Jon Schoonmaker ethanol purdue
Jon Schoonmaker, assistant professor of animal sciences at Purdue University, says adding a small amount of calcium oxide to distillers grains can improve the digestibility and nutrient value of some livestock feed mixes.

Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

Small amounts of calcium oxide can neutralize the acid in distillers grains — a plentiful byproduct of ethanol production — which means beef producers can provide a nutritious, balanced diet to their animals while keeping feed budgets manageable.

"Incorporating calcium oxide into the feed mix represents a small increase in price for much better performance," says Jon Schoonmaker, a scientist at Purdue University, West LaFayette, Ind. "The benefits are especially important now that many producers are thinking about increasing the size of their herds to take advantage of improving market conditions."

A commonly used alternative to corn in many livestock feed mixes, distillers grains from ethanol production retain many of the nutrients of the original corn used in the ethanol process. The grains can be fed to animals in a wet form, with a 65 percent moisture content, or dried, at 10 percent.

The problem, say the Purdue researchers, is that distillers grains retain the sulfuric acid used to control the starch fermentation during ethanol production. Since the grain is highly acidic, it is difficult for cattle to fully digest. The undigested feed is essentially empty calories — like junk food — because the animal gets no nutritional value from it. Adding the calcium oxide directly to the ration mix at a rate of 1 percent of the total dry matter made the distillers grains less acidic, more digestible and therefore more nutritious, leading to better growth performance among test cattle, Schoonmaker says.

The paper by Schoonmaker and his team was published in the Journal of Animal Science