Poor crops will increase feed stocks

More feed grains | With high hay prices, producers will look to feed grains, but there are quality concerns

Early September frost has increased the amount of livestock feed available this fall and winter because of crop damage and grade reduction.

It may be welcome news for cattle producers who are looking at buying hay for eight cents per pound, which is a hefty price to pay for winter feed in times of relatively low hay inventory.

Barry Yaremcio, a beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture, calculated that a 1,400 lb. cow will eat 40 lb. of hay a day, so feed costs of $3.20 per cow per day can add up quickly.

“In a lot of cases, if you’ve got a reasonable quality hay and your cows aren’t calving out until March or April … when they get on stored feed come November or December, there’s no reason if you’ve got average to good quality hay that you shouldn’t be able to mix off, say, 25 to 30 percent straw and 65 to 70 percent hay, and that ration should be adequate to meet the nutrient requirements of the animals at that stage of production.”

The reasons for higher hay prices are varied, but Yaremcio speculated that a cool spring across most of the Prairies reduced yield, and ranchers are hanging onto hay for fear of a winter as harsh as the last one.

Yaremcio said tests on this year’s first cut are also showing lower than expected protein levels, which may not be adequate for cows in late pregnancy or after calving.

He is also receiving many questions about nitrate levels in feed. In one case, tests showed nitrates at 2.58 percent, which is drastically high.

“Anything over about three-quarters of a percent is where I start getting a little bit nervous,” said Yaremcio.

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High nitrate levels can kill cattle.

He recommended testing feed, particularly this year when conditions and crop maturity are so varied.

“If they don’t do any feed testing, we’re playing Russian roulette by using average values,” he said.

“If you don’t know what you’ve got, you don’t know how to compensate for it.”

Frost may result in larger quantities of lightweight barley available for feed. Studies show 42 lb. barley is as good as 52 lb. barley in terms of cattle feed conversion and efficiency. Feedlots tend to discount light barley because they want consistency for feed processing purposes.

It means producers might be able to get a good price on light barley and reduce winter feed costs.

However, they will have to adjust their own feed processing accordingly to avoid digestive upsets in cattle. Rollers should be set to get 70 percent of the original bushel weight in the processed grain.

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“It’s a matter of taking the time and resetting those rollers so you do get a good job on that lot of grain,” Yaremcio said.

The ration should not exceed six lb. per day for mature cows when feeding wheat. Calves 500 to 800 lb. should receive no more than three lb. per day. Levels beyond that increase the risk of acidosis and bloat.

Cattle producers might also be able to save feed costs if harvest weather turns poor and high-moisture barley and oats come off the field. Growers might offer discounts to move the grain, and higher moisture material is easier to process with fewer fine particles that cause digestive problems.

Summer hailstorms may have prompted farmers to bale damaged canola. Cattle producers who feed those bales should be aware that canola baled at bloom or early pod stage has the best protein value.

Canola baled at later maturity will have lower protein that might require supplements. Oil content rises as canola matures, and total oil in a cattle ration should not exceed seven percent. Higher levels slow rumen efficiency.

Yaremcio said that mature canola green feed should make up no more than 25 percent of cattle rations.

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  • Ron Lewkowicz

    Hay is not 8 cents a pound. It’s 2 – 3 cents a pound. Same as always. Feed barley is down to $1.80 a bushel. Feed prices are pretty much record low and cattle prices are pretty much record high.