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Managing sulfur in beef cattle feed and water

Quick facts

  • Recognize the reported sulfur (S) content of distillers grains and the potential variability with it.

  • Account for both diet and water S content when managing S intakes.

  • S intake shouldn’t go over 0.30 percent diet DM in feedlot cattle.

  • High S intake can reduce average daily gain and feed efficiency and can lead to PEM.

  • Supplementing diets with certain minerals or antimicrobials can help prevent or reduce PEM events.

Sulfur (S) plays a key role in ruminant animal nutrition. While most forms of sulfur are relatively nontoxic, hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic to cattle. Hydrogen sulfide is the compound that causes the rotten egg smell related to sulfur.  

Most ruminants need 0.18 to 0.24 percent dry matter of dietary sulfur.

The beef cattle industry commonly feeds distillers grains, which contain sulfur. The sulfur content of distillers grains can be really high and vary. You must properly manage sulfur in the diet. Too much sulfur in the diet, including in drinking water, may harm cattle performance and health.

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Grant Crawford, former Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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