Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a producer who isn’t using dried distillers’ grains with solubles in all or part of his or her finishing diets. The economics are simply too compelling in an industry facing volatile prices for staples such as corn, soybean meal and phosphorus. However, using DDGS requires more than a call to your local feed mill or ethanol plant to ensure that you get the right product for your pigs, your packer and your pocketbook.

While DDGS costs depend on many things, including crude-oil price, Mike Brumm, of Brumm Swine Consultancy in Mankato, Minn., says the cost centers on the most obvious — corn price, and that’s based on global demand. However, since the DDGS market is still relatively new, he often sees the price range from 72 percent to 96 percent of the corn price.

Steve Dritz, KansasStateUniversity swine nutritionist, says aside from corn price, it’s soybean meal and phosphorus prices that primarily affect DDGS price. Yet even when the DDGS price ratio to corn gets high, he often advises producers to use DDGS. “The availability of phosphorus in DDGS is triple that of corn, so it often makes sense economically on that basis alone, if you can replace all of the inorganic phosphorus in the diet.”

According to Dritz, DDGS can reduce feed costs by $20 to $30 per ton, depending on the percentage used. Some producers like to stay conservative and use only 10 percent DDGS in finishing diets or use a “step-down” program prior to market, while others opt to substitute DDGS for corn at a much higher rate.

Too much of a good thing

When producers ask Dritz, he tells them his research with colleagues at KansasState shows a DDGS level of up to 30 percent is optimum. But he always suggests getting specific recommendations from a nutritionist who’s familiar with your herd.

Typically producers seem to be using DDGS at 30 percent and then stepping down to 15 percent to 20 percent in the last 21 to 35 days before market. This is to reduce the negative impact on carcass yield and iodine value that rises with DDGS usage and can lead to degradation of carcass fat quality. (See sidebar.) “Some producers are feeding their pigs 30 percent DDGS all the way to slaughter with no pull-back at all,” Brumm says. Dritz reports usage as high as 40 percent in some instances.

A recent KansasState study showed that DDGS does have its drawbacks, especially if fed at high levels. Researchers found that DDGS fed at 40 percent in a diet of 16 percent crude protein yielded lower average daily gain, lower feed intake and lower dressing percentage than the same diet without DDGS. The crude-protein level didn’t appear to have an effect, meaning it was an inherent negative impact related to DDGS itself.

Dritz wasn’t too surprised by the finding. “We know DDGS lowers carcass yield by roughly 0.4 percent for every 10 percent DDGS used. Of course, this can be mitigated by reducing the levels fed in diets just prior to market, but then you’re raising your feed costs, making it a bit of a Catch-22.”

Another specific pitfall of using too much DDGS is its negative impact on loin depth. Data suggest it can measurably reduce loin depth — a result you don’t want to hear about from your packer. To that end, Nate Augspurger, of JBS United in Sherdian, Ind., and University of Illinois researchers looked into ways to circumvent this downside. “We know in some cases that DDGS could reduce carcass value by $1 to $2 per head if overall dressing percentage and loin depth are decreased,” he says.

Their study found that DDGS’ negative effects to carcass quality can be reduced by alternating diets with high-quality fat, such as white grease. However, for this regimen to work economically you would need to calculate the local dietary fat price against any cost savings from using DDGS and any packer-related discounts.

Fractionated DDGS

Today, there are more than 170 biofuels plants in the United States. As these processors continue to look for new ways to “squeeze” more value out of corn and other grains, de-oiled DDGS and related co-products are a natural outcome. Although this de-oiled DDGS sounds less valuable than its oilier precursor, it’s worth evaluating.

To examine this new entrant into the DDGS arena, KansasState researchers conducted a 99-day trial to help determine its merit. Using five dietary treatments of 0 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent de-oiled DDGS, pigs were weighed every two weeks. Right away, the scientists found average daily gain and feed intake went down, especially in those fed 20 percent or more de-oiled DDGS. In addition, carcass weight, yield and loin depth decreased. Meanwhile, iodine value increased as inclusion rates rose. On the upside, there was no effect on feed efficiency, backfat, percent lean or fat-free lean index.

