing systems has increased in recent years. Research projects have concluded that DDGS can be an effective supplement for forage-based systems.

Cattle in FeedlotHowever, less is known on the effects of supplementation on feeding behavior. The feeding system at the new NDSU Beef Cattle Research Complex allows us to measure every feeding event throughout the day, giving us the opportunitity to gain a better understanding of how dietary or management treatment influences feeding patterns. Changes in feeding behavior may be associated with differences in performance because of potential differences in digestive function and efficiency.

Additionally, interest has increased in determining what genetic and physiological factors influence feed efficiency in cattle because of the potential impact improvements in efficiency could have on profitability. Much of the recent research on factors influencing feed efficiency has been conducted with feedlot cattle fed grain-based diets. The factors contributing to differences in feed efficiency are likely different between cattle fed high-grain diets and high-forage diets. Data is limited on the physiological factors influencing feed efficiency in cattle receiving forage-based diets. Also, limited information is available on why specific animals may respond to supplementation better than other animals.

Seventy steer calves are housed in three pens equipped with Insentec feeders in the NDSU Beef Cattle Research Complex. Within each pen, calves are assigned to one of three dietary treatments: 1) medium-quality grass/alfalfa hay offered for ad libitum intake, 2) supplementation of DDGS at 0.5 percent of body weight (dry-matter basis) and medium-quality hay offered for ad libitum intake and 3) supplementation of DDGS at 1 percent of BW (DM basis) and medium-quality hay offered for ad libitum intake.

Insentec feeders allow for offering specific amounts of feed (or ad libitum access) to individual animals out of common feeding stations and recording the amounts and times of all feeding events.

Calves will be fed experimental diets for 112 days. Body weights will be taken every 28 days to examine growth traits. Feed intake and behavior traits (time at feeder, time per meal, meal size, eating rate, number of meals and visits to the feeder) will be assessed and feed efficiency calculated. Real-time ultrasound measurements (backfat, rumpfat, longissimus muscle area and longissimus muscle marbling) will be taken on day 0, 56 and 112 to assess body composition changes that may be associated with differences in feed efficiency. Blood samples will be collected by jugular venipuncture every 28 days and analyzed for metabolites to provide information on metabolic processes that may influence feed efficiency.

This experiment should provide producers with information on the impact of supplementation of distillers grains to growing cattle fed medium-quality forage on performance and feeding behavior. It also should increase our understanding of the variability in feed utilization among animals and what is contributing to this variation in supplemented and non-supplemented animals.

Kendall Swanson, Associate Professor, NDSU
Department of Animal Sciences

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