Distillers grains and cattle.

OK this is slightly off beam, but a lot of people are very keen of feeding distillers grains to cattle. For some ethanol plants it is the most profitable part of the business.

Animal husbandry is not an area that I know much, if anything about. At home we struggle to keep goldfish alive above three months. (Each one a tragedy.)

But I came across a good, if long piece of writing to the next Farmer In Chief in the New York Times Magazine the other day. I’ve been wondering what to do with it, and I guess it was Ensus’ new website that prompted me to look at the effects of feeding protein and phosphorus-rich food to heifers. I am not trying to take a pop at Ensus, they’re just the most recent example of this thinking that I’ve come across.

It turns out that there is no advantage or disadvantage to feeding distillers grains to dairy heifers. According this on eXtension

The primary advantage in feeding distillers grains to dairy heifers iscost. There are no known biological or nutritional advantages ordisadvantages associatedwith feeding distillers grains to dairy heifers. Research trials inwhich distillers grains were fed to heifers observed normal growthrates, normal reproduction, and normal subsequent milk production.

For me one of there is a lot of resonance in Michael Pollan’s article, especially the part about flying over a brown land, which much of the US is for much of the time (based on series of flights at different seasons to random times across the US in the past 10 years). I am also impressed with his quote:

As Wendell Berry has tartly observed, to take animals off farms and putthem on feedlots is to take an elegant solution — animals replenishingthe fertility that crops deplete — and neatly divide it into twoproblems: a fertility problem on the farm and a pollution problem onthe feedlot. The former problem is remedied with fossil-fuelfertilizer; the latter is remedied not at all.

I don’t think of my self as particularly a champion of the organic food movement. Cheap food has enabled many in the west to avoid malnutrition, partly through fertiliser use. Organic food is often the preserve of the wealthy, beacuse it has not been possible to produce it on the scale of industrial food.

Maybe we need a middle way between these extremes with smaller farms closer to centres of population and inorganic fertiliser application used to supplement rather than replace fertilisation using animal waste. At least part of this Pollan  recommends.

Would benefit farmers to grow a range of crops across their farms rather than being reliant on monocultures of individual crops, if only to spread the risk.

Enough of this, I’m heading right back onto the beam.

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6 Responses to Distillers grains and cattle.

  1. David B. Benson 22 October, 2008 at 11:54 pm #

    Feedlot animal wastes are a source of biomass for biofuels. Some dairy farms are doing this already.

  2. Simon Robinson 23 October, 2008 at 9:31 am #

    Hi David,
    They are a source of biofuels, and there are arguments about getting all the waste together in one place to ensure that it is easy to capture. But isn’t there a counter argument that the environmental cost of greenhouse gas escaping from manure is a small price to pay for the fertilising effects of that manure. That is if you compare the environmental costs of producing fertiliser from natural gas, transporting it spreading it, it washing off into water courses etc. There’s run-off from animal-based manure too, but if the food the animals eat is what they evolved to eat not distillers grains which are high in nitrogen (protein) that should be minimal. What you put into a cow you’re likely to get out the other end.

  3. David B. Benson 24 October, 2008 at 12:21 am #

    Simon — I don’t know how it all plays out. However, nitrogen fertilizer can also be produced from biomathne, not just natural gas.

    But of course the Pope has the best colution: don’t eat (red) meat.

  4. David B. Benson 24 October, 2008 at 11:19 pm #

    Alas, the oceans are over 90% fished out.

  5. Simon Robinson 27 October, 2008 at 10:02 am #

    the price of cod is astronomical, so bulk up with mushy peas

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