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Tips for Replacing Distillers Grain in Cattle Diets

Nebraska Extension offers specific direction for small business meat processors

Beef cattle Distillers Photo Nebraska Extension

A national slowdown in the production of ethanol as a result of COVID-19 has led to a shortage in distillers grain.

A co-product of ethanol production, distillers grain is used in both wet and dry form by many cattle producers as nutrient- and protein-rich feed.

Nebraska Extension’s beef systems educators have some tips for cattle producers looking replace or supplement distillers grain in their animals’ diet while it is in short supply:

  • Producers who used wet or modified distillers should add water if replacing distillers grain with dry ingredients.
  • Corn silage is likely the best substitution for distillers grain, as it adds moisture and is the most economical roughage source, but it must be stored correctly. Alfalfa is an excellent roughage source, but very expensive and dry. If a producer only has low-quality forage (like cornstalks, straw or poor hay), then mixing and adding moisture is even more critical.
  • When possible, it is recommended that producers cut back on the distillers grain in their animals’ diet instead of replacing completely.
  • If distillers are completely eliminated from an animal’s diet, producers should consider adding urea as a protein supplement. Urea can be provided through liquid or dry supplements, and is now required in feedlots if distillers grain is not available. In feedlot diets, between 1 and 1.5% of an animal’s diet should be made up of urea (less is required in forage diets). Urea can be toxic if fed above 2%, and requires diligence when mixing so that sorting doesn’t occur. Incorporating wet feed into an animal’s diet can help lower the risk of sorting.
  • Urea is riskier to use in forage diets and in some cases, may be unnecessary. Forages are naturally higher in rumen degraded protein, and sorting is a greater concern in forage diets. In general, urea supplementation can be very useful in some forage diets, but needs to be fine-tuned.
  • Once a producer realizes they are short on distillers grain, they should begin gradually replacing distillers in their animals’ diet with the alternatives mentioned above in order to decrease the risk of bloat from acidosis.
  • Local alternatives may still be available, including dry distillers or dry gluten feeds, wet gluten feed, or liquid byproducts from. Other feeds that may fit are soybean meal, whole soybeans and field peas, as well as less common feeds like protein seed meals.

More information for cattle producers can be found online at Producers with specific questions on cattle nutrition can find a beef systems extension educator in their area at

Additionally, Nebraska Extension offers a variety of resources to help producers, communities and who have been affected by COVID-19. Those resources are available at

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