Distillers grains can affect animals’ mineral balance
BROKEN BOW, Neb. – When feeding distillers grains, producers should track their herd’s mineral balance, said a University of Nebraska-Lincoln specialist.
These products most often tend to be low in calcium and high in phosphorus and sulfur, said Extension Veterinarian Richard Randle. Calcium and phosphorus should be balanced 1.2/2.5 for optimum performance. Producers can maintain that balance by supplementing calcium.
If sulfur gets too high, cattle can suffer from a condition called polio that affects their nervous system. That’s related to a thiamine deficiency, Randle said. Thiamine supplementation can reduce the risk but not eliminate it.
Sulfur is also associated with reducing the absorption of copper, Randle said. Copper is necessary for a number of physiologic functions like immune response, growth and gain and systems related to those functions, as well as some effects on reproduction.
Sometimes these effects are hard to recognize. They may show up as cattle that do poorly or as poor reproduction. The best way to test for copper deficiency is a liver sample, but that’s hard to get. When symptoms occur, producers can correct the deficiency and bring the cattle back to health by supplementing copper.
Molds and fungi present another concern when feeding ethanol co-products.
“We don’t know if the levels are dangerous; we have a lot of work to do in that area,” Randle said.
He advised producers to consider feed analysis to be sure. Trying to always use the same feed source may also help.
In recognition of these possible problems, Randle said that rations that contain 25 percent dry matter or less in distillers grains probably aren’t a concern. Those who feed more than 25 percent need to be conscientious about checking mineral levels and be ready to supplement thiamine, calcium and copper.
When in doubt, producers should consult the cattle, Randle said. Strict observation can get on top of problems before they get out of hand.
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