Waseca, Minn. — High oil prices are fueling more than the development of alternative energy sources. As the demand for alternatives like ethanol rises, so does the price of corn, prompting livestock farmers to search for more economical feed sources.

Distiller’s dried grains, the solid leftovers from ethanol fermentation, could be the solution for both pork producers and the state’s growing renewable-energy industry. New hog trials show a diet with DDGS doesn’t affect pork quality; it just yields softer bacon.

Minnesota’s ethanol industry is among the nation’s most vibrant, with more than 620 million gallons of annual capacity and more plants being planned and constructed. Supplies of DDGS are also growing — an estimated 30 million metric tons will be produced in North America by 2010.

While the coproduct is widely used in cattle diets, poultry rations and some swine diets, new swine-feeding research may lead to more DDGS used in almost all facets of hog feeding.

AURI-supported feeding trials on grow to-finish hogs were recently conducted at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris and a private herd in southern Minnesota. Four hog groups with the same genetics were fed four different diets: one contained no distiller’s grains, while others contained 10, 20 or 30 percent DDGS. Analysis showed the four groups performed at nearly identical levels, regardless of their diet.

Belly fat, where bacon is derived, was the only major difference, says Sam Baidoo, U of M swine nutrition professor “On those fed the DDGS, it was not as firm.” Baidoo says that is primarily an aesthetic issue for consumers. The soft bellies are used in other meat products.

Other performance factors such as carcass leanness, rate of weight gain and back fat were nearly identical among the varied diets. On all cuts except bacon, consumers would be hard pressed to tell the difference. AURI sensory evaluation tests with trained panelists did not discern differences between pork loins from hogs fed diets with distiller’s grain or corn.

“On lean cuts of meat like chops, there was no difference in taste,” says Clint Gehrke, AURI meat scientist. “The difference is in the fat. Even in cooked bacon there was no difference, but the uncooked bacon was less firm.”

Feeding trials underway at the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca will determine if removing DDGS from hog diets two weeks before market impacts belly fat firmness. If results are positive, Baidoo says they may test even higher rates of DDGS in grow-to-finish diets, “depending on the price of DDGS.”

For Minnesota’s 5,000 hog farmers who feed more than 15 million market swine a year, using DDGS in hog diets may be an alternative that offers a huge potential market for Minnesota- produced DDGS. But Minnesota Pork Board Executive Director Dave Preisler cautions that it’s not a silver bullet.

“It’s encouraging to have the feeding trial information, but the cost of DDGS has gone up along with the price of corn. Most producers’ preference is still to use corn and soybean meal, but depending on the cost, they are interested in other alternatives. The umber one thing for distillers is whether or not it will be cost effective.”