Livestock feed alternatives for dry years

Grass, meadow hay, alfalfa and straw may be the standard livestock forage, say livestock experts, but some years these feeds are in short supply and costly.

Livestock feed alternatives for dry years

Grass, meadow hay, alfalfa and straw may be the standard livestock forage, say livestock experts, but some years these feeds are in short supply and costly.

It’s hard to stretch forage supplies when there is no hay or pasture available. “Without some kind of forage, it’s hard to create a proper cattle ration. I haven’t found any pelleted feeds that can completely replace forages,” says Mike Mehren, a nutritionist in Hermiston, Ore.

“Vegetable wastes can be a good substitute, if you are close enough to a processing plant. In our region, ranchers buy corn-cannery wastes to make silage. We also do this with peas, carrots, onions and nearly any vegetable wastes,” he adds.

“For stretching feed supplies, a product commonly used in many parts of the U.S., but new to us in the Northwest, is corn distillers waste. It can be fed in feed bunks or on the ground on old conveyor belts. Any protein supplement can be dribbled along a belt to keep it from being lost on the ground.

“If a rancher has nothing to feed but wheat straw or some other low-quality forage, this can be balanced with a protein-energy supplement like distillers grain — something that has a lot of nutrient kick in just a few pounds,” Mehren explains.

“Someday we may be able to feed wood chips. We’ve done this experimentally and know that certain woods can be treated and more readily digested by cattle. Eventually this may become economically feasible,” he says.

Certain species of sagebrush are palatable and nutritionally adequate for part of the cattle diet in some regions. “With grinding, other types of sagebrush may also be possible to feed. Some of the plants and shrubs we once thought were pests can actually become livestock feed,” says Mehren.

In Texas, research has shown that several species of juniper can be chipped or processed into wholesome livestock feed. “We are finding ways to create feed from many things that haven’t been used; whenever feed is scarce, cattlemen have risen to the challenge to find a way to continue feeding cattle,” he says.

Alkaline-treated straw or cornstalks can be fed

“We’ve been working with various ways to improve palatability and quality of corn stover — all the leftover plant after the corn is harvested,” says Mehren.

The aftermath following harvest is baled and ground. “Unless it’s ground, cattle just eat the leaves, wasted ears, cobs, etc., and leave the largest stalks. We use a wood chipper to grind the stalks, since tub grinders, bale busters and hay choppers don’t have enough power to handle baled cornstalks,” he explains.

The ground stover is put into a mix truck, and then water is added to bring the contents up to 50% moisture, 50% dry matter. “At first we only add 85% to 90% of the necessary water, and mix it thoroughly so all parts are wet. Then we add calcium oxide to comprise 5% of the dry matter. Calcium oxide is used in pickling and other industries and costs about $400 per ton — but it only takes about $12 worth to treat a batch of straw or corn stover,” says Mehren.

“It breaks down the lignin and other fibers, pre-digesting it. Then we add the rest of the water and continue mixing for 10 to 15 minutes until it’s a uniform-looking product — like beating a cake mix,” he explains.

“Then we dump it on a concrete slab and let it cure for two to four days. After that, it can be fed. If it’s all fed within seven to 10 days, there is no danger of mold; it’s a very safe feed. We mix the treated roughage with a little hay and spread it on the ground or into a hay feeder. It can be loaded into a feed truck with a front-end loader,” he says.

“If you treat it like silage, it will keep all winter. You can run over it with a tractor and pack it — and then it won’t mold. We treat corn stover in large quantities here, and buy bagged calcium oxide by the truckload to provide feed for many ranchers, utilizing our wood chipper,” says Mehren.

“The same thing can be done with wheat straw, except there’s no need for a wood chipper; bales of straw can be ground in a tub grinder on the ranch. Any kind of straw could be treated like this to improve the feed quality.”

Smith Thomas writes from Salmon, Idaho.

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DDG FEEDER: Cattle eat dried distillers grain from homemade feed bunks.

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FINISHING RATIONS: Mike Mehren, an Oregon nutritionist, says the original trials on treating roughage were done at the University of Nebraska. “They used it in finishing rations, replacing part of the corn with treated cornstalks or straw.”

This article published in the November, 2014 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

Beef Herd Management

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