1 University of Nebraska - Lincoln of Nebraska - Lincoln Historical Materials from University of Nebraska- Lincoln Extension Extension 2007 EC Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows: A Tool for Managing the Nutrition Program for Beef Herds Richard J. Rasby University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Leslie Aaron Stalker University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Richard N. Funston University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Follow this and additional works at: Part of the Curriculum and Instruction Commons Rasby, Richard J.; Stalker, Leslie Aaron; and Funston, Richard N., "EC Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows: A Tool for Managing the Nutrition Program for Beef Herds" (2007). Historical Materials from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension This Article is brought to you for free and open access by the Extension at of Nebraska - Lincoln. It has been accepted for inclusion in Historical Materials from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension by an authorized administrator of of Nebraska - Lincoln.
2 EXTENSION EC281 (Revised December 2007) Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows: A Tool for Managing the Nutrition Program for Beef Herds Richard J. Rasby Extension Beef Specialist Aaron Stalker Beef Range Systems Specialist Richard N. Funston Beef Specialist, Cattle Extension is a Division of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska Lincoln cooperating with the Counties and the United States Department of Agriculture. University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension educational programs abide with the nondiscrimination policies of the University of Nebraska Lincoln and the United States Department of Agriculture. 2007, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska on behalf of the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension. All rights reserved.
3 2 The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved.
4 Body condition scores (BCS) describe the relative fatness of a cow based on a nine-point scale. It is an effective management tool to use to evaluate the nutritional status of the herd. The body condition scoring system allows producers to visually assess their cow herd using a number system that objectively describes the amount of condition or fat reserve of an animal. Because cow/calf producers do not weigh cows on a regular basis, they need a management technique that will evaluate their cow herd relative to productivity and profit potential. Cow body condition score is closely related to reproductive efficiency and is a more reliable indicator of the nutritional status of a cow than body weight. This extension circular describes the ninepoint body condition scoring system, relationship between body condition and the productivity of the cow herd, and the use of body condition as a management tool to develop and monitor nutritional programs. Using body condition scoring as a management tool can increase the profit potential of the cow/calf enterprise. Body Condition Scores Reflect Body Fat The beef cow can store energy, in the form of fat, when energy intake exceeds nutrient requirements, and she can draw on these energy reserves when her requirements exceed the nutrients supplied by the diet. This stored energy reserve can be managed to level out the peaks and valleys of a seasonal feed supply. Body fat also insulates the cow against the effects of severe cold weather, thus reducing heat loss. The amount of body fat associated with each BCS, as a percent of body weight, is shown in Table I. A cow in BCS 3 has 11.3 percent body fat, and a cow in condition score 6 has 22.6 percent body fat. As a rule of thumb, one BCS equates to about 75 to 80 pounds of live weight in cows. Thus, if a cow weighed 1,100 pounds at BCS 4, this same cow would be expected to weigh 1,175 pounds at BCS 5 and 1,250 pounds at BCS 6. It is important to remember that these weight changes do not include the weight of the fetus, fetal membranes or fetal Table I. Percent of Body Fat Associated With Each Body Condition Score BCS % Body Fat Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7 th Revised Edition, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. fluids, which in total amounts to about 125 to 155 pounds for cows in late gestation. With this concept in mind, remember