Feeding Livestock During Feed Shortages
Last Updated: July, 2008
This bulletin is intended to provide ideas, suggestions and alternatives which you may incorporate in your livestock operation to get you through a feed shortage or plan for the next one.
When faced with a shortage of feed, you often can still maintain your livestock herd. You may have to use feeds on which you normally would not rely. You may have to cull. You will have to plan your rations so that the nutrients short in one feedstuff are either high in another or added as a supplement.
Whatever strategy you use, saving the herd can keep you in the livestock business. It may also help cushion your finances against income you lose from a poor crop.
Planning for feeding
Begin planning for maintaining a livestock herd as soon as signs forecast a dry year.
You can graze your animals on poor crop stands during the summer, or fall rye planted the previous year or on spring-planted oats.
Cut those crop-stands that will not produce good yields for fall and winter feed. Harvest them between the heading and soft dough stage.
Harvest all the hay you can from roadsides and sloughs. If your cereal crops have received enough rain, consider using them for hay or silage.
Save straw and chaff for feed. Ammonisation improves digestibility and increases crude protein in roughages, allowing greater use of straw and chaff in cattle feeding. Look for alternative feeds, such as screenings from grain, canola, lentils, peas, forage seed, etc.
Feed a balanced ration to meet the animals' requirements, and make your feed supply as effective as possible. Avoid waste. Watch for health problems.
Periodic feed shortages are a fact of livestock production. Make your operation less vulnerable by planning ahead for next time.
Sheep will not eat as wide a variety of roughage or as poor a quality of roughage as cattle. However, on pasture, sheep will consume different feeds readily and, if hungry, may eat poisonous plants as well.
An ewe needs at least one to 1.5 pounds of roughage a day to keep her digestive system functioning normally. Increase the roughage level to 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) if feeding heavy barley or feed wheat during early pregnancy, and to 2.2 pounds (1.0 kg) during late pregnancy. Conception rates are better, and ewes have more lambs, if they are gaining weight during the breeding season. So, for flushing on low quality roughages, give each ewe one pound (0.5 kg) of good, whole grain daily.
As well as roughage, ewes need vitamins and minerals and a good, clean supply of water.
Breeding ewes may need 10,000 to 15,000 International Units (I.U.) of vitamin A and 1,000 to 1,500 I.U. of vitamin D per head per day. Pregnant ewes need about 5,000 I.U. of vitamin A and 500 I.U. of vitamin D each, daily. Allow five to 10 I.U. of vitamin E for each pound (0.5 kg) of feed for sheep.
The mineral mixture for sheep should supply salt, calcium, phosphorus, iodine and cobalt. Sheep are sensitive to excess copper, so choose a supplement with little, if any, copper if you are in an area where the soil has enough copper.
Always make sure sheep have adequate water. When they don't have water, they will reduce their feed intake.
Since swine rations rely on grain, producers must work out the most economical ration for their animals when grain supplies are limited.
Remember, if a low energy ration is used, hogs will gain weight more slowly and be home longer. Watch closely how much less supplement is used so grain is not wasted by feeding longer than is necessary. While relying on wheat, oats and barley for rations, pelleted screenings can be used in some rations.
Wheat can be used as the major grain in hog rations. If used alone, as finely ground, it does "paste-up" in the mouth. Also, because it is high in energy, limit the amount of wheat fed or the pigs become overfat. It is probably better to mix wheat with another grain such as oats or barley. Oats are much lower in energy than wheat and need to be supplemented with a feed higher in energy. A 50:50 mixture of wheat and oats is equivalent in feed value to barley.
Pelleted screenings can be used up to 25 per cent of rations for growing pigs. Avoid them in sow rations because they may contain large amounts of unprocessed canola and wild mustard seeds which may cause reproductive problems.
In the long run, it is economical to maintain the present size of the cow herd and feed for high production.
Dairy cows need at least 800 pounds (360 kg) of hay or its equivalent each month. This amounts to the cow eating about two per cent of her body weight each day as hay. Milking cows need at least 1.5 per cent of their body weight as hay daily or they will have digestive upsets and drop milk fat percentage. Also, cows need 350 pounds (158 kg) of cereal grain for each 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of milk they produce.
When good quality hay is in short supply, slough hay, cereal hay and in extreme situations, cereal straw, may be used as a substitute.
Slough hay may be used as the only forage for dairy cattle. When it is the only forage they receive, the cattle will need about an 18 per cent protein dairy concentrate. A less costly ration based on slough hay consists of six to 12 pounds (2.7 to 5.5 kg) of dehydrated alfalfa pellets, sun cured alfalfa pellets or alfalfa cubes and enough slough hay to add up to 25 pounds (11.4 kg) of forage a day.
Cereal hay can replace good quality hay entirely. Feed each cow 25 pounds (11.4 kg) of cereal hay daily.
When cereal straw has to be used to extend hay supplies, feed only five to 10 pounds (2.2 to 4.5 kg) a day to milking cows. Use hay or a mixture of hay and dehydrated alfalfa to make up the balance of the forage needed.
You can feed replacement heifers and dry cows lower quality forages such as slough hay, grass hay and weedy hay. You will also have to feed them five to 10 pounds (2.2 to 4.5 kg) of grain and supplement.
To be sure you are feeding your dairy herd balanced rations, have samples of the feed analyzed for energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. Seek advice on how to combine the feeds so they provide the proportions of nutrients the animals need.
Supplementing Pasture with Alternate Grazing
The first problem producers usually face in a dry year is lack of pasture. If there is some grass, grazing time can be extended by feeding grain and hay or straw in the pasture. Feeding five pounds (2.5 kg) of barley chop per cow per day is the equivalent of having 20 per cent more pasture.
The most important consideration is getting the cows bred so there will be a calf crop next year. Energy is important, as are vitamin A and phosphorus, which are in short supply on dry pasture.
An average milking cow needs about 75,000 I.U. of vitamin A daily, either by injection every 60 days or in the grain. Intake of 1:1 calcium/phosphorus mineral should be about two to four ounces (50 to 100 grams) per cow daily. Mix with salt or feed with grain to make sure it is consumed.
