A Vital Component

The relationship between cattle, grain and fuel is becoming more and more important as the industries evolve.

The perspective of Tim Ruggles, Ruggles Farms in Kingston, Mich. is one that many in the agriculture business are familiar with. As corn prices, meat prices and even fuel prices fluctuate, the farmer, rancher or feed producer needs to manage his operation in the best way possible. Distillers grains, as a co-product of ethanol, have a place in each of those market variables, and as they become more readily available, the relationships between each industry, be it cattle, grain or fuel, will become increasingly important for each industry. Ruggles appreciates this flexibility, not only as a cattleman, but as a farmer.

About fifteen miles from POET Biorefining – Caro, Mich., Ruggles can sell his extra corn to POET and still reap some of that crop’s rewards, as the distillers grains stays in the area, instead of being carted away by rail. And, he adds, “we seem to have a good relationship. That’s the way our farm is set up, on relationships like this.”

What are distillers grains?

Distillers grains were traditionally created as a byproduct of alcohol distilled for human consumption, but as the ethanol distillation process advanced technologically, distillers grains have become more readily available to the livestock producer. Today, the basic types of distillers grains are known as wet or dry. Some distillers in the dried grains category have had previously extracted components returned to them and are labeled “dried distillers grains with solubles.” There are several variations or minerals and additives possible with these grains, based on what the producer needs for his livestock.

When these grains are supplemented with nutrients and minerals needed by the animals they’re going to feed – everything from beef and dairy cattle to swine or chicken and even Fido, they become a tailor-made product.
This feed can be a vital part of today’s livestock operations because of its nutrients, according to Dr. David Schingoethe, distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Dairy Sciences Department at South Dakota State University.

Schingoethe has been studying distillers grains “since the beginning,” first using distillers grains from SDSU’s early experiments with ethanol and then from POET’s Research Center in Scotland, S.D., in studies with dairy cattle for more than 30 years.

Distillers grains or corn?

Schingoethe, who has studied both wet and dry distillers grains, explains that in comparison to corn, which is about ten percent protein on a “dry matter basis,” distillers grains are around thirty percent protein.

“So basically, in removing the starch to remove ethanol, you’ve concentrated the protein, the fat and the fiber in distillers grains, and you get a more concentrated protein,” he said. “The advantage is right now is when we say that distillers grains are less starch, we can get as much milk production from it as feeding corn.”

For Lyle Remmerde of Remmerde Farms in Rock Valley, Iowa, the solubles from distillers grains have been a vital component of his family’s work with cattle and hogs for roughly 20 years. Remmerde, his father, son and grandson manage about 500 acres of crop land where they raise corn, in addition to about 5000 head of cattle and 3000 hogs at a time. The family mixes wet distillers grains into corn silage, and often adds syrup [see sidebar, pg. 29] to the feed as an additional nutrient boost. Although the Remmerde family relies mostly on wet cake and syrup in their feeding operations, he has seen a difference in his livestock as these products have been factored in.

“We don’t have any hard data to compare carcass quality since [we began using distillers grains] but we have seen that cattle can stay on feed longer. If they’re fed the distillers grain product they have a tendency to keep on growing a bit better. They don’t get to the point, like with corn, where they hit a wall.”

What this can mean for someone involved in a cattle or hog operation like Remmerde is a greater yield potential at a price comparable to what would have been paid for corn.

Remmerde, who gets his wet cake from POET biorefineries in Chancellor or Hudson, S.D or Ashton, Iowa, says that freight is the biggest consideration for where he picks up the product – the closer the better, in order to keep his freight costs at a minimum.

Dennis Phillips, of Phillips Brothers Farm in Wapkoneta, Ohio, has been using Dakota Gold, POET’s branded distillers grains, in feed rations for the 1500 or so head of steers his operation finishes for market, as well as the yearlings they have on hand. He too, has seen a benefit to the formulas he can get from the ethanol plants in the area, POET Biorefining in Leipsic, Ohio and Portland, Ind.

“It cheapens up the rations a little bit, because it seems like the wet is a better deal [than straight field corn],” he said.

Uniformity is key

Phillips of Phillips Brothers Farm uses the wet cake variety of distillers grains, and because the nutrition of each batch of Dakota Gold is so similar, he believes it’s easy to keep his cattle right where they need to be with this product.

“They’ve got a sheet of what’s in it, and it’s pretty close to that all the time, so you just put that in your rations and come up with what you want to feed, as far as protein and the rest of it.”

Uniformity is a rare thing in distillers grains, says Glen Newhouse, Director of Operations at Kerber Milling Company in Emmetsburg, Iowa. The Kerber Milling operation puts out more than 3,000 tons of complete feed and custom mixes a week, and currently mixes Dakota Gold in as much as 30 percent of the feed it puts out.

“When you get a load of Dakota Gold, I don’t care if it’s this week, next week, next month; it’s going to be identical. All the nutrient values, the color, everything about it is going to be 100 percent the same,” adds Newhouse.

This flexibility in providing the right kind of nutrients when they are needed, while allowing for other variables, such as regional product availability, is something that makes distillers grains a unique addition to feed products, says Schingoethe.

And when you have several head of cattle to feed, uniformity and trusting a reliable product is key. And when so much of these farmer and rancher’s days are based on the unknown, having a solid, reliable product is a welcome change.

What's in a name?

Distillers grains

This name describes the corn product left over after the kernel’s starch and some of its oil (fat) has been removed and ethanol has been distilled from a mixture of corn, water and enzymes.

Distillers wet grains

Also known as “wet cake,” is a primarily unfermented coproduct of the distillation process that includes protein, fiber, fat and up to 70 percent moisture. Distillers wet grain has a shorter shelf life than dried distillers grain, making it important for the livestock producer to have adequate transportation and storage available.

Distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS)

This is a dried version of distillers grains, usually containing between 10 to 12 percent moisture. The solubles are from the syrup and contain protein, fat and minerals. They have been added back into this product after distillation.


A liquid or semi-liquid substance composed of fats extracted from the corn, this supplement is the “solubles” of distillers grain with solubles, and can be added to dried distillers grains by the plant, mill or the individual farmer. It can also be added to silage, field corn or any type of roughage fed to an animal.



Vital is a news & media resource published by POET, presenting a variety of stories with the thought leadership one expects from the largest, most forward-thinking ethanol producer.