Cattle corn and soybean meal diet

The traditional corn and soybean meal diet is new to many, but producers have been adjusting well.

The decline in ethanol production has livestock producers turning back to corn as distillers are in short supply.

“We have a whole generation of cattle feeders and nutritionists who have never put together a ration with so much corn in it,” says Dan Loy, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University.

“They are all learning about how we fed livestock 15-plus years ago.”

As ethanol plants became more common, co-products from the plants began to carve into the popularity of corn. The livestock industry found that not only were co-products less expensive, but in some respects outperformed corn in the bunk or the feeder.

But production has suffered since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Loy estimates plants were operating at 50 to 60% capacity at the low point, adding that percentage has been increasing lately.

“Cattle feeders in particular really like the wet and modified distillers, because that has a higher feeding value than corn,” he says.

Over the past decade, Loy says feedlots have used anywhere from 20% to 50% distillers in rations, with the high mark coming during the drought of 2012. The amount of corn in rations rarely tops 50%, he says.

“Now we’re seeing rations with 70 to 80% grain,” Loy says. “Distillers are very forgiving, where if you don’t manage corn carefully, you can issues with acidosis. You need to make sure you are getting enough roughage and fiber in the ration.”

He says feedlots add roughage to rations as a safety factor, usually around 2% of the ration. Loy says the lack of starch in distillers adds further safety measures to the diet.

Using an ionophore can also help manage rumen pH, he says.

Feeding more corn also brings protein more into play. Distillers are a good source of protein, while corn and forage are not.

Loy suggests using soybean meal or a premix as a protein source. Liquid protein may also be used, he says.

Hog producers have learned how to get along without distillers over the last two to three months, says Joel DeRouchey, Extension swine specialist with Kansas State University.

He says the traditional corn and soybean meal diet is new to many, but producers have been adjusting fairly well.

“For a lot of the spring we really didn’t have a lot of distillers available,” DeRouchey says. “Corn and distillers are very different products. Distillers has more protein and higher levels of calcium.”

Balancing rations remains relatively simple, he says. Pigs perform very well on the corn/soybean meal diet, DeRouchey says, adding corn will have a higher oil percentage than distillers.

Feed mills have made adjustments as they grind more corn.

“When they grind corn, the mills have to take more time to produce feed,” DeRouchey says. “They have also had to increase their stock of corn as there is more demand.”

He says most grow/finish rations include 10 to 30% distillers.

“We’ve need a lot of corn to make up for that,” DeRouchey says.

Flowability of feed could also be an issue. He says while distillers flow pretty easily from the bin to the building, ground feed has sometimes been stuck in the bins or tubes.

“You’re going to have to watch that if you go to the corn and soybean meal diet,” he says.

DeRouchey says both rations are highly palatable to pigs in all phases of the production chain.

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.