If there isn't any grass, consider sowing cereal crops for use as emergency pasture. Using cereal crops to extend fodder supplies is probably the most economical way of carrying your livestock through a period when pasture conditions are poor. Although feed can be purchased and transported, growing as much of your own as possible is usually the least expensive choice.
Oats can provide substantial emergency grazing if seeded on summerfallow or on low lying land where moisture is most plentiful. Barley, winter wheat and fall rye can yield as well as or better than oats. They are also suitable for grazing and produce high pasture yields in July, but taper off quickly in August.
The spring-seeded winter cereals are slower to establish than spring cereals, and produce high pasture yields in July and August. Their yield tapers off in September and October, but they do continue to produce, with yield depending on growing conditions.
Fall rye can be grazed for a period and still harvested for grain if there is sufficient moisture. A study conducted at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Station in Swift Current, showed that grazing in the spring reduced yield by 10 per cent; fall grazing reduced yield by 17 per cent and grazing in fall and spring reduced yield by 25 per cent.
Cereals can be grazed approximately four to six weeks after seeding, and can be stocked heavily in order to use all available growth. It is advisable to seed a second field three weeks after the first is seeded, so that when the first one is grazed off, the second will be ready. If a source of drinking water is available, this system can provide continuous pasture all summer. If enough rain falls later in the summer, the fields grazed early in the season may re-grow and produce either additional pasture or hay in the fall.
In times of drought, the previously mentioned cereals usually provide more yield than other annual forages such as millet and Sudan grass.
Other management considerations for coping with inadequate pastures are as follows:
Creep Feeding and Weaning Early
Creep feeding pays when pasture is poor. Creep feeding takes the pressure off the cows, leaving them as much as 50 pounds heavier in the fall. This is important for winter maintenance. Calves gain efficiently, with feed conversions between 5:1 and 7:1, and will weigh heavier in the fall.
Calves like whole, coarsely cracked or rolled grain. The creep ration should contain 70 per cent Total Digestible Nutrients or TDN (energy) and 13 to 16 per cent crude protein. Good quality whole oats are often used as a creep feed. When pastures are dry, it pays to increase protein in the creep feed. Use a natural protein source (no urea), pelleted so it won't separate. For example, creep feed might be 40 per cent rolled barley, 50 per cent whole oats and 10 per cent pelleted canola meal or commercial 32:0 protein supplement (no urea). There are a number of commercially available creep feeds on the market. They often contain added vitamins and minerals. Exercise caution when using whole barley. There have been cases of grain overload and acidosis when barley was the sole source of grain in the creep feed.
The creep area doesn't have to be elaborate. Fence off an area close to water or salt, preferably with shade. An opening 16 to 18 inches (40 to 45 cm) wide and three to 3.5 feet (0.9 to 1.1 metres) high will let calves in and keep cows out. The creep feed can be fed in feed bunks, troughs or self-feeders.
Start the calves on small amounts of feed and increase the amounts gradually. If too much feed is put out at first, some calves may overeat. Also, the leftover feed will go stale and calves may back off. Once calves are used to the creep, don't let it run empty.
Creep feeding works better on smaller pastures than on open range with long distances between water holes or salt licks. To calculate intake, a good rule of thumb is one pound (0.5 kg) of creep feed for every 100 pounds (45 kg) of body weight per day.
Wean calves as early as possible. Calves can be weaned at three to fours months of age, if they are given a high-quality ration. It is cheaper to feed the calves directly than to feed the cows for milk production. The feed should contain about 70 per cent TDN, 14 per cent crude protein (no urea), 0.6 per cent calcium and 0.45 per cent phosphorus. Talk to your livestock nutritionist or feed company representative about feeding during the weaning period.
The ration may be more expensive per ton than cow feed. With calf intakes of about eight pounds (3.5 kg) per day and gains of around two pounds (0.9 kg) per day, feeding efficiency means low-cost gain.
Calves on creep feed for even two or three weeks before weaning will wean and go on feed much easier. Follow recommended weaning practices to reduce stress on the calf. Where possible, "process" the calf three weeks before weaning and treat weaning as a single stress.
Winter Feed Supplies
Perennial forages require plentiful moisture by early May to yield well later in the year. Don't wait for the first hay growth to develop into a good crop after a dry spring.
Perennial forages should be cut by the early blossom stages for legumes or the early heading stages for grass, regardless of whether there is sufficient yield for hay. That way, if timely rains appear in late June or early July, a good second cut can be obtained. If not cut, first growth will simply mature, with little second growth.
Sloughs and roadsides can be cut for hay. Weedy crop areas such as wild oat patches are also good feed, and will reduce weed infestation next year.
Oats planted after a late rain can still be cut for greenfeed. The same applies to cereals used for grazing and allowed to re-grow. Sometimes, these fields can provide winter feed if there are later rains. Test for nitrates if there is an early frost.
Oats should be cut in the milk stage for best quality. Feed value drops off rapidly as they mature. Barley and wheat can be cut for greenfeed in the soft dough stage.
Livestock producers should also try to save as much crop residue as possible during grain harvest to replace any hay which may have been grazed as emergency pasture.
Chaff can be collected as feed, with the added advantage of not removing all the plant material from an area, thus leaving the straw to help protect the soil from erosion. Chaff collection systems are becoming more effective and readily available. Chaff can make up a sizeable portion of the ration for wintering beef cattle or sheep. Chaff fits well into several self-feeding systems, such as electrified wire or limit feeding.
Chaff yield is inconsistent. Wheat crops produce more chaff than barley or oats. Short crops and dry conditions also produce more chaff, as shorter material falls through the straw walkers. The type of combine and the combine setting will also affect chaff yield.
Some animals, especially the younger ones, may find chaff from some of the very rough-awned bearded wheat varieties unpalatable. The better the body condition cattle are in at the beginning of winter, the more they will tolerate colder conditions during the winter months.
Winter Feeding Strategy
During feed shortages, producers may be faced with feeding less feed or feed of a poorer quality. However, the cattle still need adequate amounts of energy, protein, minerals, vitamins and roughage.
