Finishing cattle on DDGS more efficient

By Luke Geiver | April 15, 2010
Posted May 13, 2010

A study from the University of Illinois (UIUC) indicates that feeding cattle DDGS during the finishing stages can produce a high marbling characteristic in the beef in shorter period of time while improving the per-head profits. The study, "Effects of Source of Energy on Performance, Ultrasonic, Carcass, and Economic Characteristics of Early-Weaned Heifers," was performed by a group from UIUC animal science department.

Along with the use of ethanol coproducts, the researchers started the cattle on corn early on before finishing with DDGS. "The goal is to get the highest quality beef product in the most profitable way," said Dan Shike, animal scientist for UIUC. "If you can initiate marbling at a young age with corn, calves are smaller and they eat much less, so feeding them corn for 100 days early saves feed costs. This system will use considerably less corn and achieve the same effect."

To start the marbling process sooner, heifers from the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center were weaned at roughly 77 days and then fed a high-corn diet for the following 146 days. Following the corn-based diet, the cattle were divided into four study groups: high starch, intermediate starch, low starch and pasture-fed. The researchers used ultrasound to account for each group's level of marbling. According to the study, the early corn-fed diet initiated marbling. "The cattle on pasture had significantly lower marbling," Shike said, "But there were no differences in the cattle fed varying levels of starch."

Shike said this system of early weaning combined with coproduct diets used to finish the cattle is more cost effective because it utilizes lower priced DDGS without sacrificing marbling quality, especially, he said, when corn prices are high. The system also cuts down the entire process from 15-17 months of age to only 12-13 months of age for the cattle to reach desired levels making this system more efficient.

"Additional research is needed," Shike said. "But we believe feeding a high-grain ration to cattle at a young age and finishing them on co-products is the most profitable way to produce high-quality beef."

View the study at: