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Aspects to consider before using byproduct and alternative feeds to save money

James C. Coomer for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 October 2017

Milk prices have always fluctuated and recently have stayed in a near break-even range. Dairy producers are almost always interested in cost cutting strategies to improve profitability.

Therefore, feed costs are oftentimes a prime candidate for reducing expenses since feed costs typically make up about 50 percent of total cash outlay on most dairy farms.

Fortunately, commodity and feed prices have been average or below lately, and it appears they will stay this way for the near term. However, we still need to ask, “Is there any way to save more on feed costs?”

Byproduct and alternative feedstuffs are ingredients that are usually available in localized areas and are not the primary output of some food or ingredient manufacturing process. Some byproduct feeds have become so commonplace that they are now considered common ingredients (i.e., soybean meal, corn gluten feed and dried distillers grains). However, these feeds are still secondary outputs of other primary production processes.

The increasing use of further processed foods and ingredients in the human food industry has continued to increase the number and amounts of these byproduct or coproduct feedstuffs available for use in the animal feed industry. Whatever the potential feedstuff is, there are some items that need to be considered in order to make an informed decision about whether to use the feedstuff or not. Consideration needs to be given to the nutritive content of the feedstuff, economic value of the feedstuff and other factors that affect its usefulness in the feeding program.

soy hulls

Nutritive evaluation of the feedstuff

All feedstuffs are used to supply nutrients to livestock. So, a good knowledge of the nutrient content of any feedstuff is a must before you choose to use it or not. One needs to know the crude protein content as well as the rumen degradable and rumen bypass portions. The mineral, fiber and energy content of the feed is also important, as well as knowledge of the energy source (e.g., starch, fat, fiber or sugars).

A general idea of the nutrient content of most feedstuffs can be obtained from a reliable feed analysis table (i.e., Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle, NRC 2001). This should only be used as a general estimated analysis, or average value. A sample of the feedstuff should be obtained and sent into a reputable feed analysis laboratory, since the same feedstuff from different sources can, and often will, have different analysis. If you cannot get a sample, you should ask the supplier for a copy of a recent analysis of the feedstuff.

An important factor in evaluating a feedstuff is the consistency of the nutrient content and quality of the feedstuff. It is important to know how variable the feedstuff is from a single source (individual processing plant) as well as how consistent it is across sources (from different processing plants).

Another important issue is to know the availability of the product. Is there a consistent supply all year, or is it only available seasonally? (Vegetable waste is usually only available in the summer and fall, whereas most dry feedstuffs are available all year due to the ability to store them for long periods of time.) Since most wet feedstuffs have issues with shelf life, this limits the ability to store the product for leveling out supply throughout the year.

Toxins and the presence of any other anti-nutritional factors are also an important issue when evaluating feedstuffs for use in a feeding program. If toxins are known to be present in any grains or oilseeds, then any byproducts derived from them will also have these toxins. This is because toxins are not destroyed during most processing methods.

Some byproducts have anti-nutritional factors that need to be considered, such as gossypol in cottonseed products, urease and trypsin inhibitor in raw soybeans and soy hulls. You should also be aware of any other potential problems related to elevated levels of certain minerals (high sulfur in some corn coproducts) or possible high levels of trace minerals or heavy metals.

Economic value of a feedstuff

Before choosing to use a feedstuff, some sort of economic assessment should be done to determine if it offers any economic benefit compared with other options. An evaluation should include placing a value on the nutrients supplied by the feedstuff compared with another source of the same nutrients. This evaluation may be as simple as a cost per unit of nutrient comparison between two ingredients (e.g., cost per unit of crude protein of soybean meal versus canola meal).

The next level of comparison would be an analysis of the crude protein and energy values compared with standard feedstuffs (a simple spread sheet can compare the value of protein and energy from any feedstuff versus the cost of energy and protein from corn and soybean meal). There are programs available to compare the value of a feedstuff supplying multiple nutrients with the cost of these nutrients from multiple feedstuffs (FeedVal from University of Wisconsin or Sesame from Ohio State University).

Once the initial value of the nutrients is determined, adjustments need to be made for factors affecting the feedstuff’s value as a feed ingredient. Shelf life or potential spoilage needs to be taken into consideration, since this will affect the final value of the feedstuff. Wet commodities are typically discounted 10 to 25 percent from their nutritive value due to the short shelf life and higher rate of spoilage or wastage.

Shrink from other means (i.e., wind or rain) will also affect the value of a feedstuff. Freight cost can be a major factor in the value of a feedstuff. Palatability or the lack thereof can either increase or decrease the value of a feedstuff compared with its nutritive value. A very palatable and sticky feedstuff like molasses may be worth more than its nutritive value. This is due to the positive effects it can have on intakes and also its ability to reduce feed sorting.

Other factors to consider

There are many other aspects to consider when evaluating a byproduct or alternative feedstuff. The most important of these additional considerations is, “Does this feed ingredient fit into the feeding program?” That is, does this feed ingredient supply a nutrient that is currently needed in the feeding program, or is there already a good supply of the major nutrient supplied by this feedstuff? An example might be that soy hulls are sold at a very good price and have a nutritive value well above the current price (good value). However, they primarily supply fiber in the ration and there is already a large supply of good quality haylage available to meet fiber needs. Therefore, soy hulls are not a good fit for the feeding program, no matter what the price is. Other factors can influence a decision to use a feedstuff, such as:

  1. Additional equipment needs associated with using a particular feed 
  2. Additional labor needed to use the feedstuff
  3. Potential for other feeds to move up or down in price while locked into using any particular feedstuff 
  4. Extra or unique storage facilities needed 
  5. Potential for getting “off quality” loads

While livestock producers should look for ways to control cost and be as economically efficient as possible, always consider all aspects related to the value and cost for using any alternative feedstuff in the feeding program before purchasing.  end mark 

James C. Coomer, Ph.D., PAS, is a nutritionist for Agri-King.

PHOTO: Soy hulls are sold at a low price and supply fiber to the ration, but other haylage sources already supply a large portion of fiber to meet the cows’ needs. Photo by Lynn Jaynes.

Things to consider when evaluating alternative feedstuffs

  1. Nutrient content
  2. Consistency of quality and supply
  3. Nutritive value
  4. Potential shrink
  5. Freight cost
  6. Palatability
  7. Does it fit your feeding program
  8. Additional or unique storage needs
  9. Additional or unique equipment needs
  10. Additional labor needs

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