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Evaluating Feedstuffs on Nutrient Cost-Comparison Basis

Two blue feed buckets filled with distillers grains.

Originally written by Tracey Erickson, former SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist. 

Feed costs in dairy diets typically make up half or more of the input expenses of a ration. Thus, it is imperative to keep a handle on input costs by comparing ingredients on an apples-to-apples basis when looking for cost-effective diet solutions.

A recent example includes the supply availability of distiller’s dry grains. It has become restricted because of the slow-down in production at various ethanol plants due to the overall glut of oil worldwide driving the price of oil and fuel down. Additionally, with the added implications from the Coronavirus pandemic there has been less utilization of fuel having an additional impact on ethanol consumption. Distiller’s grain production was scaled back causing a rise in price for DDGs and limited supply. Evaluation as to whether or not DDGs are cost-effective in your ration is now necessary.

You will need to ask first, are you including the feedstuff in the diet as a source of energy or as a source of crude protein? In our example, most often distillers dry grains (DDG) are used in diets to help provide an additional source of crude protein in the diet, while also providing a similar energy value compared to corn. The energy value for DDGs is based upon the fact that most ethanol plans now centrifuge off a portion of the oil produced in the by-product resulting in a reduced fat DDG. Next, what ingredient would you like to compare them to? A common crude protein feedstuffs comparison would be soybean meal even though it will have less rumen ungradable protein (RUP), other possibilities include sunflower meal, canola meal, corn gluten meal and others depending upon availability.

    SDSU Extension Feed Cost Comparison Tool

    Example feed cost comparison results.
    Figure 1. Feed cost comparison outcomes for DDG and SBM on 4/28/20 for Eastern South Dakota average prices.

    A tool available for you to make this assessment is the SDSU Extension Feed Cost Comparison Tool. It allows you to make an evaluation of feedstuffs delivered based upon crude protein or energy values while taking into consideration delivery costs.

    In considering the current prices for DDG versus soybean meal the following example is provided. Inputting the current average price of DDG at $172.50/ton and soybean meal at $293/ton, estimating trucking costs at 30 miles travel at $4.00/mile. The following comparison is made when evaluating the two feedstuffs for crude protein on a dry matter basis in Figure 1 and the highlighted cell shows the better buy when you are looking for a particular ingredient. Please note the tool allows you to input your own feedstuff values.

    Price References: