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Dairy Focus: Extend the Shelf Life of Wet Distillers Grains

J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension dairy specialist J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension dairy specialist
Pros and Cons of Ensiling Distillers Grain Pros and Cons of Ensiling Distillers Grain
NDSU's dairy specialist offers tips on preserving distillers grains.

By J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Editor’s note: This is the ninth article in a series on the issues facing the region’s dairy farmers, particularly the impact of the growing ethanol industry.

Nearly every food and many beverages for human consumption have an expiration date stamped on their packaging.

If you haven’t tried adding wet byproducts to your livestock meals, don’t be surprised that feed, such as wet distillers grains, has a shelf life as well. In fact, the shelf life is only a few days during the summer months.

This poses a distinct problem when your contracted supply exceeds your immediate needs. So, when the opportunity comes along to purchase large quantities at a reduced price, how do you store it?

Our North Dakota State University research experience with wet gluten and wet distillers grains has provided some information worth sharing. In addition, our good friends at South Dakota State University have been experimenting with methods of preservation. Here are some recommendations to help you store your wet byproducts.

  • Preserve it alone or with another feed.

Wet distillers grains are a rich source of protein, fat, phosphorus and sulfur. If you choose to ensile it with another feed, pair it with one that complements its nutrient profile. Good candidates include low-quality, high-fiber feeds, such as chopped corn stalks and straw made from small grains. Wet distillers grains also pair well with other byproduct feeds, such as soy hulls and wet beet pulp. Corn silage also is a good match.

If blending two feeds before ensiling doesn’t appeal to you, ensile it alone. Keep in mind, however, that both options come with their share of advantages and disadvantages.

  • Ensile it immediately.

Time is of the essence when preserving this highly perishable product. Ensile wet distillers grain and gluten as soon as possible, preferably the day it arrives on the farm.

Both NDSU and SDSU have found that silage bags work well for storing wet distillers grains. We found that ensiling it in a bunker was much more challenging.

  • Wet byproducts going to the silage bag should contain no more than 50 percent dry matter.

When ensiling wet byproducts with another feed, the product going into the silage bag should contain no more than 50 percent dry matter for optimal packing. To achieve this goal, choose “traditional” wet distillers grains. These products typically contain 35 percent dry matter. Avoid using the newer “modified” wet distillers grain because it contains 50 percent or more dry matter.

In addition, if you blend wet distillers grain with a feed that exceeds 50 percent dry matter, such as corn stalks, straw or soy hulls, make sure the combination does not exceed 50 percent dry matter. Ask your nutritionist to help you determine the correct proportion of each feed to use to keep the ration below 50 percent dry matter.

If you ensile wet distillers grain alone, however, you can exceed 50 percent dry matter by a little bit and still get a good pack, according to SDSU information.

  • Fermentation is key.

Before you pack it into the bag, verify that your wet distillers grain has a pH between 3 and 3.5. A low pH enhances preservation, especially when you ensile wet distillers grain with corn stalks or other high-fiber feeds that don’t contain enough water-soluble carbohydrates for proper fermentation.

Most wet corn byproducts come from the processing plant with a pH between 3 and 3.5. Just make sure to ask for an analysis.

Preservation begins during the first few hours after you fill the silage bag. This process causes the bag to swell, so don’t fill it to maximum capacity or it may rip. In addition, leave the bag open for a few hours before sealing it to allow for fermentation gases to escape.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:J.W. Schroeder, (701) 231-7663,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
EPS - Pros and Cons of Ensiling Distillers Grain
(dairy_distillers.eps - 214.40 Kb)
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