Trials confirm British wheat distillers as a sustainable protein feed source for livestock

An independent four-year study has concluded that the co-product feed material British wheat distillers is a cost-effective and sustainable alternative feed protein source to conventional soyabean and rapeseed meals in dairy cow diets.

The results from the £2.6 million study, titled ‘Environmental and nutritional benefits of bioethanol co-products’ (ENBBIO) prove British wheat distillers to be a viable protein source for ruminant livestock farmers throughout the UK. The work was jointly funded by DEFRA and a range of industry partners including AB Agri, Ensus, Dean Foods, Evonik Degussa, Glencore Grain UK, Hook2Sisters, Sciantec Analytical Services, Syngenta Seeds UK and Tulip, plus the AHDB, SAC and the Universities of Manchester and Nottingham.

“Soya is commonly imported from outside the EU and, with the world demanding more meat and milk products, protein sources could be under threat. Therefore, we shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security, especially as we’ve seen low prices following two years of good world harvests,” explains Richard Cross, national general manager of Trident Feeds, the alternative feed materials arm of AB Agri. The company handles the wheat distillers co-product from the Vivergo biorefinery on Humberside that is owned by AB Agri parent Associated British Foods.

“Because of this long-term outlook, the aim of the project was to investigate how domestic wheat distillers could compete with the protein market in Europe where 27 million tonnes of imported soya bean meal is used every year,” adds Mr Cross.

He highlights that the key objectives of the project were to ascertain the nutritional value of British wheat distillers, as well as the quantities that could be included in ruminant and monogastric rations to maintain performance when compared to more traditional soya-based diets.

“I’m pleased to report that the feed source produced solely from British feed wheat performed well in the on-farm trials, and proved to have consistent nutritional value, as well as being highly palatable. The domestically-produced product contains 32% crude protein, is high in digestible fibre, and low in starch.

“It’s a really exciting development for the UK feed industry, as this materialhas the potential to reduce our reliance on imported protein sources such as soya. It’s incredibly valuable to the industry at a time when the protein landscape is likely to change.

“What’s more, the inclusion of wheat distillers saves livestock producers money,” notes Mr Cross.  A quick ‘rule of thumb’ shows that where the cost of 55% soya and 45% wheat mixture (representing similar energy and total protein to wheat distillers) is greater than that of wheat distillers, milk producers should see savings of up to 15p/cow/day.

“And, with the energy content being more than 11% higher than rape seed meal, it’s worth a premium over rape meal.”

Now that the independent results from the ENBBIO research are available, wheat distillers can be marketed more confidently, emphasises Mr Cross.

“The Vivergo Fuels biorefinery in Yorkshire commenced production in 2012, and uses British feed-grade wheat to produce two high value commodities, bioethanol fuel and British wheat distillers.

“The company maintains that it is committed to bioethanol and British wheat distillers production throughout 2016, despite continued uncertainty around the level of UK government legislative support.

“For this reason, Trident is more confident than ever that that it can provide feed manufactures and their farmer customers with a reliable source of protein, one that will be a cost-effective alternative to imported proteins such as soya.”

Vivergo produces an annual 400,000 tonnes of the domestically produced protein source which will be readily available throughout 2016.

ENBBIO dairy trials

The ENBBIO project conducted a large scale dairy study with Nottingham University, under the supervision of Professor Phil Garnsworthy at Sutton Bonington, using high yielding early to mid-lactation cows averaging over 11,500 litres.

The trial incrementally replaced soyabean meal in the cows’ diets with wheat distillers, until 22% of the total dry matter was replaced with wheat distillers. All rations were balanced with similar energy, metabolisable protein and mineral levels, but not for starch, as wheat inclusion was reduced to balance the protein.

In his final study report, Professor Garnsworthy concluded that: ‘The trials identified that wheat distillers can be included in diets for dairy cows at up to 20% of dry matter intake without detrimental effect on cow performance or health.’ (see table).

Effect on milk yield and quality of increasing wheat distillers as a % of total dry matter intake

% inclusion                         0       7.5     15      22.5        Difference
Dry matter intake (kg/day)          22.9    22.5    22.2    22.1    Not Significant
Energy Corrected yield (litres/day) 32.3    32.8    32.1    31.7    Not Significant
Fat (%)                             3.91    4.08    4.08    4.01    Not Significant
Protein (%)                         3.51    3.55    3.51    3.5     Not Significant

Professor Garnsworthy also conducted a series of animal trials that showed the metabolisable energy (ME) of the British wheat distillers was 13.4 MJ/kg dry matter, midway between that of barley and wheat, but 12% more than rapeseed meal, with a marginally higher rumen by-pass protein content than rapeseed meal, albeit with similar crude protein levels.