As the cost of grain rises, the livestock feeder is held hostage by the vagaries of the rest of the global economy. But there are a few things you can do to make sure you're getting the most out of your substantial investment.
Making sure you have an active implant with less than 100 days working in the cattle at all times is one idea. Another is ensuring adequate extent of grain processing to get thorough digestion and efficient utilization of the grain.
For decades, nutritionists have recommended that "a coarse crack" is sufficient to get acceptable levels of digestion without risking bloat and acidosis. Now that grain prices have risen to levels we once considered stratospheric, we need a new paradigm. Some research data suggests we can improve the efficiency of corn utilization by 4 percent to 5 percent - $15/head in today's corn market - by fine grinding (~2,000 microns) instead of coarse cracking the grain.
The other factor which can help us change our paradigm is our nearly-ubiquitous use of wet corn milling byproducts. These products are routinely priced at a value to corn, and are often included in the finishing diet at 20 percent to 60 percent of the ration dry matter. This makes the diet a completely different beast than what nutritionists had to work with in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. If all of the ingredients are dry, then fine particles will sift through the diet mixture and fall to the bottom of the bunk. If these fine particles contain mostly rapidly fermentable starch from finely ground corn, there's a good risk of bloat. However, that's not the case today.
Although the particle size of distillers grains is very fine, their fibrous nature means that the fine particles of distillers grains do not present nearly as great of risk for causing bloat as corn fines. And the high moisture content of the byproducts improves the positional stability of the total mixture such that the fine particles remain mixed as opposed to settling to the bottom of the bunk. Those fines which do settle out will be a blend of corn fines and distillers grains, with a reduced risk of bloat.
Producers can send off a sample of processed grain for particle size analysis, but the goal is to have all particles under 3mm in size. This maximizes ruminal and total tract utilization of starch and increases efficiency of feed use. While having a uniform blend of 1/4 and 1/8 kernels looks good, it's not going to help you get the most from your corn.
Producers may wish to have their Extension specialist or feed supplier collect fecal samples for starch analysis. (1) Combine 5-10 freshly voided fecal samples (about a golf ball-size each) in a plastic bag from 5-10 different cattle which have all been on the finishing diet for at least 3 weeks; (2) freeze the samples immediately after collection; (3) clearly identify the sample bags with producer name and pen number; (4) include a note requesting a fecal starch analysis, your email, and your billing address; (5) send the sample to the lab overnight such that it will arrive prior to the weekend. The goal is to have fecal starch <10 percent on a dry matter basis; if starch is >20 percent, there's a fair amount of money being left on the table.
Grinding corn to hog-feed consistency flies in the face of convention. But if you are using at least 20 percent (dry matter basis) of a wet milling byproduct ingredient, consider grinding the grain to a finer particle size to ensure maximum utilization of your sizable investment.