a cow that is maintaining weight during late gestation is actually losing body weight and, possibly, body condition because the fetus is growing at least one pound per day. Body Condition Scoring Beef Cows Body condition scoring can be done using visual indicators or a combination of visual and palpation of key bone structures for amounts of fat during routine processing of cows through a chute. Key areas for evaluation are the backbone, ribs, hips, pinbones, tailhead, and brisket (Figure 1). Palpating cows for fatness along the backbone, ribs and tailhead will help refine skills to visually score body condition. If body condition scoring is new to you, focus on separating cows into thin, moderate, and fat groups without worrying about the numerical score. With experience, you will connect the look and feel of your cows to a body condition score that you can consistently determine. Body condition scores should be monitored and recorded at various times of the year so that links to productivity and herd management can The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved. 3
5 TAILHEAD HOOKS BACK PINS RIBS BRISKET Figure 1. Key areas for evaluation on the beef cow are the backbone, ribs, hips, pinbones, tailhead and brisket. Drawings courtesy of Elanco. be examined. Several years of these records should reveal nutritional status patterns for your herd. This information can be useful for managing the feeding program of your herd, identifying a sire group of females that simply don t fit your resources, or implementing weaning and/or supplementation strategies. When visually scoring body condition, it is important to take into account muscle and hair coat on cows, especially a long winter hair coat. You may be surprised at the impact hair coats can have on visual scores. Long, thick winter hair coats are obviously highly desirable in the Northern Plains, thus, when practical, palpating cow for fatness along with visual scores may produce more consistent body condition scoring. It is good training to re-evaluate body condition scores when cows are wet. Figure 2 is a drawing of what cows look like without hair and are in BCS 3,5, and 7. Other factors in addition to hair coat that can affect visual body condition scores are age of cow, rumen fill, stage of pregnancy, time since they took a drink (dehydration), cold, heat, held in a corral while working the cattle, trailing, and other factors. Body condition scores taken on cold winter days will be lower than scores taken on warm winter days. The goal is to evaluate cow condition independent of these factors. At first, one or more of the above factors may mislead you, but careful study of your herd through the production year will sharpen your focus so that body condition can be scored independent of other factors. 4 The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved.
6 BCS = 3 Liveweight: 980 lbs 11% Body Fat BCS = 5 Liveweight: 1130 lbs 19% Body Fat BCS = 7 Liveweight: 1280 lbs 26% Body Fat Figure 2. Drawing of what beef cows look like without hair and are in BCS 3, 5, and 7. Drawings courtesy of Elanco. The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved. 5
7 Nine-Point Body Condition Scoring System F ollowing is a description of the 1 to 9 body condition scoring system where a BCS 1 cow is extremely thin and emaciated and a BCS 9 cow is obese. Assign a cow a condition score in whole numbers (3, 4, 5, etc.). Group Thin BCS Description 1 Bone structure of shoulder, ribs, back, hooks and pins are sharp to the touch and easily visible. No evidence of fat deposits or muscling. 2 No evidence of fat deposition and some muscle loss in the hindquarters. The spinous processes feel sharp to the touch and are easily seen with space between them. Very little fat cover over the loin, back and foreribs. The backbone is still highly visible. Processes of the spine can be identified individually by touch and may still be visible. Spaces between the processes are less pronounced. Some muscle loss in hind quarter. 3 BCS 3 Rear view Borderline 4 Foreribs are slightly noticeable and the 12th and 13th ribs are still very noticeable to the eye. The transverse spinous processes can be identified only by palpation (with slight pressure) and feel rounded rather than sharp. Slight muscle loss in hind quarter. BCS 4 Rear view 6 BCS 3 Side view BCS 4 Side view The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved.
