The cost of chowing down is going up.
High corn prices — driven by exploding ethanol demand — have pushed up livestock feed costs. That’s prompting farmers to look for more economical alternatives.
At the same time, the biofuels industry is producing lots of distiller’s grains and glycerin, processing byproducts that can replace a portion of corn in livestock diets.
These developments are sparking research and innovation designed to boost renewable-fuel coproduct use in livestock diets. Grower groups, livestock-nutrition companies and university scientists are working on new ideas. AURI is taking a lead and planning to test more than a dozen alternative feeds, says Al Doering, associate scientist at AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca. “There are terrific opportunities for both livestock and renewable-fuel producers.”
Glycerin a new alternative
One alternative-feed ingredient being studied is glycerin, a coproduct of biodiesel manufacturing. Crude glycerin, a liquid, provides nearly the same dietary energy as shell corn, Doering says.
“There’s a lot of interest in it,” says Larry Risty, marketing director for Central Bi-Products, a division of Farmers Union Industries, LLC, which operates a 3-million-gallon biodiesel plant in Redwood Falls. He says livestock farmers “are looking for any energy feed source, and glycerin could be a major one.”
Current U. S. biodiesel manufacturing capacity is nearly 900 million gallons. Another 1.7 billion gallons of capacity is under construction, according to the National Biodiesel Board. The industry’s glycerin capacity will also grow — to more than 200 million gallons — since glycerin production equals 10 percent of biodiesel production. The coproduct, now used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, will need more market outlets, says Chuck Neece, FUI research director.
Already, mounting supplies have weighed on glycerin prices. In the past year, prices have dropped by half and as low as three cents a gallon for unrefined glycerin with more than 150 parts per million methanol, Neece says. That’s about $60 per ton — half the price of corn, Doering says.
Glycerin research starting
Land-grant universities are just beginning to evaluate glycerin in livestock diets. The University of Arkansas and Iowa State University have tested glycerin in broiler and swine diets, and South Dakota State University has done some dairy trials.
This summer, with AURI’s support, the University of Minnesota will study glycerin in turkey diets, which are typically about 65 percent corn. “We’ll be looking at glycerin inclusion rates up to 10 percent” in both mash and pelleted feed, says U of M livestock scientist Sally Noll, who is leading theresearch. The trials will examine growth rates, feed conversion, carcass quality and economics. “We’ll also get experience in using the product and handling it.” Another U of M study will evaluate a glycerin-DDGS combination in turkey diets.
In addition, AURI is seeking funding to test crude glycerin in the diets of lactating sows, growing pigs, feeder cattle, calves, broilers and laying hens.
Private companies are also working on glycerin-feed products. With AURI’s support, Central Bi- products developed Gro-Mor Hi-Torque, pelleted cattle feed that combines glycerin and feather meal.
“The work we did with that product led us to look at combining glycerin with other grain byproducts, such as rice hulls, soy hulls and DDGS,” Neece says.
“The main thing we need now,” he adds, “is to have the appropriate university research and testing to gain broader acceptance.”
Using more DDGS
Researchers are also exploring new ideas for using distiller’s grains — the corn-kernel portion left after starch is converted to ethanol.
Distiller’s grains provide energy and protein. The United States produced more than 8 million tons of distiller’s grains last year, and North American supplies will grow to about 30 million tons by 2012, according to Commodity Specialists Company of Minneapolis, which markets distiller’s grains for 23 U.S. ethanol plants.
The feedstuff has been used successfully in cattle diets for decades and is gaining acceptance in swine and poultry diets. As corn prices climb, livestock producers “that have the ability to switch to DDGS are doing it,” says Sean Broderick, a Commodity Specialists Company grain merchant.
Still, “not as much is being used as we think could be used,” says Wayne Hansen, AURI project director.
DDGS challenges include nutrient variability, handling problems, transportation costs and effects on meat quality, Hansen says. Also, growers need a significant DDGS price advantage to offset the quality risks and extra management time, says U of M economist Brian Buhr.
Separate but equal
Separating ethanol coproducts into component parts — known as fractionating — could make it easier to precisely incorporate them into animal diets, Doering says. AURI hopes to test “designer distiller’s” in dairy cattle, swine and poultry rations. Currently, AURI is doing similar research on feeding fractionated-soybean meal to turkeys.
These trials are essential to maintain and expand profitable livestock and renewable-fuel industries in Minnesota, Neece says. Through innovation, “animal feeders and biodiesel and ethanol producers can reach a point of synergy.”