“As with all co-products, you have to calculate de-oiled DDGS’ value compared to traditional DDGS,” Dritz says. “It will probably take longer to feed pigs out using this product, but it may be worth it given its lower price.”

Although the de-oiled DDGS supply isn’t widespread yet, VeraSun Energy, a large ethanol producer headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D., is a leader in its production. This may offer an alternative to producers who operate near its plants.

Brumm agrees that the industry will see a variety of fractionated DDGS products roll-out as the biofuels industry matures. However, there will be a limit to what livestock producers can obtain. “Toll mills can’t inventory every new co-product that plants may come up with each time. It’s just not practical until there’s a regular supply and a real demand.”

“DDGS in whatever form is going to be an ingredient producers have to use — good, bad or ugly, because of the economics,” Dritz says. “So, it’s simply about making it work on producers’ operations for the maximum benefit.” PK

Checkout this DDGS Checklist

Steve Dritz, swine nutritionist at Kansas StateUniversity, and Mike Brumm, owner of Brumm Swine Consultancy, Mankato, Minn., stress the need for stringent quality-control protocols when using dried distillers’ grains with solubles. They say you can’t count on DDGS being the same from every plant, but there are a few common sense steps to consider before taking delivery of that first load on your farm. 

  • Deal only with reputable dealers who adhere to the Association of American Feed Control Officials quality standards.
  • Try to use a single DDGS source to ensure better product consistency.
  • Work closely with a nutritionist to determine the feed value of your specific DDGS co-product to achieve optimum results.
  • Make sure you know the moisture content of the DDGS product and how it will work in your on-farm feed and delivery system. (Too much moisture can be a major hassle.)
  • Plan ahead for the inherent handling and storage differences at the farm. Consider equipment modifications that may be needed.
  • Know the quantity you have to buy to achieve a discount.
  • Implement an ongoing quality-control process to ensure product integrity.
  • Don’t be afraid to reject any particular load of DDGS if the product doesn’t meet your desired standards.

Packers are Watching Iodine Value

When it comes to the next load of pigs you send to the packer, you’d better know their iodine value — which is increasingly known as I.V. That’s because it has quickly become a standard measurement used to predict carcass-fat quality, especially in the belly, which can be negatively affected by feeding too much dried distillers’ grains with solubles.

“A major packer has asked its producer-suppliers not to use more than 20 percent DDGS in their rations,” says Mike Brumm, owner of Brumm Swine Consultancy in Mankato, Minn. “Other packers may have similar unofficial recommendations.”

Steve Dritz, a KansasStateUniversity swine nutritionist, advises producers to simply be aware of the correlation between feeding DDGS and iodine value. “A general rule is that for every 10 percent of DDGS fed in the diet, you’ll raise iodine value by two points.”

Dritz says if you know your herd’s baseline iodine value, then you can generally predict the final value that will be measured at the plant. And yes, genetics affect iodine value. “A maternal-line, fattier pig will have a lower baseline I.V. than a terminal line would. So, you can feed these genetic lines more DDGS and still come in under the packer’s threshold for I.V.,” he notes. “Conversely, a leaner genotype may allow you to feed a more limited amount of DDGS.”

As an example, Dritz says if your herd’s iodine value is 71 without feeding any DDGS, then simply feeding 10 percent DDGS all the way to market would likely result in a two-point increase in iodine value, for a final value of 73. However, he says many producers withdraw or reduce the DDGS level in diets prior to market. “This complicates our ability to accurately predict the final iodine value because we don’t have good models.”

For many packers, an iodine value of 73 seems to be the threshold, but this can vary. “So, knowing the precise limit tolerated by your packer is critical to avoid any potential penalties,” Dritz says.

While some packers test the iodine value at the jowl, others take a fat sample directly from the belly. While this difference is worth knowing, it’s not the main concern as packers should take any methodology variance into consideration. However, what’s important is knowing the upper acceptable iodine value before shipping any load of market hogs to a packer that measures and monitors it.

Although iodine-value monitoring is growing, it is not yet universally adopted. “Not every plant will be concerned with I.V. because they have different needs,” Dritz says. “In the end, it’s still about market demand.”