Producers eye feed options

Drought, hail and other adverse weather conditions this year have affected the quality and quantity of feed in Western Canada.

That means cattle producers may have to seek alternative feeds to ensure livestock health throughout the coming fall and winter.

Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture, outlined some of those alternatives in an Aug. 29 webinar.

“We’re looking at different ways on how to feed these cows through the winter and hopefully not bankrupt the situation,” he said.

His first recommendation is to have feed tested so its nutrition is known and inadequacies can be addressed through other means. Heat damaged bales should be tested for acid detergent fibre and soluble nitrate. Salvaged crop that was fertilized well in spring and then went for feed should be tested for nitrates. If a cocktail mix, cover crop or canola, have it tested for sulfur, he said.

Those are things to watch for beyond the usual tests for protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sodium.

As well, “when you’re looking at two different feeds or three different feeds, you always want to look at it on a dry matter basis.”

Adequate protein and energy are key to keeping cows healthy. Protein is important for feed intake, growth and digestive efficiency.

“When you’re short of protein, you don’t have enough … nitrogen or amino acids to support the growth of the bacteria and micro-organisms that are in the rumen and those are needed to digest the feeds back down to the basic components.”

Protein-rich feed options include corn and wheat distillers grain, barley malt sprouts, urea, lentil and pea screenings.

When considering purchase of any unusual feed or byproduct, Yaremcio cautioned producers to seek consistent product quality and consider the cost of freight and ease of handling before making a commitment.

If using harvested cereal land for grazing, feed quality depends on how the combine was set and whether chaff was spread, windrowed or piled. A crop cut at a greener stage will provide higher quality feed in what remains. However, it may be low in calcium and magnesium.

Pea straw is another option. Yaremcio said it typically has higher protein content than cereal straw and energy equal to oat straw. It has a different taste so cows may take a few days to get accustomed to it.

Canola straw quality is somewhere between that of cereal and pea straw and is highly acceptable to cattle. Its hollow stems can make for a dusty product if processed.

“Weeds can be a good quality feed if they’re cut immature,” said Yaremcio. However, by early fall, feed quality is typically no better than straw. Weeds can be high in nitrates so caution is needed.

Kochia, grown in some U.S. states as forage, can also be high in nitrates and lead to downers and winter tetany, so it should not make up more than 25 percent of the dry matter fed to cows.

Yaremcio also listed the merits of old hay, lightweight grain, feed wheat, oat hulls, grain screenings or pellets, barley malt sprouts, cull potatoes and bakery waste.

Hail-damaged crops, another potential option, are head-scratchers in terms of quality, so feed testing is a priority. Much depends on how it was fertilized and when it was cut, which affects nitrate accumulation.

Salt and mineral should be provided regardless of feed choice. Yaremcio said cows typically eat most of their mineral at night, so place the salt station near the loafing area and mix the vitamins and minerals together so both are ingested.

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