The possibility of using the byproducts of ethanol to produce cattle feed has gained recent headway. A new study conducted by W. Brandon Smith as part of his PhD research at Texas A&M has determined that seasons influence how well cattle can digest Tifton 85, a type of Bermuda grass, as later on in the season the grass becomes harder to digest. This is a concern for ensuring that cattle receive all the nutrients they need. Which is why Smith and a team of researchers figured out how to use dried distillers' grains (a byproduct of ethanol) to make the grass easier for cattle to digest.
"Due to the ramp-up in ethanol production over the past few decades, there has been an abundance of this byproduct in the beef industry," explains Monte Rouquette, a professor with Texas A&M AgriLife Research. "Originally viewed as a waste product of the industry, research began looking into other uses of the byproduct."
Ethanol is a biofuel that has risen in popularity in recent years due to pressures to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The dried grains that are left over after ethanol production can be supplemented in place of primary feed such as corn or soybeans, and even may have more energy and protein for the animals.
Tifton 85 Bermuda grass is found throughout the south and southeast United States and many cattle ranchers depend on this grass for their animals’ nutrition. The possibility of using these grains to help make Tifton 85 Bermuda grass easier to digest for cattle is a huge stride in the biotech and agricultural world. The researchers suggested that a two-season grazing method would be most suitable to best take advantage of this strategy.
With such a method in place, young, lightweight animals would graze in the early summer on the grass without the grain supplement while older, bigger animals would graze with the distillers' grain supplement later in the summer (because they need more assistance gaining all the necessary nutrients). The scientists also provide ranchers with recommendations about how much distillers’ grains to give and when so as to make the most profit from its use.
"These data can then be used in an economic assessment to provide a baseline of potential responses from the use of a supplement," says Rouquette. "This work is of interest to me because it sheds light on changes that occur chemically within the plant across the year that affect its digestibility." And, of course, because of the implications that it has on boosting a sustainable system in the cattle industry.