Use of commodity ingredients for dairy cattle


Source:  PennState Extension

Explore ingredient storage, nutrient composition and variability, and considerations for managing a commodity-based feeding system.


Expanding herd sizes have allowed dairy producers to implement alternative feeding strategies. This has resulted in an increased interest in feeding commodities and food processing wastes in dairy herds. Large herds feeding a total mixed ration (TMR) and housed in freestall facilities tend to see the greatest benefit in using commodities. TMR are well adapted to inclusion of high moisture ingredients and less palatable items with a minimum of handling problems. Freestall facilities frequently provide adequate feed storage and processing centers than older stall barns.

The decision to use commodities or food industry waste depends on many factors: type of feeding system, feed processing facilities and equipment, labor situation, managerial abilities, and costs versus alternatives. Larger herds with more than 150 milk cows are more likely candidates for using commodities.

Adequate ingredient storage is essential. Commodities can be stored in flat storage and/or upright bins that can handle loads weighing over 20 tons. Commodity use usually involves purchasing a custom-made mineral-vitamin mixture or a protein supplement. If these mixtures are made at the farm, adequate time, equipment and capable personnel are necessary. Tailoring the concentrates closer to the needs of a particular farm at a given time can provide improved animal performance.

Justification of moving to commodity usage and continuance of it requires improved margins in the overall dairy operation. A more detailed economic analysis is necessary than only the “raw” ingredient cost. The information presented in this fact sheet will point out some of the factors to consider before implementing a commodity-based feeding system.

Storage and Handling

Success using a commodity feeding program requires an emphasis on storage and handling. Facilities need to accommodate truckload lots through varied delivery systems while maintaining ingredient quality. Control­ ling shrink and feeding rates is essential.

Before investing money in structures, evaluate the farm comparing costs and savings of using various feeds and the quantities of these feeds purchased at any one time. Additional costs include storage, processing, labor and maintenance on the facilities and equipment. Some often-overlooked costs that must be included are shrink, time use of money and interest on investment.

Upright bins

Hopper bottom upright bins permit gravity unloading of stored materials. A side-draw hopper is ideal for materials that tend to bridge, such as concentrates and ground feeds. Center-draw bins works best for whole grains and free-flowing materials. Locate bins so they are convenient for feed preparation activities.

Some advantages of using upright bins are reduced shrink (1 to 2%), lower capital investment compared to commodity sheds, and more accurate feed out. However, upright bins may not be compatible with some feeds (i.e. whole cottonseed and high moisture ingredients). Feed delivery with a blower or auger truck is necessary and unloading times may be slow.

Flat storage

Flat storage commodity sheds are typically concrete bottom bins with wooden, steel or concrete walls to contain the stored material. Front-end loaders are necessary to move feed from storage to the mixer wagon. Convenient access to bins for both loading and unloading is important. Installing a 40- to 50-foot concrete apron in front of the bins allows maneuvering by large vehicles and equipment.

This type of storage is useful for materials that do not flow freely. The inconsistency and unpredictability in handling characteristics associated with some byproduct ingredients, i.e. brewer’s grain, make flat storage useful. Adding large quantities of ingredients to a feed mixer are quicker and easier.

One of the biggest disadvantages to flat storage is the potential for more shrink (5 to 15%) compared to upright bins. The shrink can be higher with poor facilities, poor management, or herd sizes less than 150 milking cows. There also are high capital costs associated with flat storage. If the farm does not have a loader, that will be an additional cost.

Tank storage

Using liquid feeds in the ration requires tank storage. An elevated tank with a pipe that discharges directly into the mixer wagon is convenient. Utilizing ground-level tanks with a pump and an elevated discharge spout are possible. A cautionary note: some liquid products do not flow well in cold weather. If gravity only is used with an elevated tank, there could be some problems.

Existing buildings and silos

Existing facilities already on the farm can also be used for grain and commodity storage. Machine sheds can store trailer loads of some commodities, i.e. whole cottonseed. However, if the existing facilities are in inadequate, they may cause excessive shrink from spoilage and spillage during loading. The existing facility should fit into the overall flow of the feeding operation.

Sizing storage

The amount of storage required for a particular ingredient will be a multiple of the unit truck capacity plus a cushion of 25 to 50 percent. That number will depend on purchasing arrangements and if storage of the new material is in the same bin that is currently being used.

