You may have tried your hand at adding distillers’ dried grains with solubles to your swine diets, or you may be on the fence still contemplating your options. Taking the next step or convincing yourself that you’re on the right track with DDGS can cause some restless nights. 

Now, a report out of the University of Illinois (PDF format) offers some guidelines for incorporating DDGS in to swine diets. Hans Stein, University of Illinois Extension swine specialist, prepared the report, called “Distillers dried grains with solubles in diets fed to swine.”

“DDGS is produced from the fuel ethanol industry and is available for inclusion in diets fed to swine,” he explains.

“During recent years, several research projects have been completed to investigate the feeding value of DDGS,” Stein notes. But often the results can be contradictory and confusing. So, Stein reviewed and summarized the research findings, and produced tables designed to help producers make decisions that are applicable to their own enterprise needs. He also included some recommendations.

“Because there is some variability among DDGS sources, it’s recommended that producers examine nutrient concentrations in the product before buying DDGS,” he warns. “To confirm that the product is a true DDGS product that has not been diluted with soy hulls or reduced in fat concentration, it’s recommended that you obtain guarantees for nutrient concentrations from the supplier.”

The crude-protein concentration of a DDGS product should be at least 27 percent, total fat should be at least 9 percent and total phosphorus should be at least 0.55 percent. You also should get assurances that no mycotoxins are in the DDGS before you purchase it.

Of course, the economic value is always an important consideration when feeding any ingredient, including DDGS. “Because DDGS replaces both corn and soybean meal in diets fed to pigs, the DDGS’ economic value depends on the cost of corn and soybean meal,” Stein emphasizes. The maximum price that can be paid for DDGS without increasing diet costs at various corn and soybean meal prices are detailed in the report.

“If soybean meal price remained constant, the maximum price that you could pay for DDGS increases approximately $9 to $10 for each 50 cents per bushel that corn costs increase,” he adds. “Likewise, if the price of soybean meal increases by $25 per ton, then the DDGS price could increase by $11 to $12 without increasing diet costs.”

But before adding DDGS to any swine diet, you should do your own calculations based on local corn, soybean meal and DDGS prices. Your personal needs and product availability influence what you can or should pay, as well as DDGS inclusion levels.

The use of DDGS in swine diets is rapidly increasing, with many producers including 20 percent DDGS in diets fed to all categories of swine. There have even been some instances of DDGS shortages, depending on the area. Of course, hogs are not the only potential consumers of the ethanol byproduct. Cattle, poultry and export markets are all vying for this new and evolving ingredient.

“While this level of inclusion (20 percent) is generally recommended, some producers are successfully using higher rates. It is possible that up to 35 percent DDGS can be included in diets fed to nursery pigs and grow/finish pigs,” Stein notes. “However, because of the risk of producing pork carcasses with soft bellies, DDGS in finishing-pig diets should be limited to 20 percent — at least until more research has been conducted to investigate the effects of higher rates on belly firmness.”

Formulating diets with DDGS is a bit trickier than using diets based on corn and soybean meal. “We strongly recommend that diets containing DDGS are formulated on the basis of digestible amino acids, digestible phosphorus and metabolizable energy. We also recommend that diets containing DDGS be formulated such that you do not increase the total crude protein concentration. Therefore, crystalline amino acids, in particular crystalline lysine, need to be included in the diets along with DDGS,” Stein says.

Indeed, there will be more research and more fine tuning of DDGS use in swine diets. For now, you have one more place to get some guidance as you work through the changing feed landscape.