8 Moderate 5 6 The 12th and 13th ribs are not visible to the eye unless the animal has been shrunk. The transverse spinous processes can only be felt with firm pressure and feel rounded but are not noticeable to the eye. Spaces between the processes are not visible and are only distinguishable with firm pressure. Areas on each side of the tailhead are starting to fill. Ribs are fully covered and are not noticeable to the eye. Hindquarters are plump and full. Noticeable springiness over the foreribs and on each side of the tailhead. Firm pressure is now required to feel the transverse processes. Brisket has some fat. BCS 5 Rear view BCS 5 Side view BCS 6 Rear view BCS 6 Side view BCS 7 Rear view Fleshy BCS 7 Side view Ends of the spinous processes can only be felt with very firm pressure. Spaces between processes can barely be distinguished. Abundant fat cover on either side of the tailhead with evident patchiness. Fat in the brisket. Animal takes on a smooth, blocky appearance. Bone structure disappears from sight. Fat cover is thick and spongy and patchiness is likely. Brisket is full. Bone structure is not seen or easily felt. The tailhead is buried in fat. The animal s mobility may actually be impaired by excessive fat. Square appearance. The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved. 7
9 Table II. Visual Description of Key Body Locations Associated With Each Condition Score Body Condition Score Reference Point Physical weak yes no no no no no no no no Muscle Atrophy a yes yes yes slight no no no no no Outline of spine visible yes yes yes slight no no no no no Outline of ribs visible all all all Fat in brisket and flanks no no no no no some full full extreme Outline of hip and bones visible yes yes yes yes yes slight no no no Patchy fat around tail head no no no no no slight yes yes yes a Muscles of loin, rump and hindquarter are concave, indicating loss of muscle tissue. Adapted from Pruit and Momont, South Dakota State University, Table II outlines what can be seen and felt as body condition of the cow changes. Notice cows in BCS 1,2, and 3 have had to mobilize fat stores and muscle tissue to meet their maintenance requirements because the nutritional management has not been sufficient for maintenance. Muscle atrophy is not evident in cows with a BCS of 5 or greater. Body Condition and Cow Herd Productivity Body condition of beef cows at calving influences productivity of the herd. As body condition of a cow increases at calving for March calving cows, the interval from calving to the first estrus, known as the postpartum anestrous interval, is reduced (Table III). Thin (BCS 4 or less) cows are slower to re-breed after calving compared to cows in moderate body condition. For a cow to maintain a 365-day calving interval, she must re-breed by 83 days after calving (282-day gestation + 83-day postpartum interval = 365 days). Average length of the postpartum interval for cows that calve in a condition score of 3 and 4 is 80 days compared to 55 days for cows that calve in a BCS 5 and 6. The average postpartum interval for cows that calve in BCS 7 is 31 days, but it is probably not economical to feed cows harvested forages so they calve in a BCS 7. Body condition at calving for March calving cows also influences pregnancy rates during the subsequent breeding season (Figure 3). As BCS increases up to 5 at calving, pregnancy rate Table III. Relationship Between Body Condition and the Average Interval From Calving to First Heat After Calving Body Condition Score Average Postpartum Interval a, days a Postpartum interval is the interval from calving to first heat or estrus after calving. Houghton et al., Purdue University. increases. A large scale study conducted on a commercial cow/calf operation in Wyoming illustrates this point (Table IV). As BCS at weaning increases, pregnancy rate during the next breeding season also increases. For mature cows that calve in the early summer, body condition at calving can be less and still achieve respectable reproductive performance. There are data that indicate summer calving mature cows that are BCS 4 have a high rebreeding rate. These females are grazing vegetative grass pasture for at least 45 days prior to the start of the breeding season. Finally, spring-calving cows that calve in thin body condition may give birth to calves that are less vigorous and are slower to stand to nurse for the first time. 8 The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved.
10 Pregnancy rate, % Cow body condition score (90 day breeding season) Selk at. al, 1986 Oklahoma State University. Figure 3. Effect of cow body condition score at calving on pregnancy rate Serum IgG, Mg/DL Cow body condition score Odde et. al, 1986 Colorado State University. Figure 4. Effect of cow body condition score at calving on concentration of IgG in serum of calves 24 hours old. The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved. 9