A semi-trailer truck’s capacity is about 24 tons. For dense products such as grains, pelleted feeds, and soybean meal, one truckload will equal the semi’s weight capacity. For less dense products such brewer’s grain and distiller’s grain, truck volume is usually the limiting factor. The load may contain only 20 to 22 tons of the material. To allow for storage flexibility, size storage to hold the maximum truckload or railroad car that the farm can receive.

When using upright bins, choose a size with at least 20 percent larger capacity than the largest load purchased. This allows for delivery before completely emptying the bin.

When sizing a flat storage bin, consider the volume and weight of feed purchased and the type of delivery vehicles. A minimum width of 14 feet is required to allow easy loading and unloading of the bins. A 16-foot roof clearance is recommended with a minimum of 14 feet. The reinforced wall height should be 6 to 8 feet. A maximum depth of 6 to 8 feet is expected when dumping directly from the truck. The reinforced walls will need to be higher and stronger to support additional loads imposed by the loader and the deeper pile of material.

A rule of thumb when planning for storage is to have two extra bins. This allows room for storing a farm-made premix, an extra load of ingredient purchased at a good price, or a fresh load when using the remainder of an older load. Table 1 gives storage requirements for common commodity feeds. Use these values to determine the volume needed for storage. The bin size can then be determined.

Table 1. Commodity storage densities and storage volumes.
Commodity Storage Density,
pound per cubic foot
Volume Required,
cubic foot per ton
Source: Tyson, J.T. Choosing Grain and Commodity Storage Facilities. Pg. 29. Dairy Feeding Systems: Management, Components, and Nutrients. NRAES-116.
Alfalfa, chopped 12 167
Barley – whole 38 53
– ground 28 71
Beet pulp, dry 15 133
Brewers grain, dry 15 133
Brewers grain, wet 45 to 50 40 to 44
Concentrates, typical 45 44
Corn, ear 28 71
Corn and cob meal, dry 36 56
Corn, shelled 45 44
Corn, ground shelled 38 53
Cottonseed, whole 26 77
Cottonseed meal 38 53
Distillers grain, dry 15 133
Gluten feed 33 61
Hominy 28 71
Mineral ingredients 72 28
Molasses 77 (10 lbs./gallon) 26 (200 gallons/ton)
Oats – whole 26 77
– ground 18 111
Soybeans, whole 48 42
Soybean hulls 16 to 18 111 to 125
Soybean meal 42 48
Soybean screening 35 57
Total mixed ration 35 57
Wheat – whole 48 42
– ground 43 47
– bran 13 154
Wheat middlings 20 100
Pellets, mixed feed 35 to 40 50 to 57
Pellets, ground hay 38 to 45 44 to 53

Just-In-Time Inventory (JITI)

JITI is the process of feed suppliers holding commodities and minerals in their storage units and delivering the feed or premix to the farm just in time as the farm inventory is depleted. The price on a commodity can be locked in advance, the ingredient stored at the suppliers, and payment made at time of delivery.

Some of the advantages of JITI are that it reduces shrink, the supplier carries the inventory-carrying costs and there is a reduction in storage and equipment needs and costs. The supplier is responsible for managing feed quality.

Disadvantages include that the dairy producer has to be aware of inventory needs because delivery is on a required basis. There has to be good communication between the supplier and the customer. There can be reduced buffers during periods of feed shortages.

Management of Byproducts


Successfully incorporating commodity feeds into dairy cattle rations also requires additional management by the customer and nutritionist. Variation in nutrient content of byproducts is inherent due to physical, chemical, and biological processes that produce these ingredients. A protocol for maintaining quality of purchased commodities is essential for controlling variability, i.e. occasionally sending the purchased commodity to a lab for nutrient analysis.

Do not rely solely on book or expected values when programming rations. Processing methods and genetics of the base material are constantly changing, likely resulting in byproduct variability. In addition, companies within the industry differ in their design and efficiency of extracting the primary product, which causes nutrient variability according to production location. A byproduct is acceptable if it demonstrates a consistent nutritive value in terms of quantity and quality.

Table 2 lists the nutrient variability of several ingredients. The California Chapter of American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (CCARPAS) arranged for the analysis of least 10 samples each of several byproducts. Inspectors from the California Department of Food and Agriculture collected all the feed samples. The citrus pulp and cottonseed originated from within California. Canola came from Canada and the distillers and soybean hulls from the Midwest. Nutrients are compared between a 1995 small-scale study at the University of California, Davis (UCD) and the 2001 NRC.

