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Superfeed recipes are ready

CARRINGTON, N.D. -- North Dakota State University's Carrington Research Extension Center has some new nigh-nutrition recipes on hand that can be used as starter diets for dairy calves or as supplements to feedlot receiving rations, creep feed and...

CARRINGTON, N.D. -- North Dakota State University's Carrington Research Extension Center has some new nigh-nutrition recipes on hand that can be used as starter diets for dairy calves or as supplements to feedlot receiving rations, creep feed and even range cakes for beef cattle.

Superfeeds are recipes, mixtures of carefully selected coproducts and, in some cases, food crops that compliment each other's strengths to produce a nutrient-rich diet. In one study being conducted at the Carrington research center, steers that were put on a superfeed-enriched diet packed on an extra three-tenths of a pound per day.

"You can pay for a better quality supplement with three-tenths of a pound gain," says animal scientist Vern Anderson, who headed the research project.

The right stuff

But this stuff isn't necessarily expensive. North Dakota grain processors already market livestock feeds made from coproducts like dried distiller's grains and durum wheat middlings, or midds. And the wide range of other coproducts in North Dakota makes the state a great place to mix and market these superfeeds. Each year, processors in the state turn out more than 3 million tons of coproducts, including sugar beet pulp, canola, soybean, linseed, safflower and sunflower meals, malt sprout barley pellets, soybean hulls, corn gluten feed and dry pea products.

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Each of these has certain strengths and weaknesses as a standalone feed supplement, but when mixed together in the right proportions, they can speed up weight gain in steers and potentially produce higher quality carcasses.

Thanks to North Dakota's dry pea growers, the state is particularly well-positioned to produce a superior superfeed. Researchers in North Dakota have confirmed findings by pea producers who were feeding the legume to their butcher cattle: Pea-fed cattle produce higher quality beef. Given North Dakota's top ranking in pea production, having grown 64 percent of the national supply in 2008, processors in the state have an important leg up on the competition.

"There are coproducts in other states, but none of them have peas, and peas are such an attractive feed," Anderson says. "It's really kind of our hook for North Dakota superfeeds."

Trial results

The trial researchers fed 49 steers that initially averaged 799 pounds. During the first 62-day period, they were fed a standard mix of dry-rolled corn grain, corn silage, shopped straw and a vitamin-mineral supplement. Twenty-eight percent of this mixture was made up of a 50-50 mix of durum midds and dried distiller's grains.

The second feeding period was continued through finish weight. During this time, the midds-distiller's grains mixture was replaced with a 50-25-25 mixture of midds, dried distiller's grains and peas, making up 30 percent of the total diet.

Regular weighing brought to light the better performance of the superfeeds, as those steers were gaining three-tenths of a pound more than the steers not on the superfeeds.

"For year-old calves, that's very good," Anderson says.

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According to the published results, "steers were marketed when it was estimated by visual appraisal that 60 percent or more would grade USDA Choice."

Over several years of feeding trials, steers from the research center have consistently graded at approximately 65 percent Choice. In the superfeed trial, 74 percent of the steers graded USDA Choice or better.

"The results in the superfeed study indicate excellent qualitative criteria for steers marketed at just over one year of age," the report says.

When steers were graded USDA Choice at the same yield grade and weight criteria as those graded USDA Select, the Choice steers were worth $9 to $11 per hundredweight more during the time these steers were marketed.

The report goes on to state that the national average for percent of Choice carcasses at the time was 53 percent to 55 percent.

"The difference between the national average and the steers fed in this demonstration trial is an advantage of $38.11 per head, based on carcass grade," it says.

Previous research had supported the improved tenderness and juiciness in rib eye steaks with as little as 10 percent peas in the diet for 75 days prior to slaughter.

"If steers can be marketed at a young age, in this case less than 13 months, there is some additional assurance of tenderness," the report states.

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In short, these fed cattle were bigger and better than those on standard feedlot diets.

Economies of scale

With recipe in hand, Anderson now is looking for a place to produce the superfeed. The priorities will center upon two quality issues.

"The first thing we would look for is a high-value feed where pellet-ability and nutrient density are the critical issues," he says.

He foresees superfeed usage as a complete starter diet for dairy calves, and as receiving rations for feedlot steers, creep feeds for beef cattle and possibly as a range cake for cows.

"We might have a more expensive product," he says. "But we could use two pounds instead of three or four pounds of somebody else's product. So we cut transportation costs, because we've increased the nutrient density of that product."

Still, finding the right person or persons to step forward and take on superfeed production has been a slow process.

"It's a philosophy at this point, more than a reality, and that's the frustrating part," Anderson says. "When we talk to these guys that are making feed locally, the comments I get are that it's going to cost too much to build a plant."

The existing feed manufacturers in North Dakota support regional markets, he says.

"Our coproducts now are sold to other regions of North America and some are exported. What we're talking about here is something with economies of scale where we can have rail cars of it or maybe unit trains of it, with a mixture of coproducts headed for the coast and a ship to China."

Detractors charge that there are not enough peas to do this, but Anderson thinks that demand will create the supply, and that decreased competition for transportation will help make it worthwhile.

"That's the ultimate economy of scale, because then you're not competing with each other for transportation resources, like we are now. The wheat midds guys want 10 cars and the barley midds guys want 20 cars and the distiller's grains guys want 50 cars," he says.

But building a new plant is the big question for some. Would it be made economically viable? Economic developers are working with NDSU economists on a business plan to uncover these answers.

Anderson thinks they can overcome the cost of building the plant, but will wait for the economists' answers.

"That's what our business plan is going to tell us," he says.

Meanwhile, he and the researchers at the Carrington center are moving forward with more superfeed trials.

"We're doing more studies with dairy, swine and beef that are in-progress, right now," he says. "The preliminary data is positive."

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