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[SEPT. 5, 2006]  URBANA -- As wet corn distillers grain continues to be available and economical as a source of dairy feed in Illinois, producers may want to consider some guidelines for using it in conjunction with cornstalks, said a University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist.

"Each feed is a complement to the other in terms of balancing nutrients," said Mike Hutjens. "For example, distillers grains are high in protein, fat, energy content and phosphorous. Cornstalks are high in fiber and low in phosphorous and crude protein."

Hutjens said that research by South Dakota State University involved combining 70 percent cornstalks and 30 percent distillers grain (on a dry matter basis).

"This diet may be an alternative for older dairy heifers and far-off dry cows," he noted. "Heifer growers will see this is as a potential economical base ration with additional minerals and vitamins."

In the South Dakota trial, the combined ration was fed to 850-pound heifers to achieve an average daily gain of 1.8 pounds. Another group was fed a traditional ration. Comparable weight gains and wither-hock height growth were achieved as with use of the traditional heifer ration; but the cost per day for the conventional ration was $1.26 per heifer per day, compared with 40 cents per heifer per day for the distillers grain and cornstalk ration.

"For smaller heifers, 450-pound heifers, the cost for the conventional ration was 70 cents per heifer per day, compared to 27 cents per heifer per day for the test ration," said Hutjens. "The distillers grain-cornstalk ration could also be fed to far-off dry cows, similar to the high-straw-based diets popular in the Midwest."

Hutjens noted that there are some management considerations to be observed when feeding the distillers grain-cornstalk ration.

"Sorting can be a problem if the final ration is too coarse with cornstalks," he said. "Processing of the cornstalks is a must. The length of the cornstalks needs to be reduced to less than 2 inches using a chopper, TMR vertical mixer and/or tube grinder.

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"Feed moisture should be monitored with the wet distillers grains. If the final feed is too dry, consider adding water. Try to get the bagged cornstalks and wet distillers grains to over 50 percent moisture to get compaction and avoid heating and spoilage. The ration in the South Dakota study was mixed fresh each day from stored cornstalks and bagged distillers grains."

He added that feeding heifers more than once a day is recommended.

"Monitor feed intake -- the dry matter consumed, feed refusal -- both the amount and sorting concerns, and manure consistency," he said. "Balance mineral, vitamin and protein levels.

"If cornstalks are baled or stored outside, watch for mold formation and feed quality."

Producers should measure heifer growth to ensure growth goals are achieved.

"Most producers prefer to mix the wet distillers and processed cornstalks as needed to avoid bagging charges and save time," he said. "If the final mixture is not bagged correctly, ensuring enough moisture and packing pressure, it can heat and lead to spoilage.

"Wet distillers grain leaves the ethanol plant at a pH of 3. Little fermentation occurs in bag storage due to the low pH of the distillers grain and the limited amount of fermentable carbohydrate in the cornstalks."

[University of Illinois Extension news release]

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