Table 2. Nutrient profiles of byproduct feeds evaluated by CCARPAS, UCD, and NRCa.
Feed CP
% of dry matter
% of dry matter
% of dry matter
% of dry matter
% of dry matter
Source: Feedstuffs, September 11, 2000. pg 10.
CCARPAS = California Chapter of American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists; UCD = University of California, Davis; NRC = 2001 Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle.
The number of samples analyzed and their standard deviation are listed for each nutrient for an ingredient and was taken from the 2001 NRC.
Note: All nutrients are average values based on a certain number of samples tested. CP = crude protein; ADF = acid detergent fiber; NDF = neutral detergent fiber; NEL = net energy of lactation.
Brewer’s grain, dry
CCARPAS 23.6 25.6 51.4 8.7 9.6 0.78
2001 NRC 29.2 22.2 47.4 5.0 5.2 0.77
Number of samplesb 688.0 88.0 221.0 34.0 88.0
Standard deviationb 4.0 3.9 6.6 2.7 1.6
Canola meal
CCARPAS 40.3 19.2 26.6 7.2 4.5 0.76
2001 NRC 37.8 20.5 29.8 9.5 5.4 0.80
Number of samplesb 230.0 82.0 81.0 18.0 71.0
Standard deviationb 1.1 5.1 6.6 4.3 5.5
Citrus pulp
CCARPAS 6.6 17.9 20.2 4.8 1.6 0.75
UCD 6.4 16.8 17.7 0.9 1.1
2001 NRC 6.9 22.2 24.2 0.9 4.9 0.80
Number of samplesb 469.0 99.0 99.0 7.0 39.0
Standard deviationb 0.6 4.5 3.5 0.1 1.3
Cottonseed, whole
CCARPAS 25.6 37.6 45.7 14.9 20.4 0.94
2001 NRC 23.5 40.1 50.3 12.9 19.3 0.88
Number of samplesb 1124.0 1024.0 953.0 76.0 27.0
Standard deviationb 2.6 4.4 5.8 3.2 1.4
Distiller’s grain, dry
CCARPAS 31.2 20.3 35.6 6.4 13.0 0.94
UCD 29.6 19.7 39.2 4.7 10.4
2001 NRC 29.7 19.7 38.8 4.3 10.0 0.90
Number of samplesb 879.0 710.0 493.0 46.0 464.0
Standard deviationb 3.3 4.6 7.8 2.8 3.4
Soybean hulls
CCARPAS 11.8 46.6 64.4 3.7 2.5 0.65
UCD 13.0 45.4 57.5 1.8 4.4
2001 NRC 13.9 44.6 60.3 2.5 2.7 0.66
Number of samplesb 138.0 87.0 88.0 24.0 77.0
Standard deviationb 4.6 5.1 7.4 2.5 1.4

Table 2 illustrates the variation that can occur in a byproduct’s nutrient content when comparing average values from different references (i.e. 2001 NRC, CCARPAS and UCD). Some ingredients like canola are uniform. However, ingredients such as brewer’s grain and cottonseed show differences in several nutrients, which could result in poor ration formulations depending on which values are used. Without routine testing, a favorably priced commodity could turn unprofitable in the long term due to mediocre animal performance.

The major nutrients are not the only concern with commodities. Mineral variability is a concern as well (Table 3). Comparing analyses from CCARPAS with the 2001 NRC, there are some differences in phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur values. Using average values from one reference over actual, tested values could be an issue for controlling phosphorus levels on the farm. There could also be negative effects with respect to metabolic problems with dry cows if potassium and sulfur book values are used instead of actual, tested values.

