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In the Grip of Drought, Producers Turn to By-Product Feeds

Posted Jul. 31, 2006

I don't know what we have done to Mother Nature, but she is mad. Lack of rain has caused cattle producers to scramble for any means possible just to hold on to their cattle. This proposition would have been hard enough just based on this year's lack of moisture. But, the fact that many producers are fighting the effects of last year as well has made it darn near impossible. However, if we are trying to stay positive, then one good thing that has come out of all this is we have had to stretch conventional thought paradigms and incorporate some pretty unorthodox thinking.

An example of this revolves around supplementing alternative feedstuffs to mature cows. Now, don't get me wrong, we should rarely ever feel good about hand-feeding mature cows 75 to 80 percent of their daily nutrient requirements. However, it is nice to know we could if it is economically justifiable and the cattle are "good" enough to merit this kind of thinking.

Assuming the cattle justify keeping, the next hurdle becomes what to feed. This very issue has been a hot topic around here for seemingly the last year and especially the last few months. Most of these discussions have centered on alternative feeds, commonly referred to as by-products. These feeds come up most often because they are becoming more and more available, most of them have nutritional merit and can be worked into a feeding program and, compared to most other feedstuffs, are cheap. However, as with most things, there are limitations to when and how these feeds can be used, which requires education on the user's part.

Misconceptions about the nutrient content of these products are common. Although there are many that definitely can contribute to a ration, there are just as many that, other than being filler, have very little nutritional value. As expected, these products are very inexpensive, but it is mainly due to their low nutritive value. Oftentimes, these feeds have such limitations nutritionally that, if fed solely, an animal will have a hard time physically consuming enough to meet protein and energy requirements. Thus, these products have to be blended with other, more nutrient-dense (and generally more expensive) feedstuffs. The best way to get around this potential problem is by educating yourself regarding not only the nutrient content of these feeds, but the nutrient requirements of the class of animals you are feeding. Table 1 depicts the nutrient values of some of the more common by-products in Noble's service area (a 100-mile radius of Ardmore), as well as references an article that contains the nutritional values for over 200 feeds.

Keep in mind that these nutrient values can vary depending upon the time of year, type of by-product and the technique used during the milling process. The best way around this is to ask your feed representative, have a sample analyzed and be conservative (but practical) when developing a feeding program using these feeds. Other considerations are potential palatability problems due to negative physical and chemical properties (i.e., tannin levels, bitterness, fines), potential metabolic disorders (primarily bloat), seasonal availability and the limited ability to incorporate feed additives (ionophores, antibiotics, etc.).

Figure 1 represents performance results for five of the most prominent, energy-based, by-products available in our service area fed at .75 percent of body weight during two trials conducted here at the Noble Research Institute. Differences are apparent, but all five provided acceptable performance levels. Overall, these feeds definitely have a place. Their limitations can be managed if we educate ourselves as to what these limitations are and remember there is a reason why these feeds are called by-products.