To successfully incorporate distillers grains into High Plains beef cattle finishing rations, nutritionists must know what types of grain the ethanol byproducts were produced from.

Jim MacDonald, a Texas AgriLife Research beef nutritionist at Amarillo, studied the dramatically different animal performance responses in distillers grains research done in the Northern Plains and Southern Plains. He found he wasn’t comparing apples to apples, but Northern distillers made from corn to Southern-based distillers derived from sorghum. Northern Plains researchers also tended to use dry-rolled corn while Southern Plains colleagues utilized steam-flaked corn.

There’s been some skepticism about using distillers grains in the Southern region, he says. “I believe we can do it successfully, provided we have distillers grains that are equivalent in quality to those used in the North Plains states.”

MacDonald conducted two performance trials using corn-based distillers grains shipped in from Nebraska. A third trial utilized sorghum-derived distillers grains that were similar to those used in research previously conducted in MacDonald’s region.

“Our study in feeding sorghum distillers grain at 25% of dry matter showed the energy value for that product was 73% of the value of steam-flaked corn,” MacDonald says. “In general, that fits with previously conducted research at Texas Tech and West Texas A&M.”

Alternatively, he said, the research with corn-derived distillers grains from Nebraska would suggest the energy value was roughly equivalent to steam-flaked corn. That agrees with the northern data.

“There are large variations in the energy value of distillers grains derived from different cereal grain sources, similar to the differences in energy values of the cereal grains themselves,” MacDonald says.

Producers need to know what those energy values are, he says, and the products need to be priced appropriately.

“Additionally, our work with distillers grains in different corn processing methods would indicate producers are able to retain the energetic advantage of flaking corn in diets containing distillers grains,” he says. For decades, feed yards in the Southern Plains have flaked corn to increase the amount of energy, MacDonald says, and his research shows there is still an advantage.

Distillers grains from each plant may be different, so make sure the plants you do business with will let you know if they make any changes to the process, he adds.