How Much Loss Will Occur If I Feed Distillers Grains on the Ground?

Producer Question from 2016

Q.  How much loss will occur if I feed dried distillers grains on the ground as a protein supplement to cows during the fall and winter on range? Dried distillers grains are readily available and I am considering if I should use it. (August 17, 2016)

A.  The amount of loss that will occur will vary significantly depending on several factors. These factors include class of cattle fed, amount of feed delivered, range or pasture conditions, weather conditions, method of feed delivery (fed in piles versus in a line), etcetera.

One research study conducted by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) found that approximately 40% of dried distillers grains (DDGS) was lost when fed on the ground to steers in the spring on subirrigated meadows. This research can be found in the 2012 Nebraska Beef Cattle Report, "Comparison of Feeding Dry Distillers Grains in a Bunk or on the Ground to Cattle Grazing Subirrigated Meadow". The DDGS loss when cattle were fed on the ground in this experiment was significant and likely due in part to the density and height of the grass on the meadow. However, the cost of feeding more DDGS to compensate for this loss may be less expensive than the cost of feeding in bunks.

Other UNL studies utilizing wet distillers grains and modified distillers grains have shown only 5% -20% loss when wet or modified distillers grains were fed on the ground. These two studies took place on upland Sandhills range.

Feeding on the ground provides management flexibility that is beneficial in grazing operations. Feeding DDGS on the ground, even with significant loss, can be an economical option to feeding DDGS in a bunk.

The following suggestions may help reduce loss if you choose to feed DDGS on the ground.

  • Feed DDGS in piles rather than in continuous lines. Cattle will tend to gather around piles with their heads to the center which may reduce trampling of feed.
  • Feed on sod where the grass is short if possible. The small particles of DDGS can become unavailable to cattle when fed in areas of tall, dense grass.
  • Consider feeding more feed less frequently. Research has shown that protein supplements fed in a grazing situation two to three times per week are just as effective for animal performance as when protein supplements are fed daily. Feeding greater amounts less frequently may help to reduce loss as cattle will have access to greater quantities of feed which may reduce aggressive behavior that contributes to trampling of feed.
  • Utilize an electric fence "hot" wire as a "feed bunk". Feeding under a hot wire helps to control access to the feed and may reduce trampling loss.

Dried distillers grains can be an excellent, cost competitive protein and energy source that complements low quality forage. Calculate how much loss you could afford in comparison to other alternative protein supplements. A video titled "Feeding Distillers Grains on the Ground or in a Bunk - How much waste is there?” by Dr. Aaron Stalker, Former Nebraska Extension Beef Nutrition Specialist, addresses this question.

Aaron Berger
Nebraska Extension Educator