DDGS is a bargain at $80/ton, says Steve Markham, Commodity Specialists Company, Minneapolis, MN. And the fact that this co-product of ethanol production is increasing exponentially means it will become even more price competitive as more plants come on-line.

Pigs have not always been fed distillers grains with solubles — the dried residue remaining after the starch fraction of corn is fermented to generate ethanol and carbon dioxide. Improved fermentation technology and better dryers in today's new generation plants are producing a superior product, better suited for pigs.

From one experiment to another over the last five years, University of Minnesota swine nutritionist Jerry Shurson became convinced the contemporary version of DDGS fits very well in swine diets. That work complete, he's moving into the next research phase — value-added properties that appear unique to DDGS.

Results are preliminary, but Shurson's studies show that DDGS may have a positive impact on ileitis-challenged pigs when fed in combination with antibiotics. The research is an attempt to put science behind field reports which show that pigs suffering from gut health problems improve or maintain performance levels when DDGS is in the diet.

“One theory is the high amount of insoluble fiber in DDGS (42% vs. 4.7% for corn and 13% for soybean meal) pushes feed through the digestive system faster, preventing pathogens from attaching to the gut wall,” says Shurson. “The other unique thing about DDGS is it contains a lot of spent yeast, which may have special nutraceutical properties.”

“There seems to be something in DDGS that provides these additional benefits,” says Shurson. The next step is a joint project with South Dakota State University to look at the effect of DDGS on ileitis using a research protocol that simulates field conditions.

Phosphorus Advantage

As the industry moves toward applying manure based on a phosphorus standard rather than nitrogen, the value of ingredients like DDGS for swine will become much greater.

Fermentation liberates the phytate phosphorus in corn, which makes phosphorus more available to the pig, says Shurson. At a typical 10% inclusion rate for grow-finish, 200 lb. of DDGS, plus 3 lb. of limestone, will replace 177 lb. of corn, 20 lb. of soybean meal and 6 lb. of dicalcium phosphate in a grow-finish diet.

“The inclusion rate can go to 20%,” he adds. “With the higher amino acid digestibility values we've found in the DDGS, plus 80% phosphorus availability, we can go to higher levels of DDGS in grow-finish diets without compromising performance.” Levels over 20%, however, may reduce pork fat quality due to the 10% fat content in the DDGS.

DDGS is suitable for sows as well. Gestating animals can receive up to 40% DDGS and lactating sows up to 20% in the diet.

There are times when DDGS saves about $1/ton or more, depending on the price of soybean meal, corn and dicalcium phosphate, notes John Goihl, with Agri Nutrition Services, Shakopee, MN. The savings comes mostly from the 25% reduction in dicalcium phosphate. If phytase is also added, the need for inorganic phosphorus can be cut by 70%, adds Goihl, who gets calls on DDGS almost daily.

Producers new to DDGS often feed a conservative 5% diet, which won't provide much impact for reducing inorganic phosphorus or reducing excreted phosphorus, says Shurson: “The 10% level makes more of a dent.”

St. Peter, MN, producer Joel Anthony is taking the conservative approach. He starts feeding a 5% level to his feeder pigs as soon as they get off the truck. But a feed mill is Anthony's primary business, and he buys six to eight tons of DDGS a week from Heartland Corn Products, Winthrop, MN.

Anthony added the bulk bin for DDGS when customers started requesting the product to combat ileitis problems. He paid $80/ton for the product in mid-July, but has paid more. Is there a price where he won't feed DDGS? “Certainly, economics is a factor. But we adjust diets more for health issues than cost,” Anthony notes. “The cost advantage over soybean meal is usually insignificant. The plants seem to price DDGS according to soybean meal and whatever the market will bear.”

Quality Issue

Goihl points out that there can be quality variations in the processing of DDGS, so it's best to buy from a consistent source. The University of Illinois is doing a massive sampling of plants to identify variations due to processing, he adds.

Corn-buying quality standards are the same for an ethanol plant as for an elevator, Goihl says. “Producers concerned with mycotoxins should realize corn purchased from an elevator was purchased under the same standards and risks as corn purchased by an ethanol plant.”

Markham's firm represents the newer mills that sell the quality of distillers suitable for swine. According to Markham, the amount of DDGS fed to pigs has soared — from 33,000 tons annually a few years ago to 88,000 tons today.

Indicative of that increase is the expanding interest geographically. Fourteen new U.S. ethanol plants are coming on line this year in the Midwest, and several other producer groups are looking at building plants.

Feeding that frenzy is the phase-out of competing fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. Fourteen states have banned MTBE after the petrochemical was found in California's water supply. More will likely follow.

Approximately 3.85 million tons of DDGS are produced annually in the U.S. Some is exported to the European Union for livestock feed, but by far, the primary market is domestic. Asian countries are taking notice, however. Shurson recently returned from a trip to Japan and Taiwan to educate producers and feed manufacturers on the merits of DDGS. He plans a trip to China this fall with hopes to tour the world's largest ethanol plant, still under construction.

Minnesota ranks first in ethanol production. Fourteen plants use 130 million bushels of corn to produce one million tons of DDGS — 30% of the total in North America.

“Many of our pork producers are corn farmers and many are tied in as shareholders to these ethanol plants,” Shurson points out. “It's a way of adding value to their products. Value is added to corn by producing ethanol. The co-product is run back through pigs to get a phosphorus benefit and maybe some health benefits. It's a pretty cool deal.”

Producers looking for more information on the product should visit the University of Minnesota DDGS Web site at www.ddgs.umn.edu.