By Larry Stalcup Contributing Editor
Producers always strive to improve grazed stocker cattle performance and profitability. Feedyards buying those cattle want animals that will perform at the most efficient cost of gain. Both stages of production may benefit from grazing supplemented with dried distillers grains (DDG) cubes.
Research conducted by Oklahoma State University (OSU) Eastern Research Station at Haskell and Buffalo Feeders in Buffalo indicate that steers supplemented with DDG cubes on pasture consumed less feed and had lower feed costs, says Paul Beck, Ph.D., OSU beef cattle specialist and part of the research team.
Contrary to speculation that DDG supplements can reduce on-feed performance, “our results implied that extruded DDG cube supplementation during grazing did not negatively affect subsequent feedlot performance and tended to result in higher carcass quality grade,” Beck says.
“Total system net returns were greater for steers supplemented on pasture than controls [un-supplemented stockers].”
With continued higher production costs and market swings, studies will likely always be made to help identify better methods of putting weight on cattle. Beck says the OSU study’s objectives were to evaluate the effects of the pre-finishing plane of nutrition for stocker steers on subsequent feedlot performance and carcass characteristics.
In the two-year research, 140 crossbred steers were grazed each year on tall fescue/Bermudagrass pastures at the Haskell station. Researchers measured cattle performance on fertilized pastures without supplementation and on cattle supplemented with 2.5 lbs. per day of DDG cubes on fertilized pastures. They also measured the performance of cattle supplemented with DDG cubes equal to 0.75 percent of body weight per day on unfertilized pastures to help replace fertilizer and increase performance.
“The supplemented steers gained more rapidly and were heavier at the end of the grazing season than non-supplemented steers,” Beck says. “It was determined that extruded distillers grains cubes are a suitable supplement for steers grazing on pastures, and higher supplementation rates could effectively replace nitrogen fertilization.” Feedyard Performance Once the grazing period ended, the cattle were shipped to Buffalo Feeders in the northwestern part of the state. The goal was to evaluate carryover effects on performance. Beck says steers were finished in commercial-scale pens, and steers from the various treatments were comingled. The cattle were weighed when placed on feed and at re-implanting. Bodyweights at harvest were based on carcass-adjusted bodyweight and were calculated based on pen average hot carcass weight dressing percentage. “DDG supplementation on pasture increased initial feedlot body weight,” Beck says. “Although control steers gained faster before re-implanting in both years, control steers only compensated for 40 percent of the difference in initial bodyweight from high-supplement-rate steers. They had no compensatory gain compared with steers fed the low rate of supplement on fertilized pastures.” The feeding results showed steers fed the low rate of DDG supplement on fertilized pastures compensated for 150 percent of the difference in initial finishing body weight from steers fed the high supplement rate on unfertilized pastures. Performance from re-implant to the end of finishing were similar for all treatments. “Steer harvest weight did not differ, but non-supplemented controls required more days on feed and more total feed than steers supplemented on pasture,” Beck says. “With fewer days on feed in the feedlot related to [improved] profitability, supplementing extruded DDG cubes may be a beneficial management strategy when implemented during the grazing season to maximize total system profitability.”
What About Following a Drought?
With part of the High Plains still in a drought, Kansas State University (KSU) beef cattle specialists see strategic supplementation of a DDG protein and energy sources as a potential means of offsetting the negative impacts of grazing weak sources of forage. In a 2023 report on DDG, KSU specialists Jason Warner, Ph.D., and Dale Blasi, Ph.D., monitored the use of portable self-fed feeders to provide the supplemented DDG.
They observed data from earlier studies of yearling heifers that were grazed on native range in the Kansas Flint Hills with access to DDG via self-feeders. The research measured cattle performance from the supplements with the addition of low- and high-salt treatments.
Consumption of DDG between low- and high-salt treatments showed improved average daily gain (ADG) over control cattle receiving no DDG. ADG for the control heifers was 1.91 lbs. over a 78-day trial period. That compared to 2.41 lbs. for cattle supplemented with DDG with a high (16 percent) salt treatment, and 2.62 lbs. for cattle supplemented with DDG with a low (10 percent) salt treatment.
Both DDG/salt supplements were suitable in providing more gain in the poor native grass. However, even though the low-salt DDG provided a higher ADG, overall consumption was 6.4 lbs. per day, about 3 lbs. higher than the high-salt treated supplement.
Of course, the costs of DDG or any other supplemental feed could impact the level of supplementation. In a Texas A&M AgriLife report from Southwest Texas, Extension Livestock Specialist Bruce Carpenter, Ph.D., reminds producers that “there are no magic bullets” when evaluating any feed supplement for stocker or cow-calf operations.
Carpenter says animals will perform as long as the supplement compensates for the nutrients that are lacking in the diet. “A dry cow requires a minimum of 7 percent crude protein in her diet just to keep the digestive system microbes healthy and working on forage digestion,” he says.
“When evaluating supplements, the most important factors to consider are nutrient content and price per pound of nutrients in the supplement. To choose the right one for your herd, you need to not only calculate the cost per pound of supplement but also consider the supply and quality of available forage.
“Knowing diet quality can help you evaluate supplements for their biological benefits to the animal.”
Carpenter stresses that “livestock and feed prices will tell you if that answer is economically feasible.”