Focusing on Efficiency to Help Offset Rising Feed Costs

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This year’s increasing and volatile corn prices have producers and cattle feeders watching every penny – and every kernel – in an effort to improve feed efficiency and profitability.

Pablo Loza, feedlot management and nutrition specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Panhandle Research Feedlot in Scottsbluff, says a “perfect storm” of circumstances in the past 18 months put extreme pressure on management decisions as corn prices rallied. While 2020 drought conditions in two of the leading corn exporting countries – Brazil and Argentina – combined with already tight global stocks contributed to the limited supply, a regrowth in hog capacity and production in China and a post-pandemic resurgence of global productivity led to a worldwide increase in demand.

“The Southern Hemisphere drought and overall lack of corn around the world led to steep market increases, going from $4-something in March to $7-something now,” Loza says. “Then you add in supply chain interruptions from events like the Tyson beef plant fire and the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have really been in a hotspot.

“The market has taken note of the positive outlook for the 2021 corn harvest, but we can expect to be under this type of stress until we have a new crop in the bins later this year.”

On the home front, Loza says areas in Nebraska are experiencing ongoing drought conditions that have limited forage and pasture resources, forcing producers to supplement with concentrates or move to a dry-lot situation. While there are limited cost-saving opportunities in some of areas of the state to partially substitute corn with local starch byproducts from food manufacturers, Loza says producers feeding corn should focus on improving the use of their grain to maximize its value in their operations.

“Little steps along the way can add up to savings over time,” he says. “Be very careful with your inventory and limit feed loss during storage, mixing and transportation; improve the consumable energy in your corn by adjusting rollers or steam-flaking; and consistently feed during cooler times of the day for optimal consumption.”

Another option for producers looking to improve feed value is using Enogen Feed corn. Enogen is a trait incorporated into elite corn hybrids that allows the kernel to produce an efficient alpha amylase enzyme, which rapidly changes starch to sugar.

Duane Martin, Syngenta’s head of Enogen marketing and stewardship, says ruminants are not very good at digesting the starch in conventional corn, but because the enzyme in Enogen changes starch to sugar more quickly, cattle can utilize more energy in each kernel and therefore increase feed efficiency.

“Our research has shown that regardless of the form – silage, dry-rolled, steam-flaked or high-moisture – Enogen can increase feed efficiency by about 5 percent,” Martin says. “That can mean lower cost of gain and may even allow a bit faster finish to turn pens quicker, or feed efficiency may translate into higher production, depending on the goal of the feedlot manager or individual producer and how they want to use that benefit in their operation.”

In 2011, the Enogen trait was launched into the corn market to help increase efficiency in ethanol production, and because ethanol production and cattle feeding are both fermentation processes, the rapid conversion of starch to sugar has proved beneficial in improving feed efficiency, too.

Research from UNL and Kansas State University shows Enogen Feed corn is highly digestible and, in many cases, dry matter intake will remain constant or decrease because cattle seem more satisfied.

Although increasing energy in rations can potentially cause acidosis or bloat, Martin says there has been no evidence of Enogen’s negative affect on ruminal digestion. In fact, a UNL study shows that feeding Enogen Feed corn can increase total tract digestibility of starch by 4.1 percent and post-ruminal digestibility 24.6 percent.

“Feeding Enogen can increase post-ruminal digestion significantly, allowing an animal to better utilize the energy in a pound of Enogen than in normal No. 2 yellow corn,” Martin says. “Subsequently, fecal starch output is reduced, which is another sign the corn is being digested.

“All of this adds up to a much more efficient feed with Enogen corn.”

Enogen Feed corn hybrids are readily available through Golden Harvest or NK Corn retailers. Martin says they are competitively priced, agronomically managed similar to any other corn hybrids and give producers the flexibility to harvest for grain or silage.

Because of its unique starch conversion trait, producers are required to grow Enogen Feed corn as an identity-preserved crop.

“There are some areas of the corn market – like food processors – that want to keep the starch intact,” Martin says. “We ask growers to follow simple stewardship guidelines and deliver the corn to the location it’s intended to go.”

Independent cattle nutritionist Scott Langemeier owns Heart Land Consulting in Stromsburg. He works with several Midwest feedyards that are growing and feeding Enogen Feed corn and continues to see increased feed efficiency within those operations.

“Despite the fact that my clients’ management and environmental factors vary widely, and everyone calculates profitability differently, we do consistently see an improvement in performance when we include Enogen corn in the rations,” Langemeier says. “The rule of thumb for feeding Enogen corn is 5 percent feed efficiency and, based on my experiences, I believe that number is solid.”

Langemeier, who also serves as Nebraska Cattlemen Animal Health and Nutrition Committee chairman, says he formulates diets the same as other corn rations, but his clients are able to get more pounds of gain with less feed using Enogen Feed corn, resulting in more profit potential.

“Profitability is more about increasing feed efficiency than trying to reduce feed costs,” he says. “About 70 percent of your cost of gain is represented in feed, and with $7 corn right now, that makes this [Enogen Feed corn] an attractive option for some producers.”

Written by: Macey Mueller, Contributing Writer for Nebraska Cattleman Magazine
Source: Nebraska Cattlemen August 2021 Magazine

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