Alternative Feeds for Beef Cattle

Pennsylvania State University - Tara L. Felix

Type: PDF
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Farm Table says:

US-based, but very interesting commentary on alternative byproducts.

This paper walks through the advantages and disadvantages of feeding alternatives to corn: distiller’s grains with solubles, brewer’s grains, soybean hulls, cottonseed byproducts, peanut byproducts and citrus byproducts.

Due to the increasing costs associated with corn grain and harvested forages (and land!), beef cattle producers are turning to alternative feeds to meet cattle protein and energy requirements. The best alternative feeds for beef producers are those that are cheap and readily available. To remain economically viable, secondary products of other industries can, and should, be taken advantage of in beef cattle diets.

Key summary points are outlined below.


  • Can be fed unprocessed, but typically processed to improve starch digestion and feed efficiency

Distiller’s grains with solubles

  • Co-products of corn processing
  • Low cost protein source
  • Protein an issue: “traditional” DGS diet may have contained approximately 25% DGS on a dry matter basis (DMB) and supplied approximately 14.3% crude protein (CP) on a DMB to the diet
  • Fat an issue: Feeding fat in excess reduces fiber digestibility and cattle performance. Some DGS may contained as much as 10 to 12% fat (DMB).
  • Sulfur an issue:  Unfortunately, due to the use of sulfuric acid in the production of ethanol, this one may not be an easy fix.

Brewer’s grains

  • byproducts of brewing different grains, but predominately barley, for the beer industry.
  • nutritionists and producers wishing to capitalize on these byproducts should recognize the inherent variability from source to source and even within a source
  • brewer’s grains contain 26 to 29% CP and 6 to 10% fat (DMB). However, reports of up to 12% fat, or greater, have been cited
  • storage and handling of the product can be difficult
  • will be cheapest when sourced wet and contain as much as 79% moisture in these circumstances

Soybean hulls

  • soybean hulls are heated and processed, thus, most of the antinutritional factors routinely attributed to soybeans are eliminated.
  • should not be included at more than 30% of the diet.
  • tend to be the most consistent of the alternative feeds and contain 12.2% CP

Cottonseed byproducts

  • number of cottonseed products to choose from as cattle feeds, including whole cottonseed, cottonseed hulls, cottonseed meal, and gin trash

Whole cottonseed can come delinted or “fuzzy”. Fuzzy cottonseed has been touted by some as a near perfect supplement for cattle (Blezinger, 1999) because it contains the meat and oil from the seed, as well as some additional fiber from the fuzzy lint that covers the seed. It typically contains 15 to 21% CP and 15 to 17% fat (DMB); however, its nutrient composition too can be affected by growing and harvest conditions, thus analysis is recommended.

  • hulls contain very little protein
  • meal is a popular source of protein for cattle feeders at 36 to 41% protein
  • gin trash can be used as a cattle feed and is best recommended for cows in the last trimester, due to its poor digestibility and limited nutrient supply. Provide an economic feed for cows without putting too much fat on them; however, it may not be palatable when first fed.

Peanut byproducts

  • variety of products to choose from – hulls, skins and meals
  • peanut meal may contain as much as 45 to 55% CP (DMB), it is often lysine deficient
  • protein that is present is often less digestible than other high protein supplemental feeds, likely due to the tannin concentration in peanuts
  • aflatoxins can cause fertility issues, including abortions, and suppress growth

Citrus byproducts

  • include citrus meal or pulp
  • pulp can be an excellent feed source,  has been successfully fed to growing cattle at up to 50 to 60% of the diet
  • however, additional protein sources will need to be considered when feeding such great amounts to growing cattle and citrus pulp contains only 5 to 8% CP (DMB)
  • access may be limited as used in dairy industry

Cost should drive much of the decisions regarding “optimum” inclusion of alternatives feeds in beef rations. As is typical, these decisions will have to be made quickly to take advantage of opportunities as they arise and the need for rapid dissemination of new information on alternative feeds will be paramount.

2016 - United States - Pennsylvania State University - Tara L. Felix
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