It is important to plan ahead for available feed supplies for winter feeding. Consider quality as well as quantity. If there isn't sufficient feed for the numbers of animals being over-wintered, then a decision has to be made whether to buy feed or reduce the number of animals.
Prioritize herd reduction. Top priority should be the pregnant brood cows. If they can get through the winter with enough body condition after calving to rebreed on schedule, the breeding program will not be affected.
Conduct a pregnancy check on the herd in the fall. Cull all open cows, cows with bad feet, bad udders and eye problems and cows with bad dispositions. Poor mothers should be culled. Good records will help with the decision-making process.
If there is extra feed after the main herd's needs are met, keep the best replacement heifers. Keep the bred heifers and, if there's enough feed, keep heifer calves from the best cows.
How well cattle tolerate the winter depends on their body condition at winter's onset. Thin cattle do not have fat reserves and require more feed than cows in good body condition to tolerate the cold winter months. They are also more likely to have low vitamin and mineral reserves. Watch them closely for deficiencies, particularly in vitamin A. Separate young and thin cows from the rest of the herd, and feed them extra forage or grain.
Mature cows that finish the grazing season in better-than-average condition can withstand having their feed cut back somewhat. Roughage can be reduced from 10 to 20 pounds (4.5 to 9 kg) to a minimum of four to five pounds (1.75 to 2.25 kg) daily, along with adequate grain. Any greater reduction in forage will interfere with normal rumen function. During the winter feeding period, these cows can lose up to 120 pounds (55 kg). After calving, give them extra feed so they nurse properly and return to breeding condition quickly. Greater weight losses may jeopardize their health or cause breeding problems.
If feed needs to be purchased, decide whether hay is needed or if existing roughage can be extended with a grain or protein supplement. Poor-quality roughages, if properly supplemented to meet the animals' requirements, can replace quality hay in maintaining the pregnant beef cow.
Thin cattle require more feed to keep warm. A thin cow requires 50 to 70 per cent more feed during a cold snap compared to a cow with some fat cover. This is why it pays to have cows come into winter in good condition.
Don't waste feed. Feeding on the ground can waste up to 50 per cent of poor-quality feed. If feeding using an electric wire system, keep it properly adjusted. Moving it a little several times daily is better than once daily and having the animals reach too much feed.
Retain the best quality feed for young stock and nursing cows after calving, as both milk production and growth demand extra nutrients. Nursing cows should be given sufficient feed to provide twice their pre-calving energy and protein needs.
Save your best roughage for replacement calves, bred heifers and cows after calving. Both milk production and growth demand extra nutrients.
Ammoniating chaff and straw increases its energy and crude protein content. If allowed free access to treated straw or chaff, cows will eat more than they would un-treated chaff. Intake increases from about 14 to 16 pounds of untreated chaff to 18 to 22 pounds of treated chaff, and grain requirements fall from five to six pounds per day to about two pounds.
Conversely, if grain is fed at five to six pounds per head, intake of ammoniated material can be restricted and still maintain the animal in good condition.
Healthy cattle use feed more efficiently. Treat for warbles and lice in the fall. Treat again for lice in mid-winter. Make sure to provide adequate vitamin A, D, and E supplementation, either through the feeding program or intra-muscular injections every 60 days. Balance rations with enough calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals, either mixed with the feed or fed free-choice.
Know the feed quality and the animal's requirements. Have feeds analyzed by a feed testing laboratory. Discuss the results with a livestock nutritionist or feed company nutritionist.
Give all cattle extra feed in cold weather. A good rule of thumb is to increase grain by 2.2 pounds (1 kg) for every 10° C drop in temperature below -10°C to a maximum of five pounds (2.3 kg). If the temperature drops from -10° to -35°C overnight, the cattle need an extra five pounds (2.3 kg) of grain to help maintain body temperature.
Feed and Bedding Alternatives
When choosing feed for livestock, consider its nutritive value, bulkiness or lack of bulk, presence of other substances and health problems related to its use.
Dehydrated alfalfa pellets and cubes. Dehydrated alfalfa pellets consist of finely ground artificially dried alfalfa forage in 1/4-inch diameter pellets. They can replace up to 14 pounds (6.3 kg) of forage in dairy rations. In beef cow rations, about five pounds (2.3 kg) daily can be used to supplement cereal straw. Alfalfa cubes can be used as the only forage for dairy cattle, but fewer problems are encountered when at least five pounds (2.3 kg) of long hay are also fed. Dehydrated alfalfa pellets may also be used for sheep.
Dehydrated pellets can also be used as a protein supplement when fed with low-quality roughage.
Slough hay. If adequately supplemented, slough hay can provide the forage requirements of beef cattle, sheep and dairy replacement animals.
The feed value for slough hay is usually higher than cereal straw, and can approach that of brome grass hay. Slough hay is more variable in quality than tame grasses. Generally, fine grasses are higher in value. The coarse material is less digestible and will need supplementation with grain to meet the energy and protein requirements of wintering beef cows. Harvest should occur before killing frost because frozen slough hay will deteriorate quickly to the equivalent feed value of cereal straw.
Grain crop hay and silage. Cereal hay is suitable to provide the forage component of rations for all classes of beef and dairy cattle and sheep, and should be equal in value to good-quality brome grass hay.
Wheat, oat, barley, rye, pea, lentil, chickpea, canola and mustard crops can be used for livestock feed. Harvesting cereal crops should occur between the heading and mid-dough stages, and should be timed to retain as much leafy material as possible. Rye hay loses palatability and protein content rapidly after flowering. Canola and mustard crops should be cut during the late flowering to early podding stage.
Good-quality cereal hay or silage is about equivalent to brome grass hay in energy and protein content. Oat, mustard and canola crops that have frozen or have suffered from severe drought prior to harvest should be checked for nitrate content and the ration adjusted if significant amounts of nitrate are present. Canola and mustard crops contain high levels of sulfur. Feed at levels up to 60 per cent of the total ration. Supplement these rations with salt and minerals which contain high levels of copper to avoid copper deficiency problems.
