Alternate day DDGS feeding model reduces winter feed cost

Beef cow supplementation with dry distillers grain

Recent research has shown that beef producers can reduce feed costs and maintain body condition of pregnant beef cows by feeding a diet alternating dried distillers grains (DDGS) with solubles and forage.

The feeding model was developed by researchers at North Dakota State University, according to Trent Gilbery, facility manager and animal care specialist at the NDSU Beef Cattle Research Center.

The recent feeding trial involved non-lactating, pregnant beef cows in their last trimester of pregnancy. They received one of four dietary treatments:

  1. Hay only Monday through Sunday.
  2. Hay and 0.4 percentage of body weight DDGS Monday through Sunday.
  3. Hay daily and .93 percent of body weight and DDGS on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
  4. Hay only on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and .93 percent of body weight and DDGS only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

There were several benefits with the alternate day DDGS/forage feeding program. First, the method used less inputs and required less labor to deliver feed to the cattle. Also, the alternating diet decreased forage intake by about 20 percent compared to other treatments, giving producers a lower cost ration.

The DDGS works well with low-quality hay, which is in greater numbers because of this year's drought. The DDGS provides protein and energy, makes the hay more efficient, and helps microbes break down and utilize the fiber from hay to provide more nutrition.

"The DDGS has been shown to be beneficial, even if only fed on alternate days," Gilbery said. "It makes the rumen more efficient in using forage."

Most importantly, the diet of DDGS on alternate days decreased forage eaten by the cows but did not negatively affect the cow’s body condition or the viability of her calf, Gilbery said.

With our limited forage availability this season and lower quality forages being utilized for winter cow rations, the alternate day feeding of DDG has merit. Many producers are utilizing baled crop residues like corn and soybean stover. These feedstuffs are generally lower in protein than cow requirements so DDG supplementation may be advised to increase protein in the diet. The additional benefit comes from better utilization of the forage due to increased microbial activity in the rumen.

Adding DDG to your winter cow diets does require additional management and adequate bunk space of 24”/cow during DDG supplementation. This will ensure all cows have equal opportunity to consumer the DDG. Anyone wanting to run the numbers on DDG supplementation can contact me at or their Michigan State University Extension educator. 

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