Editor’s note: The following was written by Warren Rusche, assistant professor and South Dakota State University Extension feedlot specialist, for the university’s website.
For the last 20 years, co-products from corn processing have been the primary source of supplemental crude protein for cattle feeders. Expanded ethanol production resulted in plentiful supplies of distillers grains, allowing feeders to formulate diets at a lower cost of gain.
But the fuel and transportation issues triggered by the pandemic began to shift the assumption that distillers grains were the sole option.
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At the same time, we witnessed increased oilseed demand brought about by greater demand for renewable diesel fuel. If greater crush capacity results in more plentiful, less-expensive soybean meal, how could cattle feeders take advantage?
An experiment at the SDSU Southeast Research Farm compared soybean meal and soyhulls to distillers grains with the objective of determining if there were performance differences.
We used three different diets: 1) a standard Midwest finishing diet using modified distillers grain; 2) a diet where we substituted soybean meal for corn and distillers; and 3) a diet where we substituted soybean meal and soyhulls for distillers. All diets had the same crude protein content, and the diet with soyhulls had the same amount of fiber as the distillers-based control diet.
We found no appreciable differences in cattle performance, feed efficiency, or carcass characteristics between steers fed different protein sources. Cattle feeders should base protein supplement decisions on cost per unit of delivered crude protein and feed handling capabilities of individual yards.