Native grass hay. Native grasses are suitable for use in most beef cattle and sheep rations, and can be used for replacement dairy cattle and, if necessary, for milking dairy cattle. These grasses approach brome grass hay in protein and energy content. Stands which are more than one year old can be used, if available. Care should be taken to avoid cutting while the spears are present on Needle and Thread grass, generally during July and August.
Roadside hay. Roadside hay primarily consists of grass hay (bromes, crested wheat) and some clover or alfalfa. When harvesting and feeding it, watch for glass and other foreign material that might be present.
Russian thistle. It may be used for hay when other forages are not available. Russian thistle can make up a significant portion of rations for beef cattle and sheep, but feed it in very limited amounts to dairy cattle. It is usually equal to fair quality hay in protein content, but is lower in TDN. It is a surprisingly palatable feed. Because of its high ash content, it may cause cattle to scour if fed in large amounts.
False or Wild Barley (Foxtail). Foxtail has awns which, if fed in large quantities, can become impacted in the mouths of cattle, sometimes causing abscess to form. Use this forage cautiously. Grinding it through a hammer mill may help to break up the awns. Hay with a lot of "foxtail" is unpalatable and should be avoided.
Kochia weed. Kochia weed, if harvested before it matures, makes excellent cattle feed. It is as high or higher in energy and protein as good alfalfa hay. The high mineral content results in it having an extremely laxative effect. Kochia weed should not make up more than 30 per cent of the total diet.
Fresh cereal straw. Straw is a good alternative in wintering rations for cows and sheep if properly supplemented with an energy source like grain and with added minerals and vitamins. All cereal straws can be fed, with oat and barley straws being preferable because they are more palatable. Straw can be used in combination with other feeds as the sole roughage for beef cows. However, its use should be limited to eight to 10 pounds (3.5 to 4.5 kg) to maintain milk production in dairy cows.
Straw. Year-old straw should also be considered a feed source. It is usually slightly more digestible and palatable than fresh straw. Inspect year-old straw for mouldy pockets and spoilage due to weathering. Do not feed mouldy feedstuffs to pregnant or lactating cows.
Ammoniated straw and chaff. Ammoniating straw and chaff will improve their feed value and increase consumption. Calculate the cost of ammonisation before treating straw. Ammonisation reduces but does not eliminate the need for grain.
Chaff. Chaff can be used in a similar manner to straw in rations for beef cows and sheep. It contains some grain and weed seeds, making it slightly better in feed value than straw. However, it still must be supplemented with minerals, vitamins and an energy source such as grain. Producers have left chaff piles in fields to be grazed or fed in combination with wintering rations.
Feeding on the ground can waste up to 50 per cent of poor-quality feed. Using tombstone-style feeders or electric fences greatly reduces waste by forcing the animals to clean up the chaff piles. Using chaff as feed leaves the straw on the land to prevent erosion.
Flax straw. It is considered to be of lower feeding value than cereal straws. It is coarse and fibrous and, as a result, cannot be processed, but is readily eaten by cows. If frozen, it should be tested for prussic acid, which can be poisonous. Energy and protein must be adequate to guard against rumen impaction. Research at the University of Saskatchewan shows flax straw can be ammoniated and will make an adequate forage base for wintering beef cows.
Liquid protein supplements. Liquid protein supplements can be used as part of balanced rations for ruminants. Most of the liquid protein supplements are mixtures based on molasses, and contain urea and/or preformed protein, supplemental minerals and vitamins. Read the label carefully to regulate the amounts animals receive or the amounts to be mixed in the grain rations. Most liquid protein supplements are low in calcium and usually require a calcium mineral supplementation. Do not feed with other feeds containing urea or with ammoniated straw or chaff because toxicity may result. Do not feed straw and liquid protein supplement only. Some grain or quality hay is required to provide sufficient energy.
Canola meal. The meal produced after oil is extracted from canola contains about 35 per cent protein and as much TDN as oat grain. It can be used as an alternative to soybean meal. If oil meals are used in place of commercial protein supplements, pay special attention to minerals and vitamins in the rations.
During a cold snap, cattle on low-quality roughage need extra energy and protein to prevent rumen impaction.
Western grain screening pellets (GSPs). These contain a mixture of grains, wild oats, weed seeds, chaff, hulls and some dust. The contents are finely ground and pelleted. They are similar to oats in feeding characteristics (11 to 12 per cent crude protein and 65 to 69 per cent TDN). The amount fed to milking cows should not exceed six to eight pounds (2.75 -3.5 kg) per head daily. They can also be used to supplement roughage (replacing cereal grains) when feeding beef calves and cows, and replacement dairy heifers. Because of their fine particle size and the characteristics of some of their ingredients, digestive upsets such as bloat may occur if pellets comprise a large proportion of the total diet (i.e. greater than 75 per cent).
Fortified Grain Screening Pellets. These pelleted products are similar to GSPs, but are fortified with minerals (calcium and phosphorus), trace minerals (copper, zinc, manganese, selenium) and vitamins (Vitamin A, D and E). They may also contain added ionophores to help prevent bloat. These pellets can be purchased with crude protein levels ranging from 11 per cent to 16 per cent (or higher).
Pelleted flour mill by-products. Pellets containing 15 per cent protein, three to six per cent fat, 12.5 per cent fibre and 65 to 68 per cent TDN may be available in some areas. They consist of wheat bran, broken kernels and weed seeds, making them comparable in feed value to oats. They still must be supplemented with minerals and vitamins.
Canola fines screenings. These consist of small or broken canola pods, chaff and small weed seeds. The composition is about the same as whole canola. Because the oil content is high, the amount fed should not exceed 10 to 15 per cent of the total ration as there may be an effect on rumen function or carcass quality.
Canola coarse screenings. They are made up of pods, broken stems and dust, along with some cereal grain and larger weed seeds. They have about the same feed value as light oat grain.
Lentil screenings. Lentil screenings or lentils rejected because of ascochyta blight discolouration make a good protein source for cattle rations. Crude protein varies between 18 to 24 per cent. They can also be used as an energy source.
