Knowledge can lead to profits, even when using poorer quality distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS) in swine rations, according to Value-Added Science and Technologies (VAST), an Iowa-based nutrition technology and consulting company. The Illuminate Services package offered by VAST is a proprietary, subscription-based program developed to help producers and nutritionists more effectively evaluate and utilize DDGS.

“When producers subscribe to the service, they identify ethanol plants that are DDGS sources within a certain radius of their feedmill,” explains Chad Hagen, VAST founder and senior vice president. Each week, VAST determines the nutrient profile and best-value DDGS source. The producer and/or his nutritionist receives the weekly report indicating the relative value of each DDGS source based on current feed prices and plant-specific nutrient loading for the DDGS, thereby allowing reformulation of diets as needed.

Inconsistent Quality Concerns

Growth in the U.S. biofuels industry has made DDGS supplies more plentiful, typically serving as an economical source of nutrients when compared to corn, soybean meal, synthetic amino acids and fat. The downside of DDGS use has been product variability between plants and, sometimes, between batches made within a plant at different times of the day. The inconsistent quality has caused some nutritionists to reduce the amount of DDGS used in dietary formulations.

VAST regularly obtains DDGS samples from a network of just under 100 collaborating feedmills and ethanol plants in the United States. Samples are analyzed using a combination of wet chemistry, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) and the immobilized digestive enzyme assay (IDEA). Results of these assays are entered into VAST equations to quantify key nutrient values, also called nutrient loadings, and are entered into the VAST model to generate relative value estimates and allow easy comparison of DDGS sources. Producers and nutritionists can identify the most cost-effective source of DDGS that best fits their needs.

VAST's calculations provide producers with a sample's metabolizable energy (ME) and net energy (NE) values. They also calculate digestible amino acid values for lysine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan and other essential amino acids and digestible phosphorus. Protein, fat content, moisture, starch, ash and sulfur are also tracked.

Putting DDGS Values to Work

Using Illuminate Services to identify and utilize high-value DDGS sources has saved some clients over $25/ton of complete feed and $8/pig marketed, according to VAST.

By comparing potential diets formulated to support essentially the same pig performance, “subscribers have more nutrient options available for consideration when formulating their diets,” Hagen states. “All sources of DDGS trade for approximately the same price. Illuminate Services allows producers to select high-value sources of DDGS in their trade area and then capture the value of the ingredient by utilizing nutrient levels specific to the selected source of DDGS.”

Eddie Crum, president of Ag Systems Management (ASM), uses Illuminate Services information to help formulate rations for around 200,000 finishing hogs/year.

“There are huge differences in DDGS quality, much more so than with soybean meal or corn,” Crum says. “The big challenge with DDGS has always been the variability from different sources and trying to define the relative values of different products from different sources. Illuminate Services helps us determine who we should be buying from and at what price relative to the market. The second part is that when we know the nutrient profiles on the specific product, we can then design diets that meet the requirements of these pigs.”

Sample nutrient loadings and relative values calculated using Illuminate Services are shown in Table 1. Combining Illuminate Services with the VAST formulation model identified a relative value range exceeding $70/ton of DDGS when using the nutrient loadings for Plants C and E.

Table 2 shows ingredient prices and finishing diet nutrient specifications. Hagen points out that because Illuminate Services' nutrient loadings were used for both diets containing DDGS, all diets are expected to support essentially the same pig performance. The tables reinforce that DDGS is a good ingredient value because using even the poorest quality source of DDGS (Plant C) reduced diet cost by $7.98/ton compared to a corn/soybean meal diet with no added DDGS. Hagen notes that sourcing the highest quality DDGS (Plant E) helped fully utilize the available nutrients and maximize DDGS usage. In this example, this reduced diet cost by $27.26/ton compared to the diet with no DDGS, an advantage of about $8.50/pig.

Service Options

VAST provides a menu of services for subscribers. “We give our customers the option of having our company formulate diets, or we can give nutrient loadings to the producer's nutritionist,” Hagen says. In some cases, VAST acts as a broker or agent, locating the best source of DDGS, then allowing the actual transaction to occur between the plant and the producer. Customers pay based on the service option they choose.

