wheat field

By-Product & Alternative Feeds

By Dr. James C. Coomer, Ph.D., P.A.S.

Milk prices have decreased significantly in 2015 and look to be trending similar or lower in 2016, which will cause most dairy producers to consider cost-cutting strategies.  Feed costs are always a prime candidate for reducing expenses since feed costs typically make up about 50% of total cash outlay on most dairy farms.  Fortunately, commodity and feed prices did retreat some in 2015, and it does appear that they will stay lower in 2016.  However, we still need to ask “Is there any way to save more on feed costs?”  By-product and alternative feedstuffs are feedstuffs that are usually available in localized areas and are “NOT” the primary output of some food or ingredient manufacturing process.  Some by-product feeds have become so commonplace that they are now considered common ingredients (ie. soybean meal, corn gluten feed, 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 by-product or co-product feedstuffs available for use in the animal feed industry.  Whatever the potential feedstuff is, some things need to be considered 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, the economic value of the feedstuff and other factors that affect its usefulness in the feeding program.

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.  You need to know the crude protein content as well as the rumen degradable and rumen by-pass portions.  The mineral and energy content of the feed is important, as well as knowledge of the energy source (eg starch, fat, fiber or sugars).  A general idea of the nutrient content of most feedstuffs can be obtained from a reliable feed analysis table (ie. 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 a different analysis. If you cannot get a sample, you should ask the supplier for a copy of a recent analysis of the feedstuff.

Another 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, where most dry feedstuffs are available all year due to the ability to store them for long periods)?  Since most wet feedstuffs can have issues with limited 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 by-products derived from them will also have these toxins, since toxins are not destroyed during most processing methods.  Some by-products have anti-nutritional factors that need to be considered, such as gossypol in cottonseed products, urease, and anti-trypsin 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 co-products) or possible high levels of trace minerals or heavy metals.

The Economic Value of a Feedstuff:

Before choosing to use a feedstuff, some sort of economic assessment of the feedstuff should be done to determine if it offers any economic benefit compared to other feedstuff options.  An evaluation should include placing a value on the nutrients supplied by the feedstuff compared to another source of the same nutrients.  This evaluation may be as simple as cost per unit of nutrient comparison between two ingredients (ie. cost per unit of crude protein of soybean meal vs canola meal).  The next level of comparison would be an analysis of the value of the crude protein and energy of a feedstuff as compared to some standard feedstuff (a simple spreadsheet can compare the value of protein and energy from any feedstuff compared to the cost of energy and protein from corn and soybean meal).  There are also programs available that compare the value of a feedstuff supplying multiple nutrients and compared to the cost of these nutrients from multiple feedstuffs (FeedVal from Univ. of WI, Seasame from Ohio State Univ.).

Once the initial value of the nutrients is determined, then adjustments need to be made for factors that affect 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 10-25% from their nutritive value, due to the short shelf life and a higher rate of spoilage/wastage.  Shrink from other means (ie, wind or rain) will also affect the value of a feedstuff.  Freight cost can also 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 to 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 factors to consider when evaluating a by-product or alternative feedstuff.  The most important of these additional considerations includes “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 soyhulls are 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, soyhulls are not a good fit for the feeding program, no matter what the price is.  Other factors that can influence a decision to use a feedstuff are; 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. AK