Barley, oats, wheat and rye are grains commonly used in rations.
Barley. It is medium in energy (75 per cent TDN) and protein (10 to 12 per cent) among the cereals. It may be used successfully as the only grain ration for all animals. Its use is widespread in the grain portions of livestock rations, but it may also be used to replace part of the roughage, and is a better choice than heavier grains (high energy) such as wheat and corn. Combining barley with very poor roughage sources will give a feed mixture equivalent to high-quality roughage (alfalfa hay, clover hay or brome hay).
Oats. This cereal is the lowest in energy (68 per cent TDN) and compares with barley grain in protein (10 to 12 per cent). Oats can be used as the only grain in beef cattle and sheep rations, except when roughage quality is very low. Oats contain 10 to 12 per cent fibre, and may be used to dilute heavy grains to avoid overfeeding energy. Among cereals, oats are the closest to roughages, and make a good roughage replacement.
Wheat. It is a high-energy (80 per cent TDN), high-protein (13 to 15 per cent) cereal. It should not be used as the only grain when fed at very high levels because problems with digestive upsets and acidosis may occur. It makes an excellent grain ration ingredient, when the quality of roughage is low in terms of energy and protein. It should be rolled or coarse-ground except when fed to sheep. Sheep chew whole grains thoroughly, so grinding or rolling the grain is not necessary.
Rye. Rye is similar to wheat in its nutritive value (80 per cent TDN, 13 to 14 per cent protein), and can be used at low levels in the diet. Rye should not make up more than 40 per cent of ruminants' grain rations due to palatability problems. Also, rye is the most susceptible cereal to ergot infestation.
Pea vines. The residue from field peas and lentils is a satisfactory feed that is about equivalent to low-quality grass hay in feed value. The palatability is good.
Brewers mash. This by-product of malting barley can be used as a feed in either wet or dry forms. It is medium-to-low in energy (70 per cent TDN of dry matter), but high in protein (25 per cent of dry matter). It is an excellent source of B vitamins.
Bakery waste. Stale bread and other baking products may be ground and used as a replacement for cereal grains. Because of the fine particle size, it should be mixed with other concentrates and limited to about 10 per cent of the total ration.
Bulrushes, willows, buck brush and other woody material. These products are generally not well-digested by cattle or sheep. Limited quantities present in hay are not harmful, but enough hay should be provided to allow animals to sort out and reject the woody material. They may be used as bedding, if ground or shredded.
When hay and straw are scarce, grinding or shredding has several advantages. Animals cannot sort as easily and will eat everything, reducing waste. Low-quality roughage can be mixed with higher quality roughages and the cows have to eat it all. Feeds with high nitrate levels can be diluted below the toxic level.
Animals can eat more poor-quality roughage, and therefore they grow faster and maintain themselves more easily, if it is ground rather than being left uncut. However, if energy and protein supplementation is not adequate, rumen impaction can be a problem.
There is no point in grinding forage for beef cows if they can get enough to eat without grinding. Grinding increases cost, encourages over-consumption and could lead to impaction. Grinding forage can be worthwhile if mixing it with quality feeds, and limiting feeding to prevent waste.
If hay or straw is tough or damp, it is harder to grind and will take more power to process. Dry forages grind better and require less power. A three-quarter inch (1.91 cm) screen is the best size for best forage intake, reduced bridging and feed particle separation in complete rations.
Restaurant grease, tallow, mineral oil, crude vegetable oil, molasses and water have all been used to reduce dust problems. If water is used, the cut feed should be consumed within 24 to 48 hours to prevent heating.
Feed Testing and Ration Design
Livestock's nutrient requirements vary with age, size and level of production and reproduction. Nutrient use is most efficient when the nutrient supply in the diet is in balance with the nutrient requirements of the animals.
The nutrient content of feedstuffs varies greatly from field to field, year to year, and species to species. The level and type of fertilization, stage of maturity and method of storage and processing also affect the nutrient composition of feeds.
To balance rations, one must know exactly what nutrients are present and in what amounts. This information is imperative when roughage mixtures of unknown proportions are harvested, and unfamiliar materials are going to be used in feeding livestock. The only way to get precise information is laboratory analysis of the feed.
A full range of feed-testing services is available at various feed testing laboratories. Feeds can be analyzed for crude protein, estimated digestible energy, essential minerals and vitamins, or for toxic substances such as nitrates and prussic acid. Fees vary, depending on the number and kind of analyses and the actual costs involved.
In order to have valuable feed analyses and advice on feed use, it is essential that samples be properly taken and submitted with detailed information on how feed will be used.
Examples of Rations for Beef Cows
The following are sample rations using straw as the main feed ingredient.
Late Spring/Early Summer Conditions
All amounts are per cow per day on an "as fed" basis using average feed values.
* The vitamin A-D-E pre-mix contains 10,000,000 I.U.s of vitamin A per kg
Late Summer/Early Fall Conditions
All amounts are per cow per day on an "as fed" basis.
* The vitamin A-D-E pre-mix contains 10,000,000 I.U.s of vitamin A per kg
All amounts are per cow per day on an "as fed" basis.
* The vitamin A-D-E pre-mix contains 10,000,000 I.U.s of vitamin A per kg
Ration changes. Animals need time to adapt to changes in feed. Ruminants especially need to be gradually switched from high roughage rations to rations containing high levels of grain or concentrates. Sudden changes may cause acidosis or other digestive upsets in cattle and sheep.
Feeding hay to cattle and sheep before allowing them to graze green crops or lush pastures can prevent some of these digestive problems. Alternatively, animals could be allowed to graze only a few hours a day for several days until they have adapted to the new feed.
Some animals may develop allergic reactions to substances in fresh, lush, green feeds, and it is always prudent to turn cattle onto new pasture when their stomachs are full.
Mould and ergot. Mould, toxins and ergot can poison animals. Pregnant animals are most susceptible to these toxins. If these toxins are consumed at high levels, they may cause abortion, vaginal or rectal prolapse, internal bleeding, dry, gangrenous symptoms and even death in cattle. Weak and starving animals are less able to detoxify these toxins. Addition of vitamins A, D and E may help the animals tolerate these toxins. Diluting the mouldy feed with clean feed may bring the toxin concentration down to a safe level. Dilute ergot-contaminated feeds to less than one ergot body per 1,000 kernels.