Some producers contract DDGS, but most are bought one week at a time. Some producers sell corn to a biofuel plant and then backhaul DDGS, so they maintain a relationship with that plant. Each situation depends upon the producer's needs or storage capabilities.

While there are no size restrictions on who can use Illuminate Services, Wayne Cast, VAST director of nutritional services, says the service works best for producers who buy at least one truckload at a time. “Identity preservation of the DDGS is better because you know the consistency of the load,” he says.

ASM's Crum says Illuminate Services helped reduce the number of DDGS sources. “This is good information that pulls the veil back on what is a quality distiller's dried grain and what is not, and how much we ought to be paying for it. By using Illuminate Services, we have been able to nail down one specific source of DDGS that fits us perfectly,” he explains.

“When we first started, we were looking at a lot of different sources and a lot of different options for buying. Now that we have identified our sources, we really evaluate on somewhat of a maintenance level, just whether or not the product continues to have the same nutritional attributes or whether it is changing,” Crum notes.

Tailored Milling Services

Jed Watje, president of Watje Feed Service, Inc., Clements, MN, has used Illuminate Services as a tool to help set his business apart for nearly a year. Watje Feeds grinds and mixes feed for area livestock producers — mostly hog producers — and customers benefit from the knowledge about DDGS sources.

“It has eliminated the guesswork because we can compare the quality of DDGS between plants. We can balance rations the way they should be balanced,” Watje notes.

All considerations are taken into account, including distance from ethanol plants and nutrient values of the DDGS products. “We can evaluate what the best-cost scenario might be for our clients based on the reports we receive,” he says. Watje also owns and manages finishing facilities that produce around 130,000 head annually.

Crum agrees. “Any tool that helps us put a quantifying value vs. a qualifying value to something we are paying for is a good idea. If I'm making better decisions both on buying and using DDGS in the diet, it isn't hard to know the tool is paying me back,” he says.

A Global Agribusiness

VAST has a team of agribusiness experts in finance, nutrition, production, genetics, feed manufacturing, processor contracts, marketing and other areas. The Mason City, IA, firm markets feed additives globally. See:

Lora Berg is a freelance writer from Lakeville, MN.

Table 1. Sample Nutrient Loadings from Illuminate Services
Ethanol Plant (DDGSa Source)
Item A B C D E F
Metabolizable energy, kcal/kg 3,070 3,160 2,944 2,985 3,543 3,387
Digestible lysine, % 0.50 0.44 0.53 0.51 0.58 0.55
Digestible methionine, % 0.44 0.42 0.53 0.43 0.42 0.43
Digestible threonine, % 0.62 0.60 0.82 0.64 0.73 0.75
Digestible trytophan, % 0.13 0.13 0.16 0.13 0.15 0.15
Digestible phosphorus, % 0.53 0.65 0.65 0.61 0.65 0.64
Relative Value, $/ton $161 $164 $150 $157 $223 $216

aDistiller's dried grains with solubles

Source: Value-Added Science and Technologies

Table 2. Finishing Diets with the Same Content of Major Nutrients Formulated Using Nutrient Loadings from Illuminate Servicesa
Diet (DDGSb Source)
Ingredient Cost Corn/Soy 30% DDGS, Plant C 30% DDGS, Plant E
Corn $3.20/bu. 1,553 1,014 1,100
Soybean meal, 46% $280/ton 359 246 249
DDGSb $100/ton 0 600 600
White grease $0.26/lb. 52 102 10
Monocal $523/ton 1 0 0
Lysine HCL $1.04/lb. 6.6 7.8 7.1
All other NA 28.4 30.2 33.9
Cost, $/ton - $172.77 $164.79 $145.51

aDiets formulated to contain 3,390 kcal/kg ME, 0.92% TID lysine and 0.21% available phosphorus.

bDistiller's dried grains with solubles

Source: Value-Added Science and Technologies