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Dairy Focus: Study the Economics of Distillers Feeds

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J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension dairy specialist J.W. Schroeder, NDSU Extension dairy specialist
Optimum Level of Use From Plant Optimum Level of Use From Plant
Feed value and shipping distance help determine whether distillers grains are a good source of food for dairy cattle.

By J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Editor’s note: This is the 12th article in a series on the issues facing the region’s dairy farmers, particularly the impact of the growing ethanol industry.

The value of the various distillers products to dairy farmers is based on the products’ feed value and the farms’ distance from the plant where the products are produced.

Distillers grains are a byproduct of ethanol production.

You can determine the economic feed value of distillers grains and other common byproduct feeds based on the nutrient content by using software programs and a link to a Web site to get current feed prices.

If you have Internet access, see:

  • Feed Val 1 - This is a University of Wisconsin spreadsheet that can be used for beef cattle, dairy dry cows and heifers, and swine rations. The break-even price of the byproduct feed is based on the current price of shelled corn (energy value), 44 percent soybean meal (protein value), dicalcium phosphate (phosphorous value) and limestone (calcium value). Users can enter their current feed prices, change the nutrient profile and adjust dry-matter content to match their feed source.
  • Feed Val 3 - This is a University of Wisconsin spreadsheet that can be used by dairy managers or consultants for lactating dairy cows. The break-even price of byproduct feeds is based on the current price of shelled corn (energy value), tallow (source of oil or fat), 44 percent soybean meal (rumen undegradable protein value), dicalcium phosphate (phosphorous value) and limestone (calcium value). Users can enter their current feed prices, change the nutrient profile and adjust dry-matter content to match their feed source.

Both of these pages will work best in Internet Explorer and are accessible on the University of Illinois Web site at http://ilift.traill.uiuc.edu/distillers/economics/index.cfm.

The North Dakota State University Animal Science Department updates a listing of regionally available byproducts quarterly at http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/aginfo/dairy/dairyext/coproduct.htm.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture updates distillers grain prices on a weekly basis using the Feedstuffs Web page that lists byproduct feeds. Several locations and feed sources are included, depending on the area of the U.S. where users are located. The Web site is http://www.ams.usda.gov/LSMNpubs/Feedstuff.htm.

As for distance from the plant, the closer you are, the better. Dried distillers grains can be stored and shipped to distant markets, yet the most economical product for the ethanol plant to sell is wet cake distillers grains because of the cost savings in not having to dry the product. Managers estimate that 35 percent to 40 percent of a plant’s energy costs are associated with drying distillers grains. Markets for wet cake usually are within a 50-mile radius of the plant and the product is shipped by truck.

Merchandisers seek local markets for wet cake because it is expensive to ship and cannot be stored. For these reasons, owners of ethanol plants build limited storage for wet cake - an average of 5.1 days of production. However, cattle feeders rapidly are adopting wet cake distillers grains as the major ingredient in diets. In addition, some feeders have found that getting calves on feed is easier if using wet cake distillers grains. Thus, the closer the cattle are to the ethanol plant, the more profitable the feedlot operation.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:J.W. Schroeder, (701) 231-7663, jw.schroeder@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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