11 Table IV. Relationship of Body Condition Score at Weaning and Pregnancy Rate Body Condition Score < >6 Total Cattle 3,415 23,811 37,970 26,213 9,654 % of Herd % Pregnant Cherni, 1995: Padlock Ranch Dayton, Wyo. Nine-year summary ( ) 101,063 total observations. There is some evidence that thin (BCS 4) mature cows at calving in March can achieve a high pregnancy rate during the subsequent breeding season. Productivity will likely not be reduced if thin mature cows are not challenged after calving with inclement weather conditions or further nutritional restriction, or if mature cows are consuming/grazing a high quality diet such as in immature range or pasture for a short time (three to five weeks) prior to the start of the breading season. However, in years when harsh weather results in lower body condition at calving, it may not be economical to calve mature cows in a BCS 4. We would not recommend March calving mature cows at BCS 4, but reproductive performance could be satisfactory. There is less flexibility for low BCS at calving for first-calf heifers. Target bred heifers to calve in BCS 6. The greater body condition is warranted because they are lactating for the first time, repairing the reproductive tract for rebreeding, and are still growing. The interval from calving to the time to their first estrus after calving (postpartum interval) is longer than that of mature cows. These young cows lactating for their first time will need a high quality diet before and after calving so that they calve in a BCS of 6 and maintain that condition until the start of the breeding season. When to Condition Score Cows The greatest factor influencing rebreeding performance of beef cows is body condition at calving. However, if producers wait until calving to manage body condition of their cow herd, they will find it very difficult and expensive to increase the body condition of a lactating cow. Although evaluating body condition can be looked at as an ongoing process, there are key times when body condition scoring should be considered: For cows on range, late summer/early fall is the time to monitor body condition and determine management strategies to economically get cows in the target body condition before calving. This may mean using management tools such as early weaning, supplementation, or both. For producers that have cool-season pastures and crop residues, late summer/early fall condition score may not be as critical. However, it may be important in dry years. Then early weaning or supplementation may be management options. The period from late summer to 90 days pre-calving is the time to get serious about body condition scoring and planning the nutrition/management program because the manager s strategy can have great impact on profit potential. The period from calving to breeding may help explain the productivity and profitability. Grouping Cows By Body Condition For Feeding The ideal BCS for mature cows (4 years and older) prior to spring calving is 5 and should be one condition score higher for first calf 2-year-old heifers. The higher condition score is warranted for the younger cattle because after calving they are still growing while suckling a calf plus preparing for rebreeding. It s much easier to get condition back on cows economically before calving because the nutrient requirements are lower compared to after calving. It is also more economical to get condition back on cows through grazing or grazing along with supplementation, when needed, as compared to hauling 10 The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved.
12 Time Late Summer Fall Weaning Time Reason When to Body Condition Score the Cow Herd Condition scoring the cow herd at this time may be used in planning management strategies such as early weaning or supplementation programs for cow grazing warm-season pastures or range that are decreasing in quality. Scoring cows at this time is probably more important in range areas as compared to areas that would have both cool- and warm-season pastures and crop residues. Young cows need to be examined closely, as they are likely to be the females that are losing condition and early weaning this group may be the best management option. Also, if pasture quality and quantity is decreasing at a rapid rate due to environmental conditions, weaning the whole calf crop may be necessary. Data indicate that it is more economical to feed the calf directly than to supplement the cow to feed the calf. Condition scoring cows in the range area in the fall is critical. Because of the feed resources, it is more difficult to get condition back on cows prior to calving in the range area where the feed resources are primarily warm-season grasses. Condition scoring cows at this time will help in planning an economical winter supplementation program to get females back to the target BCS. If young females are thin, consider early weaning their calves to allow them to regain condition. Pay particular attention to young cows weaning their first calves, as they are most likely to be thin at this time. In areas where crop residues are part of the feed resource, thin cows will typically regain condition. 45 Days Gives a good idea how fast cows are bouncing back after weaning. Thin cows should be gaining back After condition if cow type is matched with the feed resources. This is especially true if cows have both warm- Weaning and cool-season pastures or crop residues to graze. It will take longer for cows grazing dry, native range to gain back body condition. 