Rumen impaction. Feeding excessive amounts of low-quality hay or straw to cattle without adequate grain supplementation to provide energy and protein can leave the forage undigested and/or slow to digest and cause rumen impaction. Lack of water may also contribute to compaction. Processing low-quality forage with a hammer-mill or bale shredder can increase the amount of forage eaten, but, if the ration is low in energy or protein, can also lead to impaction. You must be particularly watchful to ensure adequate energy intake during periods of severe cold weather.
Problems due to water. Clean snow has been successfully used as the winter water source for beef cows and sheep. The snow should be easily available and not hard-packed. The best type of snow is crystal-grainy and deep enough that cows can eat it. It may take several days for cattle to become accustomed to eating snow. Give cattle access to fresh water about six weeks prior to calving.
If you are concerned about the quality of water, if animals are eating or drinking less or have scours, a water analysis should be carried out to determine the level of minerals present.
Pesticides and herbicides. If crops are to be salvaged for feed but have been treated with pesticides or herbicides, ensure that the label restrictions have been complied with. Never feed seed grain treated with fungicides or insecticides.
Dicoumarol poisoning or "Sweet Clover Disease." Mouldy sweet clover hay or silage may contain dicoumarol. Dicoumarol prevents blood from clotting, so animals may bleed to death internally or from external wounds. Feed sweet clover to cattle for seven days and then switch to different forage for 14 days, then back to sweet clover for seven days and repeat. It is advisable to avoid feeding sweet clover for six weeks prior to castrating or dehorning. Do not feed any sweet clover to cows during the last three months of pregnancy.
Nitrate Poisoning. Frost, drought and the application of herbicides may be factors in high nitrate accumulation by plants. Oat straw and oat hay are most affected. Green oats should be cut either immediately after a frost, before nitrates build up, or after seven days with no frost (assuming the plants were not killed) to allow any nitrate built up to be cleared by the plant's system. Green feed cut after a frost should be tested for nitrates. If nitrates are suspected, the amount should be determined by a feed analysis performed at a feed testing laboratory.
Forages containing nitrates may kill cattle and sheep by interfering with the transport of oxygen by the blood. Symptoms of nitrate poisoning include rapid breathing as the animal struggles to get enough oxygen, frothing from the mouth, a bluish tinge to the mucous membranes, muzzle and udder, and brown-coloured blood. Treatment requires early intravenous injection of a 40 per cent solution of methylene blue at the rate of 100 cc per 100 pounds (45 kg) of body weight.
The rule of thumb for feeding is to dilute the nitrate-containing roughage with nitrate-free roughage so that the total feed contains no more than 0.5 per cent nitrate. For example, if green oats has one per cent nitrate (100 per cent Dry Matter Basis), it should be diluted by one-half with nitrate-free roughage. This should be done with each feeding to prevent over-consumption by any individual animal. Dilution does not work if high-nitrate feed is fed one day and nitrate-free feed the next.
Prussic Acid (Hydrocyanic Acid) Poisoning. Flax that has been frozen or severely affected by drought may contain toxic quantities of prussic acid (0.03 to 0.04 per cent or higher). Symptoms of prussic acid poisoning are similar to nitrate poisoning, except the blood remains bright red. Death usually occurs before treatment is possible, although early intravenous injection of sodium nitrate and sodium thiosulfate by a veterinarian may be beneficial. Where prussic acid may be a problem, feed should be analyzed by a feed testing laboratory and suitable precautions taken. Prussic acid in cured forage gradually disappears over time.
Nutritional deficiency diseases. Poor-quality feeds provide livestock with fibre, but are low in energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Inadequate amounts of nutrients may lower conception rates, and disease and parasite resistance. It may result in weak calves and lambs, and sometimes in still-born offspring.
When low-quality forages are fed, you must provide mineral and vitamin supplements. Ensure that you feed a balanced diet to provide adequate energy and protein. Pay particular attention to supplying adequate vitamin A and minerals, either through free-choice or force-feeding.
The following problems pose higher risks during very dry periods:
Pneumonia. Blowing dust and dusty, dry feed can irritate the respiratory tracts of cattle and cause an increase in cases of pneumonia.
Poisonous Plants. Poor pasture conditions increase the risk of plant poisoning. Many poisonous plants are unpalatable but, when the quantity of grass is in short supply, cattle will eat things such as chokecherry leaves, marsh arrow grass, water hemlock, etc., which can result in poisoning.
Blackleg. Soil-borne diseases such as Blackleg can present a higher risk because cattle are grazing closer to the ground.
Grass Tetany/Atypical interstitial pneumonia (AIP). Severe drought followed by heavy rain may result in rapid, lush growth of cereals and/or seeded pasture. This has the potential to cause grass tetany. AIP is another disease that may occur when cattle are moved from poor pasture into an area with lush growth.
Veterinarians can provide additional information regarding these and other diseases.
Cattle should be fed before being turned out onto new pasture, otherwise their hunger may lead them to eat poisonous plants. They should be watched carefully for digestive upsets or AIP during the first few days on new pasture.
Ammonisation of Straw and Chaff
It is recommended that producers leave the straw on the land and collect chaff for feed, especially in the brown and dark brown soil zones. Straw left on the land preserves soil tilth and helps prevent erosion. When faced with a feed shortage, a decision must be made whether to remove the straw for feed or to look for more feed elsewhere.
Ammonisation is a method of treating low-quality hay and crop residues, such as straw and chaff, to improve their nutritional value as feeds for ruminant animals. Ammonisation improves feeding quality by increasing the amount of total digestible energy (TDN) in the residue, the amount of roughage the animal will consume and the crude protein equivalent (CP). It involves sealing the residue or hay in a gas-tight enclosure and adding anhydrous liquid ammonia supplied by fertilizer dealers. As long as the air temperature is 10° C or warmer, the chemical reaction is complete in 21 days.
