Purposely not feeding hay to mid- to late-lactation beef cows on alternate days – and offering dried distillers grains plus solubles (DDGS) in its place on those days – can safely save producers up to 25% of their forage inventories. That’s according to recent North Dakota State University (NDSU) research.

“It’s a very different concept,” says Carl Dahlen, NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist. “But sometimes those things that are really different need to be looked at and that’s what we did. We showed there are some pretty good potentials out there.”

Dahlen’s team tested whether feeding DDGS or grass hay to 48 beef cows every other day would cut the amount of forage needed without doing damage to a beef cow’s body weight and condition. In the three diets in addition to a control ration tested, the alternate-day feeding of only hay and only DDGS worked the best.

The cows were fed hay Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and DDGS on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. They saved 4.9 lbs/cow/day compared with what was fed to cattle on hay each day.

“The days that they only got distillers grains, those cows were hungry,” Dahlen admits. Distillers grains were limit-fed – in the NDSU trials the amount averaged 6.2 lbs/cow/day based on body weight. But the cows could eat as much as they wanted of hay. “They ate a lot, but, over the course of the feeding period, it resulted in substantial feed savings in terms of forage,” Dahlen says.

The hay was of relatively poor quality, much like what’s available in the current market, he says. Its crude protein was 5.9%; NDF, 76.4%; and ADF, 46.6%.

Before producers try this feeding strategy, however, Dahlen suggests they consider two things.

“The most important is that you have sufficient feeding area where all of your cattle have access to that feed.” Otherwise, dominant cows will get the bulk of what’s fed, he warns. “Another thing that you’ve got to have is a way to get your cattle away from the hay. And that requires a pretty good fence.”

Finally, he urges producers who try alternate-day feeding to “listen to their cows. It is really important for them to monitor the cattle” for body weight and condition changes.

The study, Dahlen stresses, only evaluated DDGS. It could be a different story if a producer used corn as the alternate feed. “We need to test that before any recommendations are made; corn is a much different product from DDGS.”