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Distillers grain a hot topic at beef roundup

By SHELLI MADER

Special to The Hays Daily News

More than 65 people gathered Thursday at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center south of Hays for the 98th annual Beef Cattle Research Roundup.

Participants in the free event heard discussions about the center's current projects, enjoyed a barbecue beef lunch and engaged researchers in question-and-answer sessions.

Much of the center's research this year involved wet distillers grain. Distillers grain, a by-product of ethanol production, is gaining popularity as a feed supplement among cattle producers.

According to Justin Waggoner, KSU beef systems extension specialist, he receives more questions about feeding wet distillers grains than almost anything else.

"A lot of people are really interested in this feed stuff because it is available in this area and is pretty economical," he said. "The only problem that small operators face is the relatively short shelf life that this feed has."

Traditionally, wet distillers grain supplementation has been limited to producers who can use a truckload of the product within seven to 30 days.

During 2009 and 2010, the center ran a 208-day trial to document the effect of long-term storage of wet distillers. With a grant from the Kansas Corn Commission, researchers bought 73 tons of corn wet distillers grain and stored it in two concrete bunker silos.

They covered the feed with 6 millimeter black plastic and tires. Samples of the product were taken every 14 days, and the temperature recorded every four hours.

"Initially, we thought that 30 days in a pile is as long as we could store the grain," Waggoner said. "But by the end of the trial, there was essentially no change in nutrient composition. This is an exciting opportunity for the small producer because this will give them the ability to buy the wet distillers grain when it is cheaper -- say in August or September -- and feed it to calves in December."

Distillers grain was part of research in nearly every area of the center. Beef cattle scientist John Jaeger spoke to the crowd about the effect feeding wet distillers grain to replacement heifers has on reproduction

"In our trial, the cost of feeding wet distillers grains to heifers was substantially less than feeding soybean meal, but the wet distillers-fed heifers reached puberty at an older age."

Keith Harmoney, a range scientist for the research center, discussed feeding wet distillers grains as a late season protein supplement for grazing steers.

His study compared the performance of short-grass-pastured steers fed a milo and soybean mixture, wet distillers grains in bunks or wet distillers grain on the ground.

"We found that wet distillers grain is an adequate replacement for milo and soybean meal as a late-season crude protein supplement," Harmoney said. "Wet distillers grain provided similar gain to the soybean mixture at less cost."

After lunch, Justin Bolte, a cow/calf herdsman at the center used a pickup and cake feeder to demonstrate to the crowd how to feed dry distillers grain to cows. Waggoner then gave the group advice about supplementing cows' diets with minerals when feeding distillers grains.

In addition, Arturo Pacheco, a KSU graduate student, discussed giving cattle trace mineral injections and bovine respiratory disease vaccinations.

University of Missouri state extension specialist Bob Weaber explained research about genetic selection of beef temperament.

Burt Rutherford, senior editor of Beef Magazine, concluded the event by giving a "30,000 feet above ground" overview of the beef industry.

The center plans to continue research on distillers grains and other topics important to area cattlemen and women.

"The goal of the research center is to identify real problems producers are facing and provide real solutions to those problems," said Bob Gillen, research center department head. "We are here to help producers any way we can."

For more information about any of the KSU beef cattle research, call (785) 625-3425.