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Beef - row is brewing on the issue of spent grain

The use of brewing and distilling by-product feeds has played a vital part in the country's livestock feeding systems for many years. Awareness of these products' specifications allows farmers to make informed decisions upon their suitability for use, storage and relative feed values.

There is a lowering in cost of all dry protein and energy sources, so any changes in the specification of wet co-products should be highlighted to compare their relative values.

There is more widespread use of distillery by-products coming out of Irish Distillers in Cork, Cooley Distillery and Bushmills along with some imported products from Scotland.

This by-product is traded under many different names such as Supergrains, Eornagold, Causewaygold, the imported Vitagold and Wet Distillers' Grains. These products are quite consistent in their quality and availability (Table 1).

Distillers' grains are relatively easy to handle and store. They 'stack' well when clamped and storage time can be extended by mixing with a suitable absorbent (hulls or pulps) at ensiling time.

This feed can provide all the protein requirements in the majority of beef diets.

The main brewing by-product, known as brewers' grains, traditionally came out of breweries in Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny and Dundalk and were met by great demand by beef and dairy farmers.

These grains are the residue that remains after the soaking of the malt grain during the beer-making process.

Unlike wet distillers' grains, this by-product trades in Ireland under only one name, as brewers' grains. Table 2 outlines the typical analysis for this feed.

As brewing is quite a seasonal practice, the availability of brewers' grains is not always consistent. Most of the winter's production is supplied directly to housed animals.

The price during the winter months reflects the peak demand for the feed. During the summer period, brewery production generally reaches its peak while demand at farm level for fresh feeding is low. This results in a lower price and need for specialist storing.

As with the wet distillers' by-product, long-term storage requires adding an absorbent. However due to its lower dry matter content, higher rates of the absorbent are needed to ensure that the product stacks correctly. This will ensure minimum nutrient loss due to 'run-off'.

With the closure of breweries in Dundalk and Kilkenny, Diageo have centralised all brewing at their new facilities at St James's Gate in Dublin. This centralisation and other processing developments have led to significant changes in the product that is now available to farmers.

There is much dissatisfaction, particularly about the physical characteristics of the product. Dry matters are significantly lower, well below the traditional 24pc dry matter or the more recent declared level of 20pc dry matter.

I have received analysis results from farmers with dry matters as low as 16pc. These low dry matters impact on storage and feeding value but haven't impacted on price.

The tell-tale sign of low dry matter brewers grains' is liquid leaving the lorry trailer. Once tipped, the feed will slump or spread over a wide area.

This low dry matter material requires large amounts of absorbents to stabilise it, thus adding a higher cost to the product (see Table 3).

With a current delivered price of €35/ ton, brewers' grains represents good value for money on an energy and protein basis, provided dry matter content is above 22pc.

The table clearly shows a sliding drop in value as the dry matter decreases. I have also seen new analysis showing depleted energy and protein levels. This hugely lessens the value of brewers' grains relative to most other feeds.

At a time when feed cost is critical for profitability, farmers need transparency and specification on all feeds purchased. It is crucial that farmers are aware of these issues before agreeing winter purchase prices for brewers' grains. The old adage about 'Guinness Is Good For You' will only hold true for feeding brewers' grains, once you aren't paying for excess water.

Gerry Giggins is an independent nutritionist based in Co Louth

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