Almost a third of the 146 million bushels of Ohio-grown corn used by the state’s growing ethanol industry ends up in a byproduct called distillers grains, which can be used as a cheaper feed alternative for cattle, sheep and swine.
In the past animal nutritional requirements and high fat, nitrogen and sulfur content of distiller’s grains (DGS) have limited the use of the byproduct to 25% of cattle diets. The restriction has led to a reduction in potential savings for producers as well as fewer employment opportunities and profits for ethanol plants. But, Ohio State University researchers are working to change that.
“Both the biofuels and livestock industries are jeopardized unless discoveries are made to allow increased use of DGS in animal rations as a viable and cost-effective substitute for corn grain,” said Steve Loerch, an animal scientist with Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster.
Loerch and colleague Francis Fluharty have developed a nutrition strategy that allows producers to feed pregnant beef cows and sheep up to 80% DGS, and growing heifers and feedlot steers up to 70% DGS — more than doubling its potential use.
Likewise, researchers at OARDC have developed technologies for modifying DGS for non-ruminant food animals such as swine, further expanding the market and profitability of ethanol production. These advancements are helping turn DGS from a byproduct to a highly valued co-product with an annual market value of $180 million in Ohio alone.
“The goals of our research are to discover strategies to increase utilization and value of distillers grains in livestock diets to reduce production costs, reduce manure output and potentially improve meat quality,” Loerch explained. “These discoveries benefit producers, the emerging biofuels industry, Ohio corn growers and consumers.”
Estimates show increased use of the 1.2 million tons of distiller’s grains generated annually by Ohio’s ethanol industry could reduce feeding costs by 20-50% compared to using corn and hay- – saving Ohio cattle producers more than $100 per cow each year. That could save the state’s livestock producers a total of $20 million. DGS also can help decrease manure output by 50%, contributing to environmental quality.
“As tight as profit margins are right now, we can’t afford not to use distillers grains to reduce our feeding costs and remain in business,” said Stan Smith, owner of Smith Simmental Farm in Canal Winchester and an OSU Extension program assistant. “Ohio State’s research is helping us do that.”
Another interesting discovery made by OARDC animal scientists is that DGS can nearly eliminate the need to treat grazing lambs for internal parasites.
“Internal parasites are a major problem with sheep raised on pastures in the eastern U.S., and if an all-natural way of reducing worm infestations can be found, then the profitability of this industry would be greatly enhanced,” Fluharty said.