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March 9, 2007

Feeding livestock biofuels byproducts: Is it worth the cost?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Feeding distillers dried grains is not yet a practical option for Hoosier livestock producers, but by the end of summer it will be, said a Purdue University expert.

"Right now, distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) are too expensive when considering nutritional value, transportation and storage to substitute as a feed ingredient for most of Indiana's livestock industries," said Brian Richert, Purdue Extension swine specialist. "But as more ethanol plants come into production, competition and an effective pricing system will be created, which will increase demand and utilization on the livestock side."

The price of corn has almost doubled since September, climbing from $2.50 to $4 per bushel, causing livestock producers to clench their wallets. This upward march is expected to continue. Livestock producers should ask questions, evaluate their operations and consider DDGS as an alternative in the future as the price of biofuels byproducts decrease, Richert said.

Currently, U.S. ethanol production is at 5.16 billion gallons, rendering 32.2 billion pounds of DDGS. Some estimates show that by the end of 2007, the United States will be producing 10.67 billion gallons of ethanol, putting 66.7 billion pounds of DDGS on the market, Richert said. 

"This increase in ethanol production will possibly make DDGS an affordable and attractive option, especially to beef and dairy producers," he said. 

It is important to look ahead and start planning for the future when DDGS is an economically feasible feed option, Richert said. Producers should take the full dynamics of the operation into consideration. If the operation involves both crops and livestock, corn can act as a cost center to the livestock operation or as a completely separate enterprise. One option is to sell the corn and buy back DDGS to use in ration formulations and diet feeds.

Once a producer decides to feed distillers grains, they need to look at their storage and bin capacity, Richert said. Storing and handling DDGS is challenging. The product flow characteristics and handling characteristics make it difficult to handle in some of the feed systems, he said.

"Because this product tends to bridge, you want to put it in a storage container that you can easily get access to and fairly good flow rates out of," Richert said. "This usually means an agitation system is attached, whether that is a simple ball agitator or, preferably, a cone kind of agitation system."

If storage capacity is an issue, talk with a neighbor and consider splitting a load. Feeding distillers grains creates an opportunity for local co-ops to provide a service to smaller producers, where they would have the distillers grains on hand and deliver smaller tonnages for producers to utilize. If the operation does not have the storage capacity, producers should consider whether it is worth the investment to add storage to have the opportunity to use DDGS and other future byproducts.

Another challenge is storage time, especially for the wet distillers grains. In the winter, there is a seven-day window in which the product must be used and, in the summer, the window shrinks to three days. The dry product has a storage time of up to two months, but beyond that the chances for rancidity are high.

"The important thing is for producers to plan now while the feasibility to feed biofuels byproducts is marginal in the Eastern corn belt because it will be feasible in the near future and can be fed across all species," Richert said.

Writer: Julie Douglas, (765) 496-1050, douglajk@purdue.edu

Source: Brian Richert, (765) 494-4837, brichert@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes, forbes@purdue.edu
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