Ammoniating chaff can be profitable

Ammoniating cereal chaff is no longer just an emergency measure in times of drought or severe feed shortages.

It has become part of the overall feeding strategy for some cattle producers.

On mixed operations with cereals and beef, a few producers say they started ammoniating chaff when they got into zero till, as a means of dealing with weed and volunteer seeds. NH3 kills those seeds. Removing chaff simplifies the seeding operation.

Ammoniation helps soften bearded wheat, thus reducing eye and mouth problems in cows and makes the chaff more palatable. It also prevents heating, and kills moulds and bacteria, extending the shelf life of the feed.

Manitoba Agriculture research shows increases in crude protein content ranging from 85 percent to 125 percent following ammoniation at three percent of forage dry matter.

According to research by North Dakota State University beef specialist Greg Lardy, treating small grain chaff with anhydrous ammonia breaks down the linkages between fibres. This increases digestibility by as much as 30 percent and boosts consumption of those feeds by as much as 20 percent. It can also double or triple crude protein levels and make those crop residues equivalent to prairie hay in feed value.

Alberta Agriculture forage specialist Barry Yaremcio says wheat chaff probably makes better use of NH3 than any other feed stock because it does a better job of absorbing and retaining the ammonia.

“The big thing with any ammoniation process is you need adequate amounts of water. We did some work ammoniating barley. We got the best absorption when moisture was 18 to 24 percent. It’s possible that a fine material like chaff does a better job of retaining moisture, which in turn means it absorbs the anhydrous.

Norwood Van Dyke, animal scientist at Auburn University in Alabama, says a minimum level of 12 percent moisture is essential. Knowing the moisture level is required in calculating the amount of NH3 to be added. He says the benefits of ammoniation are greatest if it’s done soon after harvest.

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