Iowa farmers find alternative "sweet" feed


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If you give a cow a chocolate-chip cookie, a candy bar, or snack food — at the end of the day, the meat is no sweeter.

Summer heat and lack of moisture stole the grass from Iowa pastures, forcing cattle farmers to find alternative ways to feed their animals, including the purchase of bakery byproducts.

“They are good feed, if you can get them,” Garland Dahlke, extension program specialist of the Iowa Sate University Iowa Beef Center, said. “There is a lot of competition for them.”

Bakery byproducts are a specific mix of processed food that is originally meant for human consumption, but does not make it to the grocery store. The reason can be as simple as a mislabeled package or a visually imperfect product.

“They could be perfectly good products,” Dan Hoy, salesman for Endres Processing, said. “It’s a byproduct of the human food products.”

Companies such as Endres Processing in Anamosa collect by-products from manufacturers and re-manufacture them into a new product, for livestock. Nutritionally, the bakery by-products parallel traditional corn diets.

“Between high-corn diets and byproducts, there is essentially no difference,” Dan Larson, a ruminant nutritionist at Great Plains Livestock Consulting, said.

For local farmer Steve Swenka, the drought is forcing him to look closer at byproducts, although he has not yet used any on his farm.

“We just weren’t able to make as much hay as usual,” Swenka said. “This summer we had to supplement the pasture with hay. Basically we were hauling hay out to the pasture — usually you never have to do that. This might be the year that I look a little harder into that.”

Bakery byproducts are not the only options offered on the market. There are also corn byproducts, which often come from ethanol plants.

“We’ve been using those products as a replacement for corn and soybean meal for several years,” said Dale Ford, vice president for feed business at the River Valley Cooperative. “It is a good product for protein, energy and minerals.”

When ethanol is made, the starch is extracted from the corn, leaving corn gluten feed and corn gluten meal, said Terry Yoder, sales manager of the Animal Nutrition Division of Stutsman Inc. Those products are then sold to livestock producers.

Besides how the byproducts are made, there are other differences between bakery byproducts and ethanol byproducts.

Bakery byproducts can boast fewer toxins in their feed. Manufacturers receive grains that were originally approved for human consumption — toxin free. However, if there is a microtoxin in the corn entering an ethanol plant, that toxin is only concentrated in the feed.

“Theoretically, you should have cleaner grain going into bakery byproducts,” Dahlke said. “[The ethanol process] doesn’t add, it doesn’t subtract any microtoxins. It’s just concentrated in the final product.”

He does add, though, cattle are able to digest small amounts of microtoxins because of the unique rumen bacteria found in their digestive system.

Another difference is the animal’s performance.

“The cattle tend to perform better on ethanol byproduct diets, if they are used correctly,” Ki Fanning, a ruminant nutritionist at Great Plains Livestock consulting, said. “If they are all used correctly, there are no side effects.”

Albia farmer Tim Kaldenberg feeds many of his cattle corn-gluten feed, which he said the cows seem to enjoy. However, because the prices have been rising, he has had to draw back.

“It wasn’t cost effective to feed them at the level I was before,” he said.

Fanning said the price of byproducts parallels regular corn prices as they rise.

“By not having a local supply, feed has to be shipped in from other parts of the country and that caused the cost of the material to rise due to transportation costs,” Yoder said.

Larson sees a large movement toward the use of byproducts but warns that those products can become scarce as well.

“As we turn toward them, we need to find the right way to use them,” he said.

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