Table 3. Mineral profiles of byproduct feeds evaluated by CCARPAS, UCD, and NRCa.
Feed Ca
% of dry matter
% of dry matter
% of dry matter
% of dry matter
% of dry matter
Source: Feedstuffs, October 9, 2000. pg 10.
CCARPAS = California Chapter of American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists; NRC = 2001 Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle.
The number of samples analyzed and their standard deviation are listed for each nutrient for an ingredient and was taken from the 2001 NRC.
Note: All nutrients are average values based on a certain number of samples tested. Ca = calcium; P = phosphorus; Mg = magnesium; K = potassium; S = sulfur; Cu = copper; Zn = zinc.
Brewer’s grain, dry
CCARPAS 0.23 0.63 0.25 0.36 0.24 17.4 93.9
2001 NRC 0.30 0.67 0.26 0.50 0.38 11.0 85.0
Number of samplesb 344.0 344.0 344.0 344.0 138.0 344.0 344.0
Standard deviationb 0.11 0.06 0.35 0.26 0.08 6.0 15.0
Canola meal
CCARPAS 0.70 1.16 0.56 1.40 0.71 4.0 61.6
2001 NRC 0.75 1.10 0.53 1.40 0.73 5.0 61.0
Number of samplesb 79.0 79.0 79.0 79.0 32.0 29.0 79.0
Standard deviationb 0.11 0.20 0.07 0.13 0.19 3.0 7.0
Citrus pulp
CCARPAS 1.95 0.11 0.10 0.87 0.06 3.1 7.6
2001 NRC 1.92 0.12 0.12 1.10 0.10 8.0 11.0
Number of samplesb 90.0 90.0 90.0 90.0 47.0 90.0 57.0
Standard deviationb 0.53 0.03 0.01 0.16 0.03 3.0 3.0
Cottonseed, whole
CCARPAS 0.15 0.72 0.37 1.23 0.24 11.4 38.7
2001 NRC 0.17 0.60 0.37 1.13 0.23 7.0 37.0
Number of samplesb 928.0 928.0 928.0 928.0 424.0 928.0 928.0
Standard deviationb 0.08 0.08 0.04 0.07 0.04 3.0 18.0
Distiller’s grain, dry
CCARPAS 0.07 0.80 0.35 1.01 0.57 2.4 52.8
2001 NRC 0.22 0.83 0.33 1.10 0.44 8.0 65.0
Number of samplesb 649.0 649.0 648.0 648.0 278.0 648.0 648.0
Standard deviationb 0.10 0.14 0.07 0.23 0.15 7.0 19.0
Soybean hulls
CCARPAS 0.60 0.13 0.25 1.32 0.10 6.7 38.0
2001 NRC 0.63 0.17 0.25 1.51 0.12 10.0 35.0
Number of samplesb 81.0 79.0 73.0 71.0 37.0 72.0 73.0
Standard deviationb 0.07 0.07 0.03 0.14 0.04 2.0 6.0


Consider the shrink associated with a specific commodity. Shrink will depend upon the commodity type as well as method of storage, handling, and management. For example, dry ingredients with small particle size and low density can be susceptible to wind losses (i.e. soyhulls). High moisture byproducts may have high losses due to spoilage and runoff. Table 4 represents the range in feed losses for several feeds based on the type of storage.

Table 4. Expected shrink losses (%) from some common feeds.
Ingredient Open, Uncovered Piles Covered, 3-Sided Bays Closed, Bulk Bins
Source: Al Kertz, “Variability in Delivery of Nutrients to Lactating Dairy Cows,” J. Dairy Sci. 1988.
Alfalfa meal 7 to 15 5 to 10 2 to 5
Alfalfa, chopped 10 to 20 5 to 10
Bakery waste 8 to 16 4 to 7
Barley, whole 5 to 8 4 to 7 2 to 3
Beet pulp, dry 12 to 20 5 to 10 3 to 5
Brewers grain, dry 12 to 20 5 to 8 2 to 5
Brewers grain, wet 15 to 30 15 to 30
Concentrates, typical 4 to 5 4 to 5
Cottonseed, whole 10 to 20 5 to 15
Distillers grain, dry 15 to 22 7 to 10 3 to 6
Distillers grain, wet 15 to 40 15 to 40
Dry meal feeds, typical 5 to 10 3 to 8 2 to 4
Dry grains, typical 5 to 8 4 to 7 2 to 4
Wheat bran 15 to 28 6 to 12 2 to 5
Wheat middlings 14 to 22 4 to 9 3 to 5
Soybean hulls 12 to 20 5 to 10 2 to 5

For large herds planning to incorporate numerous tractor-trailer loads of commodities annually, investing in scales to weigh all deliveries may be prudent. As part of a management protocol, weighing all deliveries could monitor on-farm shrink on a regular basis. The following steps outline 2 possible ways in which shrink can be determined.


  1. Twenty-four tons (or 48,000 pounds) of soybean meal is purchased.
  2. The farm feeds 4 pounds daily to 500 cows or 2000 pounds daily.
  3. The load of soybean meal should last 24 days.
  4. The supply lasts only 22 days, so 4000 pounds has been lost – a shrink loss of 8.3%.
  5. If the producer paid $230/ton, the loss would drive the per pound cost from 11.5 cents per pound to 12.5 cents per pound, or $20 more per day.


