DDGS provides same cow growth performance as traditional feeds

By Matt Soberg | November 10, 2011

Young dairy cows achieve the same growth performance from a diet of distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) as traditional grains, according to Purdue University studies. The ethanol coproduct is an option for dairy producers as young heifers attain similar weight gain, skeletal growth and feed efficiency, according to Tamilee Nennich, assistant professor of animal science.

“We’ve seen similar growth performance whether producers are feeding distillers grains or more traditional feeds, such as corn and soybeans. We also found that it doesn’t matter if an animal is being fed in a feedlot and has a diet based on harvested forages or if that animal is grazing,” Nennich added.

The age when it is dietary acceptable to feed DDGS to cattle is a common question, according to Nennich. Prior studies found DDGS provides a valuable feed source for adult dairy cattle due to high protein and fat content. Other studies support feeding distillers grains to starter calves. The Purdue study focused on post-weaned heifers at ages 4 to 5 months.

The first study sought to determine growth performance of heifers fed a diet containing 20 percent DDGS compared to a corn and soybean meal based diet.  The researchers found no differences in weight, hip or wither heights or feed efficiency over three months. A second study found the same results comparing heifers fed DDGS to those fed soyhulls as a pasture supplement over the same period.

When grain prices are high, distillers grains is an economical solution to farmers looking for high quality feed at a low cost. Nennich noted that farmers should ultimately base their feed decisions on price of distillers grains compared to other feed. “Even though distillers grain can be included in heifer diets from the animal performance standpoint, distillers grain should only be included in heifer diets if they are an economical choice and provide at least the same economic value, based on nutrient concentrations, as other feeds available,” she said.    

Despite the positive findings for DDGS feed, Nennich warned that the high nutrient value of DDGS may provide excess nitrogen and phosphorous in manure. Although not harmful to cattle, farmers must properly monitor excess soil accumulation if used for fertilizer.