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Alternative Feeds for Beef Cattle. Dr. Matt Poore Extension Ruminant Nutritionist North Carolina State University. Forages are the most efficient feed we have for growing cattle, or cow/calf! Alternative feeds should supplement a good forage program. What is an Alternative Feed?.

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alternative feeds for beef cattle

Alternative Feeds for Beef Cattle

Dr. Matt Poore

Extension Ruminant Nutritionist

North Carolina State University


Forages are the

most efficient

feed we have for

growing cattle,

or cow/calf!

Alternative feeds

should supplement

a good forage program

what is an alternative feed
What is an Alternative Feed?
  • A non-traditional source of energy or protein generally to reduce feed cost
  • NCBA SPA database indicates that feed accounts for over 50% of total costs, in 1992 total cow cost was $390 and feed was $185
two basic types of byproduct based backgrounding programs
Two Basic Types of Byproduct-Based Backgrounding Programs
  • Small cow/calf producers backgrounding calves after weaning, or producers with small numbers of stockers
    • Forage-Based Programs
    • Single Commodity Supplementation Programs
  • Mid to large sized commercial backgrounders
    • Feedlot Programs with Total Mixed Rations
    • Commodity Sheds with Complex Blends of Byproducts
example of how an alternative feed can impact feed cost
Example of how an alternative feed can impact feed cost
  • Example. Compare feeding a 14% CP commercial supplement to soybean hulls
  • Commercial concentrate at $150/ton, soybean hulls at $85/ton, mineral at $500/ton, hay at $60/ton.
  • 84 day feeding, 2.18 lb/day gain
  • Gain valued at $.50/lb
  • Actual data from UMRS, Laurel Springs
influence of concentrate source 6 lb d on performance of stocker calves 1
Influence of Concentrate Source (6 lb/d) on Performance of Stocker Calves1

1 Calves were fed for 84 days on hay and 6 lb of

concentrate at the Upper Mountain Research Station,

Laurel Springs, NC

feed costs for backgrounding cattle fed soybean hulls or a commercial concentrate
Feed Costs for Backgrounding Cattle Fed Soybean Hulls or a Commercial Concentrate

Feed amounts Comm Soyhulls

6 lb concentrate $.45 $.26

17.5 lb hay $.53 $.53

.25 lb mineral $.06 $.06

Total $/day $1.04 $.85

Total $/84 days $87.36 $71.40

Gross Return $92.40 $92.40

Return over Feed $ 5 $ 21

classification of alternative feeds
Classification of Alternative Feeds
  • Co-products
    • Have attained primary ingredient value. Soybean meal, cottonseed meal.
  • Byproducts
    • Great potential. Some factors may limit their use. Underutilized. Soybean hulls, corn gluten feed.
  • Waste products
    • Certain factors greatly limit their usefulness. Broiler litter, cotton waste, potato waste.
factors affecting usefulness of alternative feeds
Factors Affecting Usefulness of Alternative Feeds
  • Moisture Content
  • Nutrient Density
  • Local Availability
  • Seasonal Availability
  • Limited Inclusion Rate
  • Handling/Processing/Storage
  • Health Side Effects
  • Public Perception
common alternative feeds in nc
Common Alternative Feeds in NC
  • Soybean Hulls - Seed coat, high in digestible fiber, good source of energy and protein
  • Wheat Middlings - Byproduct of flour production, good source of energy and protein
  • Corn Gluten Feed - Wet is better than dry, results with dry are sometimes disappointing
  • Whole Cottonseed - Good source of energy (fat) and protein, Gossypol limits use rate
  • Grain Screenings - Quite variable, may contain mycotoxins and weed seeds
  • Recycled Poultry Bedding (RPB) - Formerly known as “litter”. Low in energy, high in CP (1/2 from NPN) and minerals
example of a mixed byproduct backgrounding ration 1
Example of a Mixed Byproduct Backgrounding Ration1



1 This diet has consistently given 2.5 to 2.9 ADG over 56 days


Many studies at NCSU and elsewhere have shown that

soybean hulls, wheat middlings and corn gluten feed

are equal or nearly equal to corn and soybean meal,

or commercial feeds, when fed at 4-6 lbs/head daily,

along with pasture or hay and a good mineral.


Recently we have

been working with

self-feeding programs

utilizing byproducts.

Soybean hulls seem

very well suited to this

use. Growing cattle

will eat 10-18 lb of

soybean hulls out of

a self-feeder plus hay or

pasture, and will gain

between 2 and 3 lbs/day

whole cottonseed is a great supplement for brood cows
Whole Cottonseed is a Great Supplement for Brood Cows
  • Whole cottonseed is very economical when purchased in October and November in North Carolina
  • The high level of protein and fat make it an ideal brood cow supplement
  • It can be fed off the sod, in bunks or on unrolled hay
  • Feeding cottonseed (or any fat source) before calving for 30-60 days improves calf vigor and cow reproduction
cautions when feeding whole cottonseed
Cautions When Feeding Whole Cottonseed
  • Observe daily feeding limits.
    • Cows 0.5% of body weight (6 lbs for a 1200 lb cow)
    • Calves 0.33% of body weight (2 lbs for a 600 lb calf)
  • Spread out so all can eat at once
  • Don’t feed to bulls except when they are with cows during the breeding season (because of the toxin gossypol).
  • Feed every other day to brood cows works, but not more than 10 lb/cow/feeding
storing whole cottonseed
Storing Whole Cottonseed
  • Store under an open shed
  • Don’t cover with plastic because it will sweat
  • Don’t put it on plastic either. Concrete is ideal, but if floor of shed is dirt, then put down a layer of hay or straw.
  • If kept dry it will last at least one year in storage. Carrying over from one year to the next seems to work ok.

Any shed where you can back in a tractor trailer is a potential place to store whole cottonseed or other byproduct feed


Cottonseed can be fed

out of bunks, off sod, or

as shown here on top of

hay that has been unrolled

safety of rpb is it an issue
Safety of RPB? Is It An Issue?
  • Animal health issues
    • Copper toxicity
    • Hardware
    • Salmonella and other pathogens?
  • Public concerns
    • Heavy metals in food supply
    • Potential for pathogen contamination of meat supply
    • Others?
  • Over the many years broiler litter has been fed there have been few if any incidents that warrant banning RPB as a feed ingredient
influence of rpb stacking method on performance and salmonella shedding in beef calves
Influence of RPB Stacking Method on Performance and Salmonella Shedding in Beef Calves
  • Calves were fed a control ration or RPB-based diets with or without monensin
  • RPB was from houses that tested positive for Salmonella
  • Stacking was either deep (normal heat) or shallow (insufficient heat)
  • Backgrounding diets fed for 84 days, then cattle were finished
  • Fecal samples were taken every 2 weeks up until slaughter
  • RPB was Salmonella positive at cleanout and when it arrived at the research station, but was negative after stacking by either method
  • Deep-stacking RPB improved gain and intake
  • No Salmonella shedding was found throughout the backgrounding and finishing phase
  • RPB had no negative impact on finishing performance or carcass characteristics
future work with alternative feeds
Future Work with Alternative Feeds
  • Further determination of the realized value of underutilized byproducts, and developing strategies to get more out of poorly performing products
  • Manufacturing value-added ingredients from various waste and byproducts common in the region
  • Improving public acceptance, especially of waste products as feed ingredients
  • Alternative feeds have great potential to reduce feed costs for producers in the Mid-Atlantic region
  • Increased management is almost always necessary to make alternative feed programs work
  • Byproducts can be used in very simple, one ingredient applications or in complex multi-ingredient rations