  1. During week one of feeding, 14,000 pounds of soybean meal should be used.
  2. Records show the feeder fed 14,500, 15,500 and 15,000 pounds per week over the past three weeks (21 days).
  3. The soybean meal was to last 24 days, however with the overage being fed, there is only enough to use at one more feeding (assuming 2000 pounds per day feeding level). The total amount ordered was 48,000 pounds and 45,000 pounds was fed instead of the expected of 42,000 pounds for the three week period.
  4. This would reduce the feed supply by two days.

Another area to control shrink is by managing rodents and birds. Keep the commodity areas relatively tidy, and grass and weeds trimmed. See the section on storage and handling for more information on shrink.

Economic Considerations

Selecting commodities because they are cheap does not equate into the most profitable ration. Incorporate commodities based on the “best” least-cost ration formulation. This ration may not be the least expensive, but it will be the best cost in achieving desired production levels, milk composition and profitability. Consider an ingredient when its nutrient content complements the ration fed and the price is reasonable.

When milk prices are low or feed prices are high, the first reaction is to eliminate the highest priced feed from the ration. The problem with that is the highest priced feed may be providing the highest profit and greatest return. Make decisions by evaluating the entire program and selecting alternatives that can lower costs without hurting performance. For example, a producer uses soybean meal or canola meal to meet an 18% crude protein level in the diet. To reduce feed costs without affecting profitability, re-evaluate the ration by focusing on amino acids, rumen undegradable protein, and lowering protein to 17.0% to 17.5%. There could be a cost savings and production still not be affected.

Another area where producers can control costs is by not overfeeding an ingredient or nutrient. A good example would be phosphorus. Many byproduct feeds contain substantial levels of phosphorous that usually require no added supplementation via a mineral mixture. However, when evaluating rations, feeding phosphorus at higher levels than what is required is common and results in wasted feed costs. Have rations evaluated component by component every four months as a control measure.

Some other fine points in considering costs of using commodities are the transportation and delivery charges per ton. Correct prices for shrink loss before evaluating the feed in the ration. Some grain commodities require processing before feeding. These costs must be determined and included into the cost of the commodity.

Some long-term economic ramifications with commodity purchases can involve poor quality control. The issue of nutrient variability, as mentioned in an earlier section, can impact production, health and affect nutrient management.

Example scenarios

Table 5 illustrates scenarios that could occur when commodities are not tested and nutrients fall either above or below expected. Using the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System, the control ration was formulated for a 24,000-lb herd average and assumes all forages and commodities have been tested. Three commodities (distiller’s grain, wheat midds, and whole cottonseed) were used to evaluate the possible impacts of variability in crude protein and neutral detergent fiber. Nutrient composition data was obtained from the 2001 NRC. For each commodity, the mean nutrient composition was used in the control ration and standard deviations above or below the mean were used to represent the high and low scenarios, respectively.

Table 5. Ration scenarios illustrating possible economic impacts due to ingredient variability.
Control ration High CP scenario Low CP scenario High NDF scenario Low NDF scenario
aData was obtained using the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System Model.
ME = metabolizable energy; MP = metabolizable protein.
Note: The rations contained corn silage and haylage as forage sources. Dry corn and 48% soybean meal were used as the energy and protein sources. It was assumed that these ingredients remained consistent even when the commodities varied in either CP or NDF.
Intake and performance predictionsa
ME allowable milk (lbs/day) 79.1 78.7 79.4 77.5 80.7
MP allowable milk (lbs/day) 81.5 83.3 79.7 79.8 83.3
Diet concentration and rumen balancesa
Diet CP (% DM) 17.7 18.2 17.1
Excess nitrogen excreted (grams/day) 84.0 102.0 66.0
Urea cost (Mcal/day) 0.2 0.4 0.0
Diet NDF (% DM) 34.2 35.5 32.8
Diet NFC (% DM) 38.8 37.4 40.1

Possible economic impact of scenarios


  1. Eighteen grams of excess nitrogen is being excreted compared to the control ration. Consider the following example: 200 cows x 305 days x 18 grams = 1,098,000 grams or 2,415 pounds of excess nitrogen.
  2. The urea cost represents the additional energy required to excrete the excess nitrogen. This can result in cows losing body condition, which in turn can affect reproduction, lactation peak and/or persistence, and interfere with the cow’s ability to gain condition prior to dry-off.
  3. Even though milk production is improved according to the metabolizable protein allowed milk, this is a very inefficient way of increasing milk production (see item 2 above).
  4. A quarter pound of additional protein is being fed. Soybean meal is the protein source, this equates to about 2.5 cents/cow/day. Consider the following example: $0.025 x 200 cows x 305 days = $1525.00 in unnecessary additional feed costs.