90 Days Last opportunity to get condition back on cows economically. This would be the time to separate thin Before cows from cows in good condition and feed them separately. Pay attention to young cows. Calving Calving Breeding If cows are thin, you may want to change the pre-calving feeding program or weaning date. Thin mature cows at calving may indicate a mismatch between genetics and feed resources, especially if cows received adequate diets and they are thin. It may also mean that calving and/or weaning are not matched with the resources or genetics. It is difficult to get condition on cows after calving economically. It takes large amounts of high-quality feed. Thin cows at this time may indicate a poor match of calving season to feed resources. Maybe calving occurs too early in the spring. high energy feeds to cows to get them in the target body condition. The supply or amount of dormant season grazing will determine if this is an option. If cows are not in the condition desired, then two feeding groups starting about 90 days before calving would be a good strategy; one group for mature cows in good condition (BCS 5) and a second group for thin cows (BCS 4). Often the thin cows are 3-year olds, pregnant with their second calf, and thin because they lost body condition while nursing their first calf and didn t recoup their lactation weight loss in the fall after weaning. It may be possible to feed the thin cows with the first calf 2-year-olds because the objective for both groups is weight gain while the objective in mature cows in good condition is simply to maintain condition. The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved. Also, the feedstuffs used for bred heifers are generally more energy dense (grain, grain byproducts, corn silage, alfalfa, etc.) as opposed to the common foodstuffs used to feed mature cows in good condition (winter range, hay, crop residue). The most economical way to get females in the target condition before calving is through grazing opportunities as compared to hand-feeding high energy feeds. This is especially true for extended grazing systems that incorporate native range areas. The key is to have females in adequate BCS going into the winter, and then maintain condition during the winter with low-input supplements. For females on range, this may mean females be supplemented during the late summer while lactating, weaning calves from only thin females or weaning calves 11
13 from all females in late summer or early fall before forages cannot support putting condition back on. Females that have access to crop residue can typically gain back body condition without supplementation, especially if there is some grain left in the field after harvest. If mature cows are consistently in the thin group, a thorough re-evaluation of the breeding management program is in order. It could be the genetic production level of the cows simply doesn t fit the feed resource. Developing Feeding Programs to Increase Body Condition In order to increase body condition, the ration must meet the nutrient requirements for metabolizable protein, minerals, and vitamins, but exceed the requirement for energy for a given stage of production. Thus, to increase body condition, more energy must be fed, and in a dense enough form that the cow has the capacity to consume it on a daily basis. Management practices that allow cows to gain body condition by grazing would always be more desirable than feeding harvested forages; however, striving for a BCS greater than 6 for mature cows by either route would likely not be economical. When developing feeding programs, remember that as cows near calving, nutrient requirements increase as a percent of the ration and in total pounds. It is wise to feed lower quality forages in mid-gestation and save higher quality forage for late gestation and after calving. Lactating cows, for example, may not have the rumen capacity to consume enough low-quality forage to meet their needs. Table V shows the partitioning of energy needed for a mature cow throughout the production year. Note that maintenance energy drops and energy for lactation ceases at weaning and that energy for fetal growth accelerates rapidly in late gestation. This table is only appropriate for a cow that produces about 20 pounds of milk at peak production (about 50 to 70 days post calving) and additional energy for maintenance and lactation would be required for high milking cows. Notice also in Table V the relatively low energy demand of the fetal calf in the first and second trimester of gestation. The post-weaning period thus becomes the logical target to increase body condition of cows because that period (September, October, November in this case) represents the cow s lowest nutrient demand. Table V. Energy Requirements of Beef Cows in Different Stages of Production Net Energy Required Mcal/day Month Maintenance Growth Lactation Pregnancy Total March April May June July August September October November December January February Assumes 1,170-pound 5-year-old cow calving March 1 with average milk production. Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7 th Revised Edition National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 12 The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved.
