September 2008

The primary goal of grain processing is to increase energy (starch) availability to improve cattle performance (Owens et al., 1997). Typical processing methods reduce grain particle size with or without addition of water or steam (Owens, 2008). Some common grain processing methods are steam-flaking, dry-rolling, high-moisture harvesting and storage, and reconstitution.Steam flaking is extensively utilized in areas where there is less availability of corn, as a means of maximizing its feeding value. Steam flaking is known to increase the feeding value of corn above that of whole or dry-rolled corn (Zinn et al., 2002); however, it is also the most costly processing method. Most consulting nutritionists consider the energy value of steam-flaked corn to be 10.9% greater when compared with dry-rolled corn and 6.8% greater compared with high-moisture corn (Vasconcelos and Galyean, 2007). Where corn is available at lower prices, cattle feeders prefer less expensive, less intensive processing methods (i.e., dry rolling and high-moisture ensiling).

As observed by UNL workers (Macken et al., 2006), the economic return from processing corn is dependent on variables such as corn price, feed efficiency response, energy cost, and size of feedyard. These costs and variables can vary for individual feedyards. Macken et al. (2006) conclude that steam-flaking yields better economic return compared with feeding dry rolled corn in both 5,000- and 20,000-head feedlots. Their data showed that feeding high-moisture corn seemed to be variable in generating economic return compared with feeding dry-rolled corn. There are situations when feeding high-moisture corn is beneficial to feeding steam-flaked corn, that depends on when corn is purchased, corn price, and control of acidosis.

Reconstituting corn results in little improvement in performance of cattle fed high-concentrate diets. Considering the costs of drying and then adding moisture, storing high-moisture corn seems to be more economical (Mader and Erickson, 2006).


Some important tips about grain processing include the following.

  • Feed efficiency and weight gain are substantially improved when grain is rolled, tempered, or flaked rather than fed whole because it increases access to starch by microbes in the rumen.
  • Processing methods should enhance digestibility without causing digestive dysfunction (Owens, 2008).
  • Steam-flaked corn has higher energy value compared with other corn processing methods, but is also the most costly processing method.
  • Feeding high-moisture corn can be advantageous, but the corn must be harvested and stored correctly (Mader and Erickson, 2006).
  • With high-moisture corn, most corn is bought when prices are seasonably low.
  • Wet grain processes result in a reduction in dust.
  • Ensiling grain at higher moisture content allows for early harvest.
  • If the corn is not properly ensiled, spoilage can occur.
  • When steam flaking corn, watch for foreign material in the grain.
  • Select the most energy-efficient steam chests and boilers.
  • Results are less favorable when including distillers grains in steam-flaked corn-based feedlot rations compared with dry-rolled corn-based diets.
For more information see these resources.

Macken, C.N., G.E. Erickson, and T.J. Klopfenstein. 2006. The cost of corn processing for finishing cattle. Prof. Anim. Sci. 22:23-32.

Mader, T., and G. Erickson. 2006. Feeding high moisture corn (Nebraska Extension NebGuide).

Owens, F. N. 2008, Corn grain processing and digestion.

Owens, F. N., D. S. Secrist, W. J. Hill, and D. R. Gill. 1997. The effect of grain source and grain processing on performance of feedlot cattle: A review. J. Anim. Sci. 75:868-878.

Vasconcelos, J. T., and M. L. Galyean. 2007. Nutritional recommendations of feedlot consulting nutritionists: The 2007 Texas Tech University survey. J. Anim. Sci. 85:2772-2781.

Zinn, R. A., F. N. Owens, and R. A. Ware. 2002. Flaking corn: Processing mechanics, quality standards, and impacts on energy availability and performance of feedlot cattle. J. Anim. Sci. 80:1145-1156.

Dr. Judson Vasconcelos Dr. Judson Vasconcelos, Former Assistant Professor, Feedlot Specialist
University of Nebraska, Panhandle research and Extension Center, Scottsbluff, NE


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