  1. In this particular scenario, the lower CP may not have a tremendous impact on production or performance. However, if amino acids are not properly balanced, then production or milk components could suffer.
  2. If forage dry matters changed or forages are not tested regularly, then protein could be much lower. This could have a negative effect on milk production.


  1. High fiber reduces the ration energy content, which can reduce milk production. In our example, milk is reduced on average by 1.65 pounds compared to the control ration. If milk is priced at $13.00/cwt, consider the following example: 1.65 pounds x 200 cows x $0.13 x 305 days = $13,084 in possible lost revenue.


  1. The low NDF scenario results in an increase in milk. However, field experience demonstrates that this is usually a short-term response. Rumen acidosis and laminitis can occur. This can result in cows going off-feed, reduced milk production, lower reproductive performance, increased vet costs, and increased involuntary culling.

Commodity Ingredients and Food Processing Wastes

When deciding on a feed’s use in a program, it is helpful to know its general classification. This will aid in establishing the type of nutritional information desired and in conducting an economical analysis. Table 6 lists the classification of several commonly used ingredients. Some feeds provide several nutrients, such as whole cottonseed, which provides protein, fiber, and fat. Do not overlook that some byproducts also contribute to the mineral profile. For example, utilizing wheat midds and canola meal will probably meet most of the cow’s phosphorus requirement without adding inorganic sources.

Table 6. Classification of concentrate ingredients.
Source: From Feed to Milk: Understanding Rumen Function. Penn State Dairy and Animal Science Extension Circular 422.
aCP = crude protein; RUP = rumen undegradable protein; SP = soluble protein; NFC = nonfiber carbohydrates; NDF = neutral detergent fiber. All values are listed on a dry matter basis.
CPa >40% RUPa >45% of CP SPa >30% of CP
Canola meal Animal protein blends Corn gluten feed
Corn gluten meal Brewers grain (wet and dry) Cottonseed, whole
Cottonseed meal Corn gluten meal Soybeans, raw
Soybeans, heat-treated Distillers grains Urea
Soybean meal (44% or 48%) Fish meal Wheat midds
Soybeans, raw Soybeans, heat-treated
NFCa >55% Fata >18% NDFa >35%
Bakery product Bakery waste products Beet pulp
Barley Candy waste products Brewers grain (wet and dry)
Corn Chocolate Corn gluten feed
Hominy Cottonseed, whole Cottonseed, whole
Oats Soybeans, heat-treated Distillers grain
Wheat Soybeans, raw Soyhulls
Wheat midds

In Pennsylvania, the opportunity exits to feed “non-conventional” types of byproducts or food processing wastes. Some of these feeds are very inexpensive, and the only cost associated with them may be for transportation. The following is a list of some food wastes available to Pennsylvania producers, their special needs, cautions on their use, and a partial analysis (Table 7).

Apple Pomace

Considerable quantities of pomace are available in most apple areas and at larger apple processing plants. Availability is usually from early fall to mid-spring. Its handling and keeping qualities are similar to wet brewer’s grain. A 7- to 10-day delivery schedule is ideal. It ferments quickly in the rumen and should be limited to 15 to 20% of the concentrate or 8 to 10% of the total ration dry matter (TRDM) for milk cows. Limit amounts to dry cows and heifers to 50% of the concentrate or 12% of the TRDM.

Apple pomace ensiled with forage or grain, as is sometimes done with wet brewers or distiller’s grain, is an option. This assumes using proper levels to avoid seepage or fermentation problems.

Apple pomace with pressing agents (i.e. rice hulls, wood shavings) is a low quality fiber source. They are also very low in energy content. Pomace with pressing agents should be limited to 15 to 20% of the TRDM for milk cows and 20­ to 25% for heifers or dry cows. Higher levels considerably reduce energy intake and may result in impaction problems in the rumen.

Wet brewers grains (malt)

These are available from breweries and are generally an economical source of nutrients. They are relatively high in rumen undegradable protein (RUP). Usually, wet brewers are considered a wet concentrate even though it has a high fiber content. It does not meet the cow’s fiber needs due to its small particle size and a relatively high digestibility.