Chaff fits into self-feeding systems for calves as well as cows.
No problems have been reported with the feeding of ammoniated chaff or straw. Abortions, calves with low birth weight or reproductive problems have not been associated with ammonisation. Rumen impaction should not occur, provided the total energy intake is adequate. Ammonisation of straw or chaff reduces the grain requirement but does not eliminate it.
Sampling prior to ammonisation. Straw or chaff intended for ammonisation should contain at least 12 per cent moisture, and preferably 15 to 20 per cent. Wheat straw or chaff should have a TDN of at least 33 per cent and barley straw or chaff a TDN of at least 38 per cent to be eligible for ammonisation.
To ensure that the moisture content and feed quality of your straw or chaff are adequate for ammonisation, submit a representative sample to a feed testing laboratory for analysis. Mix small amounts of straw taken from different parts of the field or the stack so the analysis will truly represent your material.
When to Ammoniate. A minimum moisture level of 12 per cent is necessary for efficient ammonisation. This can be achieved by baling early in the morning after heavy dew or by baling as soon as possible after a rainfall.
Usually, chaff collected from combining a swathed cereal crop is very dry, containing eight to 10 per cent moisture. The moisture content must be increased to 15 to 20 per cent, or a satisfactory improvement in digestibility may not be obtained. This can easily be accomplished by attaching a 15 to 20 foot (4.5 to six metre), one half inch (1.27 centimetres) copper pipe to a garden hose, perforating the final three feet of the pipe and calibrating it for water delivery. The pipe can be inserted and withdrawn throughout the stack until the right amount of water has been added.
For example, to increase the moisture content of a 40 ton chaff stack by five per cent, 400 gallons of water will be required (40 X 2000 X .05/10) or in metric (40 tonnes X 1000 kg X .05 = 2000 litres). Then measure how many gallons (litres) per minute run through the pipe. Insert the pipe into different locations in the stack and add water for the total required number of minutes to get the proper volume of water into the stack.
The efficiency of ammonisation is also dependent on temperature; the higher the temperature, the better the result. Generally, it is advisable to ammoniate early in the fall, before temperatures become too cold.
Location of the stacks. Each stack should be a) downwind and some distance from the farm buildings and cattle holding area; b) accessible to farm machinery from all sides; c) accessible at both ends so that the ammonisation pipes may be inserted; d) placed near some shelter which will reduce or prevent wind damage.
Building the Stacks or Piling Chopped Straw or Chaff. The dimensions of the stack or piles are determined by the size of the plastic sheet to be used to cover them. Six-millimetre, black polyethylene is available in sheets 100 feet long by 40 feet (30.5 metres X 12.2 metres) wide. The stacks or piles must be constructed in such a way that an overhang of at least two feet (0.6 metre) of plastic is left on each side and at each end to seal the enclosure properly.
The plastic cover is particularly susceptible to damage from the corner bales of stacks constructed from rectangular bales. To protect the plastic, cover the corner bales with grain bags or plastic fertilizer bags. It is also wise to cover the whole stack with a used plastic underlay.
Depending on the size of the bales and the plastic, round bales can be stacked in up to 15 rows of a 3:2, 3:2:1 or a 4:3 arrangement. A bale should be unrolled along the top of the 3:2 and 4:3 arrangements to improve drainage.
Chaff or straw chopped one inch long can be piled on the ground, shaped and covered with a sheet of plastic. Such a pile can contain 42 tons (38 tonnes) of chopped straw or between 50 to 75 tons (45 to 68 tonnes) of chaff.
Covering the stacks. The stack can be covered in two ways. For large stacks of rectangular bales, it may be advisable to hoist the roll onto the stack, unroll the plastic along the top of the stack, and unfold it down the sides.
The other method is to open the plastic on the ground and drag it over the stack. The latter method is best for stacks of round bales or piles of chopped straw or chaff. If covering is performed on a day with no more than a light breeze blowing, three to five people can cover a stack in one hour. Assemble all the necessary materials and then wait for a suitable day, rather than trying to battle any appreciable amount of wind.
Place dirt or sandbags along one side once the plastic has been positioned over the stack. A small amount of dirt or a few sandbags are placed on the other side and rolled toward the stack by lifting up the edge of the plastic. This tightens the plastic snugly around the stack. The corners are then pulled out as if wrapping a parcel, and folded across the end of the stack. The entire cover should be well-sealed at the base of the stack.
Finally, all edges should be taped down (make sure that all loose edges are well sealed), and the stack should be covered with a fish net or camouflage net to reduce wind damage. The net can be tied to square bales or old tires to keep it in place.
Preparing and inserting ammonisation pipes. Use only iron pipes for adding ammonia to the straw or chaff. Iron pipes, about 22 feet (seven metres) long and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in diameter are sealed to a point at one end and threaded on the other. Screw a 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch by 1.0 inch (3.8 cm X 3.8 cm X 2.5 cm) "T" containing a four inch (10 cm) length of 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) pipe, threaded on both ends and capped, onto the end of the pipe. An iron adapter with a one inch (2.5 cm) male pipe thread on one end and a 1.75 inch (4.5 cm) male acme on the other is screwed into the "T," and fitted with a plastic cap. The 1.75 inch (4.5 cm) male acme will fit the valve on the ammonia hose. Beginning about two feet (0.5 metres) from the "T," drill 3/16-inch (0.5 cm) holes every 16 inches (40 cm) along the length of the pipe on the side opposite the adapter. (See diagram below.)
The pipe is pushed into the stack with a tractor and adjusted so the holes point down, enabling the pipe to drain free of liquid ammonia. Insert the pipe until it is just past the hole nearest the "T."
Pipes should be inserted into both ends of bale stacks over 40 feet (12 metres) and half the ammonia added through each pipe. Because chaff piles are much denser, insert pipes every 10 to 12 feet (three to four metres) down the side of the chaff pile, and add a portion of ammonia in each place.
A plastic sleeve may help seal the plastic cover around the pipe in straw stacks, but is unnecessary in a chaff pile.
