Feeding DDGS in Increasing Dietary Proportions: Rumen fermentation & total tract digestibility Back »

Written collaboratively by Jill Anderson and Angela Manthey.


Previous research at the SDSU Dairy Science Department has shown that dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) are a good alternative feedstuff for growing dairy heifers. Feeding DDGS has resulted in no differences in average daily gain (ADG) or growth performance (Anderson et al., 2015; Manthey et al., 2016). Limit-feeding dairy heifers has shown to increase total tract nutrient digestibility while avoiding high ADG and over conditioning; however, most limit-fed diets that have been evaluated contain corn and soybean meal as main concentrate ingredients. Very little research has been done investigating the effects on rumen fermentation and nutrient digestibility when including greater DDGS amounts in limit-fed dairy heifer diets.

Research Project

A study was recently conducted at the SDSU Dairy and Food Science Department to determine the effects on rumen fermentation and total tract nutrient digestibility of increasing DDGS in replacement of forage in limit-fed dairy heifer diets. Forty-eight Holstein heifers (199 d of age; 453 lbs of body weight) were individually fed one of three treatment diets for 16 weeks. Treatment diets included: 1) 30 % DDGS with 68.5% grass hay (30DG), 2) 40% DDGS with 58.5% grass hay (40DG), and 3) 50% DDGS with 48.5% grass hay (50DG). All diets also included mineral mix at 1.5% of dietary dry matter (DM). The DDGS contained 7.8% fat (dry matter basis). Diets were limit-fed at 2.65, 2.50, and 2.35% of body weight (dry matter basis) for 30DG, 40DG, and 50DG rations, respectively, to have similar intakes of crude protein and energy among treatments. Rumen fluid samples and fecal samples were collected during the last month of the study to determine diet effects on rumen fermentation and nutrient digestibility.


Analysis of rumen fluid demonstrated that total volatile fatty acids produced was similar among treatments but proportions of volatile fatty acids shifted with increasing amounts of DDGS (Figure 1). There was shift from acetate to more propionate production with increased DDGS. As acetate is a two carbon molecule and propionate is a three carbon molecule this indicates there may be less carbon loss as methane or carbon dioxide, suggesting that feeding increased amounts of DDGS results in more efficient rumen fermentation.

Figure 1. Rumen Fermentation


Total tract digestion of dry matter, organic matter, and crude protein also increased with increasing amounts of DDGS (Figure 2). These findings add support to previously reported results (Manthey et al., 2015 and Manthey et al., 2016) from this study which showed increased gain: feed ratios of 0.14, 0.16 and 0.17 (lbs DMI: lbs ADG) for the 30DG, 40DG, and 50DG diets, respectively, with no differences in body frame growth, or ADG (1.96, 2.07, and 2.14 lbs/d). Overall, this research demonstrates that feeding diets with increasing amounts of DDGS in replacement of forage improved rumen fermentation and nutrient digestibility and that dairy producers can feed growing heifers greater amounts of DDGS in limit-fed rations than found in past research.

Figure 2. Total Tract Digestibility1

1DM=dry matter; OM=Organic Matter; CP=Crude Protein; NDF=Neutral Detergent Fiber.


This research was funded by the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council and Minnesota AURI with support from the SDSU Agriculture Experiment Station.


  • Anderson, J. L., K. F. Kalscheur, A. D. Garcia, and D. J. Schingoethe. 2015a. Feeding fat from distillers dried grains with solubles to dairy heifers: I. Effects on growth performance and total-tract digestibility of nutrients. J. Dairy Sci. 98:5699-5708.
  • Manthey, A. K., J. L. Anderson, and G. A. Perry. 2016. Feeding distillers dried grains in replacement of forage in limit-fed dairy heifer rations: Effects on growth performance, rumen fermentation, and total-tract digestibility of nutrients. J. Dairy Sci. 99:7206-7215.
  • Angela Manthey and Jill Anderson. 12/1/2015. Reduced-Fat Distillers Grains: How much can we feed to growing dairy heifers?
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