A multitude of factors are impacting our current dairy situation. I want to focus on one aspect that has forced a lot of recent changes in livestock feeding strategies: a shortage of corn dry distillers grain.  
    Approximately 40% of the corn raised in the United States runs through an ethanol plant.  This year’s forecasts expected tremendous ethanol production and corn sales before a trade war between Saudi Arabia and Russia turned oil prices lower in early 2020. Then the novel coronavirus caused significantly reduced travel volume. In the course of four weeks, gasoline has declined 48%. As a result, ethanol demand has declined 43%.  
    DDG is a byproduct of the ethanol industry, resulting from the fermentation of grains to alcohol. DDG is a major ingredient in livestock diets with more than 40 million tons of DDG produced in the United States this past year. In markets near ethanol plants, wet and modified distillers can provide additional value and occasionally additional challenges.  
    DDG is a lower-priced protein alternative. It is, however, significantly lower in overall protein compared to other protein ingredients such as soybean meal, canola meal, bypass soybean products and bloodmeal. DDG is a corn-based protein which renders it to be lower in essential amino acids, primarily lysine.    
    DDG is also higher in phosphorus and fat. Its phosphorus content is often viewed as a positive from a mineral fortification standpoint. Fat provides energy which can be a positive or a negative depending the group of cattle being fed. The fat or oil in DDG is rapidly available and largely unsaturated. This can lead to milk fat depression in lactating cows where a substantial amount of corn or vegetable oil is available in the diet. Like most nutrients in DDG, fat content can significantly vary from one ethanol plant to another.
    DDG availability has become very scarce. Several feed mills in the Midwest have either asked nutritionists to dramatically reduce usage or remove it altogether. Where it is still available, DDG has increased about 50% in price or $70 to $80 per ton.
    With less DDG on the market, other proteins must fill the void. Soybean meal is the most common option. SBM prices spiked quickly with the reduction of DDG but have since softened closer to previous levels. In addition to SBM, other plant- and animal-based proteins can be used to replace the protein contribution of distillers.  
    The energy or fat contribution depends somewhat on the value placed on the fat. The fatty acid profile of the oil in distillers is nearly identical to corn oil. The ethanol production process does not change this. Some folks may choose to bring in alternative byproducts higher in oil such as cottonseed or simply supplement liquid fat. You may try to improve the fatty acid blend with a costlier option of rumen inert fat.  
    DDG also provides approximately 30% neutral detergent fiber on a dry matter basis. While this will increase a ration NDF concentration, it is important to note that the fiber in DDG does not provide much physically effective fiber or stimulate chewing activity. Some nutritionists may look at replacing a portion of DDG with fibrous byproducts such as soy hulls, beet pulp or corn gluten feed.      
    It is difficult to tell when distillers supplies will return to normal. When travel restrictions are eased, how quickly will gasoline and ethanol demand increase? We are also at the mercy of the global crude oil market. As we go through this time of turmoil in our dairy markets, work closely with your nutritionist to evaluate your best options in the protein market.
    Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.