Cattle Feeders Should Stay Flexible, Seek Advice

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Loading distillers grains into wagon for cattle feed


AMES, Iowa – Disruptions caused by COVID-19 grow each day. Volatility in the cattle market was one of the first disruptions, and now with ethanol plant slowing production or shutting down, local availability of corn coproducts may be limited. Iowa Beef Center director Dan Loy said making plans now based on current and potential input availability will help producers determine their next steps.

"This situation is very local, continuously changing, and will vary from producer to producer and community to community," he said. "Supply disruptions could potentially affect other inputs such as feed additives, implants and trace nutrients. Hopefully these disruptions will be short-lived."

Here are three tips to help you manage the current challenges for your operation.

  1. In feedlot diets, soybean meal or urea based supplements (dry or liquid) can replace all of the protein from corn coproducts. However, remember smaller calves, calves with lower feed intake or those on growing diets may not be able to utilize all of the protein from urea. Formulating on the basis of metabolizable protein accounts for this. The high solubility of urea also comes with limits. Consider these limits for the safety of beef cows and backgrounding cattle. Other potential protein sources that may be on hand include whole soybeans. At 40% protein soybeans can be a good protein source for beef cattle. The fat content (20%) limits the amount that can be fed. Also cereal rye, harvested at the boot stage can be as high as 20% protein or higher.

  2. When substituting a higher protein supplement for distillers grains you will likely be substituting corn for distillers as a source of energy, adding more starch to the diet. Be sure to use an adjustment period and consider adding more fiber to the diet and managing feed bunks more closely.

  3. Lean on your nutritionist and other advisors. In Iowa, your regional extension beef specialist is a good resource for advice on options available. Find your specialist here. If adjustments need to be made to implant or supplementation strategies, base your decision on the options available and research-based information.



The Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It comprises faculty and staff from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about IBC, visit

Dan Loy, IBC director and Iowa State extension beef specialist, 515-294-1058,


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