Stored in piles, wet brewers will last 7 to 10 days, except in hot, humid weather and when exposed to a lot of sunlight. Shrink, loss of moisture, fermentation, and spoilage may be 10 to 15%. Some distributors deliver wet brewers into ag­ type bags where storage life is between one to three months.

For dry cows and heifers, limit wet brewers to 10 to 15 pounds as fed to avoid overfeeding concentrate. Wet brewers are very low in potassium so balance rations accordingly.

Considerable variation in protein content can occur so test routinely. Sometimes corn sugar or other fermentable ingredients may replace some grains in brewing. This may reduce protein by 4 to 6% on a dry matter basis. Malt from some brewers may consistently test 28 to 30% crude protein while others produce material with only 24 to 26% crude protein on a dry matter basis.

Wet distillers (stillage)

This product is available at small gasohol plants and from large distillers. This material comes in a number of different types and moisture contents: whole stillage (with or without solubles) and thin stillage (distillers solubles). Dry matter contents may range from 3% for solubles to 7% for whole stillage. Some plants may press out part of the water and result in a product with 25 to 35% dry matter.

Wet distillers are a reasonably good source of RUP, except for thin stillage or solubles alone. Light distillers without solubles are very low in potassium.
The lower dry matter forms of stillage often require feeding from tanks. Agitation in storage units may avoid settling and clogging problems.

Bakery products

Stale bread and other pastry products from stores and bakeries can be fed to dairy cattle in limited amounts. Sometimes these products are fed as received without drying or removal of wrappers. Using a forage harvester can provide some preparation and facilitate feeding.

Bakery wastes contain a relatively high content of cooked starch. Limiting their inclusion in rations can prevent milk fat depression. Dried bakery product often consists of a mixture of bread, flour, dough, cookies, cakes, and crackers.

Feed dried bread at a maximum level of 20% of the concentrate dry matter or 10% of the TRDM. If the bakery product has a high fat content, i.e. donuts, then limit intakes to amounts allowed for added fat. Also, check the salt (sodium and chloride) levels in bakery goods. The salt level can vary depending on the combination of products used.


Cull dried beans or peas are sometimes available. These contain about 25% crude protein on a dry matter basis. They can provide up to 15 to 20% of the concentrate dry matter or 7 to 10% of the TRDM. Palatability and protein quality restrict their use.

Candy and chocolate

These products can sometimes be economical sources of fat. They can contain high levels of sugars. Milk chocolate and candy contain 48% and 22% fat respectively.

Suggested maximum levels for candy or candy blends are 5 pounds per head daily and 2 pounds daily for chocolate. This is approximately 15% and 6% of the concentrate dry matter for candy and chocolate respectively.

Corn screenings

This product usually tests similar to shell corn in nutrient content. They are usually processed fine enough that no additional preparation is needed. Screenings often sell for much less than corn or hominy. Test for mycotoxins since mold poisons tend to congregate in fines when problems exist in corn.


Peanuts, cashews and other nuts or nut mixtures are sometimes available in quantity from various processors. Most contain 18 to 27% crude protein and 45 to 65% fat on a dry matter basis. The level of fat should restrict the amount fed to 2 to 3 pounds or less daily for milk cows. Test nut and nut mixtures for fat and protein content since these can vary considerably among different kinds and mixtures.


This product is available as an individual ingredient or in blends with other byproducts (i.e. candy). It is mostly starch, so limit amounts to avoid milk fat depression and other problems. Feed pasta at 4 to 8 pounds daily depending upon the level of starchy ingredients in the concentrate.

Peanut skins

They contain 17% crude protein and 26% fat on a dry matter basis. Ruminants digest the protein poorly; therefore discount it by 60% when formulating rations. Because of palatability issues and fat content, peanut skins should be limited to 15% of the concentrate dry matter or 7% of the TRDM.

Potato wastes

These are available in potato processing areas (i.e. french fries, potato chips). Cull fresh potatoes that are not frozen, rotten, or sprouted may be fed to dairy cows whole or chopped. Consider this product a wet concentrate and limit its inclusion in milk rations to 25 to 35 pounds daily.

Straight-run potato waste from a processing plant may contain varying amounts of inedible or rotten potatoes, french fries or chips, skins, and fats/oils from frying operations. This product represents too much risk from clostridial and other toxins as well as digestive upsets for use in dairy cattle diets.