14 Table VI. Energy Reserves for Different Body Sizes and Condition Scores of Cows Mcal Net Energy for Various Cow Weights BCS The numbers in the body of the table represent the energy required to move a cow from the next lower BCS to the present one. Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, 7 th Revised Edition, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. Table VI illustrates the amount of energy in megacalories (Mcal = 1 million calories) required to change the body condition of cows. For example, if the goal was to increase the body condition of an 1,100 pound cow from a BCS 4 to a BCS 5, the cow would need a total of 207 Mcal of energy beyond her daily maintenance needs (Table VI). This 207 Mcal of additional energy could be supplied by an energy dense feedstuff, such as dried distillers grains that have 1.22 Mcal of Ne m per lb (Table VII). If 3 pounds of dried distillers grains were added to the existing ration, it would take 57 days (207 Mcal / (3 lb dried distillers grains x 1.22 Mcal Ne m per lb of dried distillers grains) = 56.6 days) to elevate the cow s body condition from BCS 4 to a BCS 5. The cow would have to gain about 1.3 pounds per day, not including fetal weight gain, to achieve this change in body condition (75 pounds 57 days = 1.32 pounds per day). Table VII. NE m for Some Common Feedstuffs Feedstuff NE m Mcal/lb Corn, cracked 1.02 Corn Gluten Feed.87 Dried Distillers Grains 1.22 Wheat, middlings.92 Milo, rolled.91 Corn Silage/40% Grain.69 Alfalfa Hay.60 Prairie Hay, early bloom.58 The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved. Feedstuffs listed other than corn have less energy and would require larger amounts to be fed in order to affect a change of one body condition score. Alfalfa hay, for example, fed at 5 pounds per day beyond daily maintenance needs, would require 69 days of feeding to change the cow mentioned above from a BCS 4 to a BCS 5. Thus, energy density is a critical factor in feeding cows to change body condition. To change cow body condition during late gestation will require some form of energy dense concentrate such as grain. If feeds with a lower energy density are used, more days will usually be required to change cow body condition score. These rations will only be successful if the female is in her thermal-neutral zone. Energy demands increase during extremely cold environmental conditions. Time of Calving and Time of Weaning The choice of calving season in relation to peak forage production for a given location is critical to the cost of maintaining adequate body condition on mature cows. Calving before forage production leads to using more harvested forage and drives up total feed costs. Calving about two weeks ahead of available grass or up to four weeks after first grass growth would substantially reduce harvested feeds fed to cows and also reduces labor at calving and early calfhood health problems. Such a system results in lighter calves at weaning and optimizes 13
15 profit typically only when ownership of calves are retained. The advantage of a late-spring or earlysummer calving program is to force the cow to graze for most, if not all, of her nutrient needs and avoid harvested forage being fed to the cow. A Nebraska study conducted in the Sandhills indicates March calving cows were fed 3,182 pounds of hay per year while June calving cows were fed 30 pounds of hay per year. June calving cows were fed more protein supplement compared to March calving cows to maintain body condition. It is essential to strategically plan the nutritional program for young cows when the calving season is moved to a later date. Adjusting the weaning date, particularly for first-calf 2-year-olds can be used to allow for lactating 2-year-olds to graze their way back to a higher body condition prior to winter. Weaning calves at 120 to 150 days can give first-calf heifers an opportunity to recover body condition so they won t be so thin at their second calving, will not have a long postpartum interval, or fail to rebreed during the next breeding season. Summary Take time to record body condition scores well before calving, and pay particular attention to the age groups of your cows. Plan a sound nutritional program with an eye toward optimizing profit. Keep an open mind for ideas such as early weaning or calving season adjustments, but ask questions and get documentation before implementing. Body condition scores are simply a tool that may help you or your customer do a better job of producing beef. It can also be used as a risk management tool in beef production systems. Acknowledgment The authors would like to acknowledge the work of Jim Gosey, former Beef Specialist, and Don Adams, Beef Specialist, who were coauthors of the previous edition of this publication. UNL Extension publications are available online at 14 The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. All rights reserved.
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Agriculture and Natural Resources Body Condition Scoring With Dairy Cattle FSA4008 Wayne Kellogg Professor - Dairy Cattle Arkansas Is Our Campus Visit our web site at: http://www.uaex.edu The lmportance
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University of Nebraska - Lincoln DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln Historical Materials from University of Nebraska- Lincoln Extension Extension 1974 EC74-861 Estimating the Most Profitable
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What Hay Is Right For Your Livestock Tom Gallagher Capital Area Agriculture Horticulture Program Livestock Specialist What Have We Learned So Far? Renovate fields Establish new stands Maintain existing
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ethanol co-products for cattle Distillers Grains for Beef Cows Iowa s ethanol industry is alive, vibrant and currently producing large volumes of feed coproducts. Based on surveys conducted by the California