Reducing feed cost of gain in the feedlot


Source: University of Minnesota Extension

Alfredo DiCostanzo, Extension animal scientist and Hugh Chester-Jones, professor, College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource Sciences

Quick facts

  • You can use alternative feeds such as corn gluten feed, distillers byproducts or small grains to improve cost of gain.

  • Evaluate alternative feeds to optimize feed use and cost.

  • Always process small grains but avoid excess processing as it will reduce feed efficiency.

  • High moisture feeds improve intake but may not improve daily gain.

Two measures drive feedlot profitability:

  • Average daily gain (ADG).

    • Relates to the days on feed.

    • Mainly affects nonfeed cost of gain.

  • Dry matter (DM) needed per pound of gain.

    • Relates more closely to feed cost of gain.

Using alternative feeds

Types of alternative feeds

Corn gluten feed

Corn gluten feed (CGF) comes from corn milling for starch, germ meal and sugar production. CGF consists mainly of corn bran, which includes:

  • Germ meal

  • Starch

  • Added steep liquor

Together these create a high protein and fiber feedstuff. But since CGF fiber digests quickly, the energy value is better than expected.

CGF in corn silage diets

Studies show that wet or dry CGF fed at 20 to 50 percent diet DM in corn silage-based diets has a similar energy value to corn silage. An 8 percent increase in DM needed per pound of gain resulted when dry CGF replaced corn silage (80 percent diet DM) in some cases. But the price of dry CGF relative to corn silage could reduce cost of gain.

CGF and corn grain

In finishing diets, the value of wet or dry CGF approaches that of corn grain when CGF makes up to 50 percent of the diet DM. Adding over 50 percent of diet DM of dry CGF increases DM needed per pound of gain. But the price of dry CGF relative to corn grain may reduce the cost of gain.

CGF and corn silage in high corn grain diets

DM needed per pound of gain increased from 3 to 16 percent over the control diet when

  • Feeding dry CGF at 30 percent with 15 percent corn silage

  • Feeding wet CGF at 50 or 70 percent with 10 percent corn silage

This may be a bad effect from fiber digestion of CGF and corn silage in the presence of corn grain. Thus feeding wet or dry CGF with corn silage may reduce efficiency.

Distillers byproducts

Distillers byproducts include fiber, protein and lipid fractions from corn milling in ethanol production. Most studies with dry or wet distillers byproducts show they have an energy value equal to or greater than corn grain.

Increasing wet distiller byproduct in the diet reduces DM needed per pound of gain as much as 17 percent. Steers that ate more wet distiller byproduct ate less dry matter but gained more weight than those fed a corn grain diet. Based on these results, Klopfenstein and Stock 1983 show that the energy value of wet distiller byproduct is about 0.97 Mega calories per pound of DM.

Klopfenstein and Stock 1993 looked at dry distillers byproduct diets (40 percent of diet DM) with a range in fiber nitrogen between 9.7 and 28.8 percent of crude protein. They found that the DM required per pound of gain was 8 to 10 percent less than the control diet.

Dry matter required per pound of gain for a wet distiller byproduct diet (40 percent diet DM) fed  was 16 percent less than the control diet. Thus the energy value of the distiller byproduct is higher than corn despite energy loss during the drying process.

Sound and moldy small grains

You may replace corn with small grains in finishing diets. Wheat and barley have like energy to corn but they ferment faster than corn in the rumen. Thus, you need to consider cost and proper feeding when using small grains.

Dry rolled barley has similar feed efficiency as corn grain. But steers fed barley gained 5 to 7 percent less weight and ate 4 to 6 percent less feed daily than steers fed corn grain. While barley lowers the feed cost of gain, you must compare the added time in the feedlot to the cost of feed savings.

Increasing dry rolled wheat from 15 to 45 percent of diet DM had alike feed efficiencies to corn. But steers gained 2 to 6 percent less weight than steers fed corn grain. You must consider added time in the feedlot when figuring reduced cost of gain from wheat.

Low priced wheat or barley may contain the toxin vomitoxin. University of Minnesota studies show that vomitoxin amounts as high as 21 parts per million doesn’t affect feed efficiency. Thus, you may see added reduced feed cost of gain when you use low cost vomitoxin-contaminated wheat or barley.

Evaluating alternative feeds

Feedlot operators need to be able to decide whether or not to use alternative feed sources. They also need to know how storing and processing affect feed cost of gain. Consider the following before using an alternative.

  • Cost including processing and handling.

  • Desired amount to feed.

  • Possible changes in feed DM needed per pound of gain.

  • Dry matter content.

Worksheet 1 will help you optimize feed use and storage or processing methods. It can help you compute the break-even point for an alternative diet. You can use the worksheet to:

  • Decide whether it pays to roll corn.

  • Compute the expected cost of gain is for a lower quality feed you must use.

  • Compute alternative feed prices you need for profit.

You must enter the following data into the worksheet:

  • Feed ingredients.

  • How much you feed daily in the current diet.

  • Cost of feed ingredients including processing or handling costs.

  • Dry matter content of feed ingredients: measure often enough to for a good feed intake estimate.

  • Projected or observed ADG.

Processing and storing methods impact feed efficiency

Most Midwest feedlots must decide how to store grain or whether to process them. Feedlots may need to use high moisture grains because of weather or facilities. Feedlots may need to grind or roll grain due to feedlot size, facility design or feed delivery method.


Always process small grains to allow for proper digestion in the rumen. Excess grain processing reduces feed efficiency.

  • Rolling may be enough.

  • Grinding barley resulted in a 4.6 percent increase in DM required per pound of gain.

    • This resulted from increased feed intake without an increase in daily gain.

  • There isn’t a general trend for corn.

    • In most cases, feed efficiency doesn’t differ more than 5 percent. Thus, prices and ease of feeding drives the decision to roll or crack corn.


Using high moisture feeds generally improves feed intake. But there must be a like increase in daily gain to prevent increasing DM required per pound of gain. High moisture may reduce feed efficiency of small grains that quickly ferment.

  • High moisture rolled barley in place of dry increased DM needed per pound of gain 7 to 24 percent. In both cases, feed intake increase but daily gain decrease or stayed the same.

  • Replacing dry rolled or cracked corn with high moisture shelled or rolled corn doesn’t affect, or tended to improve feed efficiency.

    • Moisture may improve corn’s slower fermentation rate.

    • Feedlot operators in the Upper Midwest may use this method because of short growing seasons, possible reduced harvest costs or both.


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