Determining how much ammonia to add. Add 3.5 per cent anhydrous ammonia based on the dry matter content of the stack or, if the stack contains 15 per cent moisture, you can add three per cent anhydrous ammonia based on the actual weight of the stack.
Example: 40 tons @ 15 per cent moisture X 2,000 lb. X 3 per cent = 2,400 lb. or 375 gallons of NH3 (40 tonnes @ 15 per cent moisture X 1,000 kg X 3 per cent = 1,200 kg or 1,880 litres of NH3.)
Adding the ammonia. Pressurized, liquid anhydrous ammonia is very hazardous. Chaff pile ammonisation should only be carried out by an experienced ammonia dealer. Before the ammonia is added, uncover a thee-foot (one-metre) length of the plastic along the base of the stack, half way down one side. This allows air to escape from the enclosure as the ammonia evaporates. The opening must be resealed after or during the addition of ammonia if an excessive amount of ammonia begins to escape.
To avoid over- or under-application of ammonia to the straw, add the ammonia through a metered pump, and not from a nurse tank.
Removing the ammonisation pipes. About 20 to 30 minutes after all the ammonia has been added, the pipes can be withdrawn from the stack. Care must be taken to support each pipe as it emerges or it can damage the plastic cover. If It is necessary to hold the pipe, wear goggles and insulated rubber gloves for protection against any residual ammonia left in the pipe. The hole in the plastic cover should be sealed with two-inch (five-centimetre) plastic tape.
Uncovering stacks of ammoniated straw. The ammonisation process is complete in about 21 days. Leave the stack covered until a few days before the ammoniated straw is required for feed. When opening the stack, be careful to avoid exposure to the ammonia gas still present in the stack.
Open the stack on a day when there is a light breeze blowing away from buildings or corrals. If the plastic is not frozen, remove it carefully and you should be able to use it again as a cover with only minor repairs.
After the cover is removed, leave the stack for a few days to allow all the excess ammonia to evaporate; animals will not consume feed with a strong odour of ammonia. It may take a couple of days for the animals to get used to the smell.
Saskatchewan producers have had good success feeding ammoniated chaff stacked between two fences. When feed was required, the plastic was removed and electric wires placed at each end of the stack to control the animals.
Warning: Do not feed supplements containing urea with ammoniated residues. The combination may be toxic to animals.
Cost of ammonisation. The cost of treating straw with ammonia is dependent on the cost of materials.
Safety considerations. Be sure to observe all safety precautions noted.
Anhydrous ammonia is very toxic to the skin and eyes. If contact with anhydrous ammonia occurs, immediately flush it away with water or serious injury will result. Liquid anhydrous ammonia evaporates, forming a gas with a pungent and disagreeable odour. Avoid exposure to the gas. Mixtures of 16 to 27 per cent ammonia in air can be flammable and even explosive. As a safety precaution, never smoke or light a flame near ammonia.
Things to consider. The sooner a producer decides to ammoniate chaff or straw, the sooner he can acquire the necessary material and make arrangements for the treatment. The earlier the treatment can be conducted in the fall, the better the results will be, since there is a better chance of having a higher ambient temperature. The chance of getting the ammonia delivered when required will also be much better if it is done before the fertilizing season begins.
Planning for the next feed shortage
Periodic drought and feed shortages are part of the livestock scene in Saskatchewan. Take the time to plan for the next dry period as soon as the current one ends. There are three main areas to consider to improve an operation's drought-proofing.
Pasture management. Use seeded pasture to complement native range. In 1980, the Swift Current Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Station ran 60 cows with calves on three quarters of pasture: 60 per cent native, 40 per cent seeded. The seeded pasture was in three fields: crested wheat, Russian wild rye grassand Altai wild rye cross seeded with alfalfa. The cattle were rotated from one field to the next. The cows got 34 days of grazing on the native grass and 124 days on the seeded grass. The seeded grass responded with some re-growth whenever there was a little rain.
Seeded forages respond faster, and with less rain, than native range. Having part of the pasture seeded to tame grass legume mixtures pays off in dry years.
Leave some carryover on the native range. In the long run, range with 40 to 50 per cent carry-over will produce more grass and more beef per acre than pasture that is grazed down. The carry-over maintains the higher yielding species in the stand and leaves the roots in better condition. The carry-over also traps more snow for moisture retention.
Graze according to the grass' production calendar. Seeded grasses grow early in the spring, and achieve most of their growth in the first six weeks. Russian and Altai wild rye grasses hold their feed value into the fall. Native pasture does most of its growing in late June and July. Grazing before late June reduces total pasture yield and increases the number of acres required to carry a cow.
Leaving cows out on pasture during an open winter often results in no grass being left in the pasture should spring rains fail.
Fence and water. One of the major problems with using annual cereals for emergency pasture can be a lack of fence and water. If a farm has fields that are regularly seeded to fall rye, consider fencing them and developing a water supply, such as a dugout in a low spot, or installing a pasture water pipeline. Take a look at the new high-tensile fencing and electric systems that can cut fence costs by 40 to 60 per cent.
Fenced fields with water can become an emergency pasture and can also be used in normal years for fall grazing of crop aftermath.
Feed supply. Extra feed supplies are like insurance when you are suddenly faced with feeding cows for a few extra weeks in the spring, or when unable grow enough feed for next winter. Putting up extra in the good years to use when times are tough is a practice that has never gone out of style on cattle operations. Hay shelters prevent storage losses. Silage pits have been opened after 10 to 20 years with the feed still in good condition.
Consider developing irrigated hay land in areas where is feasible. Forty acres (16 hectares) of hay that is not dependent on the weather is like money in the bank.
If a neighbour has saline land or low areas, consider forming an agreement with him/her to seed it to forage and enter into a hay purchasing agreement. This arrangement has been very successful in a number of instances in expanding and stabilizing the feed base for the cattle producer and providing income and soil improvement for the grain producer.
This information was prepared by Saskatchewan Agriculture specialists and University of Saskatchewan feed and animal scientists.
This publication was originally published in 1980.
ISBN 0-88656-131-0 AGDEX 420/14
Contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 for additional information.