Starch (unheated)

This product is available from some candy manufacturers and may contain pieces of candy, gumdrops, etc. Limit unheated starch to 15 to 20% of the concentrate dry matter or 7 to 10% of the TRDM for milk cows. These levels will depend upon the starch levels coming from other feeds.

Vegetable tops and trims

These products are available from processors and packaging plants supplying ready-made salads, soups, etc. to supermarket delis and restaurants. They normally consist of carrot and beet tops, spinach, celery, cabbage, and outer leaves of lettuce.

These tops and trims are fed fresh. These products can contain 15 to 32% crude protein on a dry matter basis. Test periodically, especially when an apparent change is observed. Consider this food waste as a wet forage due to their particle size, high total ash content, and net energy levels. Storage life in piles probably should not exceed 2 to 4 days to prevent heating, decaying or putrefaction.

Table 7. A partial analysis of some commodities and food wastesa.
Ingredient DM, % CP, % ADF, % NEL, Mcal/lb Ca, % P, % Fat, %
Source: Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle, Seventh Revised Edition, 2001 and Dairy Feeding Systems, NRAES-38, Use of Commodity Ingredients and Food Processing Wastes in the Northeast, R. S. Adams.
All values are reported on a dry matter basis. DM = dry matter; CP = crude protein; ADF = acid detergent fiber; NEL = net energy of lactation; Ca = calcium; P = phosphorus.
Estimated value.
Note: Use this table as a guide only. Byproducts or waste product blends can vary in ingredient composition and nutrient content. Always send a sample to a testing laboratory for a complete nutrient profile.
Apple pomace, plain 21.0 7.6 30.0 0.71 0.13 0.11 5.1
Apple pomace, with press 27.0 4.9 53.0 0.39 0.10 0.07 3.3
Bagels 64.6 19.0 1.1 0.93 0.07 0.17 1.0
Bakery products, dry 89.0 12.0 3.0 0.94 0.10 0.22 12.7
Beans-navy, dry 89.0 24.0 8.0 0.88 0.15 0.59 1.4
Beet greens 10.0 20.8 20.9b 0.62b 1.23 0.47 3.1
Bread, dry 91.0 11.7 4.0 0.90 0.07 0.26 10.0
Bread waste 68.3 15.0 3.1 0.95 0.14 0.20 2.2
Brewer’s grain, wet 24.0 27.1 23.0 0.68 0.29 0.54 7.3
Cabbage 8.0 18.4 18.8b 0.68b 0.60 0.49 2.6
Candy 94.0 5.2 5.0 1.10 0.07 0.17 22.4
Candy product blends 94.0 13.0 12.1 1.07 0.13 0.20 17.0
Carrot tops 16.0 13.0 23.0 0.66b 1.94 0.19 3.8
Celery 6.0 20.0 15.9b 0.64b 0.83 0.66 3.2
Cereal byproduct 88.5 9.1 3.9 0.90 0.17 0.29 3.5
Chocolate 94.0 12.9 4.0 1.30 0.07 0.17 48.7
Chocolate byproduct 95.2 11.9 15.7 1.16 0.22 0.30 20.5
Cookie byproduct 90.1 9.7 6.5 1.02 0.23 0.29 10.6
Distillers with solubles, wet 7.0 29.7 20.0 0.92 0.38 1.04 8.8
Donuts 82.0 8.0 0.3 1.15 0.06 0.08 25.6
Fruit twists 85.0 2.0 0.8 0.98 0.05 0.01 0.4
Kool-Aid drink mix 96.7 11.1 1.3 1.08 0.16 0.25
Lettuce 5.0 23.0 16.4b 0.64 0.55 0.32 4.6
Pasta 89.0 14.6 3.0b 0.90b 0.02 0.16 1.6
Peanut skins 94.0 17.4 16.3 0.68 0.16 0.07 26.0
Potato, cull 21.0 10.0 3.0b 0.83 0.02 0.24 0.4
Potato waste, dry 90.0 7.8 5.9b 0.87b 0.16 0.25 4.4
Pumpkin 10.0 16.0 18.0 0.89 0.24 0.43 8.0
Salad waste 8.9 17.8 21.9 2.6
Spinach 7.0 31.5 11.7b 0.64 1.10 0.75 4.1
Starch waste 90.0 10.8 4.4 0.83b 0.13 0.18 0.4b
Tomato pomace 24.7 19.3 47.6 0.69 0.22 0.47 5.5

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